Pregnancy and food cravings go hand in hand. Chinese food is one of the most delicious and crave-able cuisines out there, regardless of whether or not you are pregnant. It is no surprise that those cravings might get more intense. However, it is important to understand what foods are and are not safe to eat when you are pregnant.
With all the information spread across the internet, it can be overwhelming to find the answers you are wanting. It is stressful enough without seeing conflicting information. In this article, there are 23 Chinese foods you should avoid while pregnant. Read on to find out what Chinese foods you should do your best to avoid while pregnant and why.
Harmful Myths and Misinformation
There are plenty of articles online featuring wives’ tales and myths about Chinese food and pregnancy. You may have heard that spicy Chinese food will mean having a badly behaved baby or that the MSG in Chinese food will cause your child to have autism. Neither of these statements is true. Many of these myths can actually be harmful.
Whether they come from a place of blatant cultural insensitivity or ignorance, these myths and tales are not helpful to pregnant people looking for real information. For that reason, they were mentioned, so you can breathe easier if you come across them online. However, there are some legitimate reasons to avoid certain foods.
Foods with a High Sodium Content
To maintain a healthy pregnancy, you must maintain healthy blood pressure, and taking in lots of sodium is a surefire way to increase blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Unfortunately, sodium makes food taste good. Chinese restaurants know this, so several popular Chinese foods contain huge, unhealthy amounts of sodium.
The recommended daily amount of sodium you should be getting, set by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture, is about 2,300 milligrams. That is a maximum of one teaspoon worth of salt per day, an amount meant for pregnant people and non-pregnant people alike.
There are a number of Chinese foods notorious for their high sodium contents, and they should be avoided while pregnant when possible.
General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso’s chicken is a popular dish to order because it is very flavorful and tasty. However, the sodium content and lack of nutrition make it an awful choice for a pregnant person.
The lack of vegetables and dietary fiber makes this dish a nutritional nightmare for anyone, especially a pregnant person who requires a well-rounded and nutritious diet.
|Caloric Content||1577 calories|
|Sodium Content||2,327 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||128 grams|
|Total Fat Content||88 grams|
Vegetable Lo Mein
You would think that vegetables would make any dish healthier. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Many Chinese vegetable dishes are absolutely loaded with salt. In fact, the vegetable dishes are often more dangerous than the meat dishes when it comes to the overwhelming sodium content.
|Caloric Content||897 calories|
|Sodium Content||3,186.3 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||149.4 grams|
|Total Fat Content||17.4 grams|
Orange beef is a lot like General Tso’s chicken in that it is fried meat covered in a salty and sweet sauce. The sugar content in many of these dishes makes them candidates for another list, but their high sodium content could not be ignored. These are not good choices for any pregnant individual craving Chinese food.
|Caloric Content||1296 calories|
|Sodium Content||2,254 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||68 grams|
|Total Fat Content||72 grams|
Barbecue Spare Ribs
Ribs can often be a healthy choice, but barbecue spare ribs from American Chinese restaurants are not. These are loaded with sodium and covered in a sugary barbecue sauce. While they do offer a lot of protein, which is nutritious for pregnant women and their babies, the negatives of this dish outweigh the positives.
|Caloric Content||949 calories|
|Sodium Content||1,251 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||32.2 grams|
|Total Fat Content||74 grams|
Hot and Sour Soup Bowl
Soups are usually a good, safe choice when it comes to Chinese food. In fact, not even all hot and sour soups are bad, but be very mindful when ordering what comes in the soup. If the ingredients include a great deal of soy sauce and tofu, the sodium content can skyrocket, as demonstrated in the table below.
|Caloric Content||470 calories|
|Sodium Content||3,800 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||63 grams|
|Total Fat Content||12 grams|
At first glance, Szechuan shrimp looks like a pretty good choice. The fat, carb, and caloric content are not bad at all compared to the other dishes on this list. It is the sodium that makes this dish unhealthy and unsuitable to eat during pregnancy, a time when maintaining healthy blood pressure is so crucial.
|Caloric Content||252 calories|
|Sodium Content||1,645 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||16 grams|
|Total Fat Content||7.2 grams|
Many people consider mapo tofu a healthy Chinese takeout option. Unfortunately, the numbers do not lie. Once again, the sodium content in this one dish is nearly an entire day’s worth of a person’s recommended sodium intake. Tofu can be a healthy option, but not when it is part of a dish full of sodium to achieve an intense flavor.
|Caloric Content||482 calories|
|Sodium Content||1,797 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||14 grams|
|Total Fat Content||35 grams|
It is impossible to speak about Chinese food and sodium content without mentioning soy sauce. It is an ever-present ingredient in so many dishes, as it adds a salty, savory flavor that is unmatched. However, when one single tablespoon contains almost 900 milligrams of sodium, it is best to avoid the sauce altogether when pregnant.
|Caloric Content||9 calories|
|Sodium Content||879 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||0.8 grams|
|Total Fat Content||0.1 grams|
The sodium content of some of the above dishes, many of which include soy sauce, is as much or more than a person’s recommended sodium intake for an entire day. That does not even include other meals or the appetizers and sides. This amount of sodium can wreak havoc on a pregnant person’s blood pressure and health.
High Sugar Content and Gestational Diabetes
The above foods are not only guilty of their high sodium content, but they also have high sugar content as well. During pregnancy, you become more susceptible to diabetes due to an increase in blood sugar levels. Consuming foods with lots of carbohydrates and sugars can increase this risk even further, which is something to avoid when possible.
While gestational diabetes is treatable, it is always best to avoid the diagnosis in the first place instead of trying to cure the disease later. The best way to avoid gestational diabetes is by maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet and keeping track of blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
The following Chinese foods are high in carbohydrates and sugars and could increase blood sugar to dangerous levels during pregnancy. Also, note that General Tso’s chicken and vegetable lo mein could have easily gone on this list with their insane sugar content, but they have already been included on the sodium list above.
Lemon chicken sounds healthy, but as with nearly every item in this sugar section, this is actually fried chicken. The lemon itself is in a sweetened sauce poured over the chicken. When the fried batter is mixed with sweet sauce, you get plenty of carbs, sugars, and fat. This dish is not immune to the high sodium content, either.
|Caloric Content||552 calories|
|Sodium Content||552 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||45 grams|
|Total Fat Content||29.7 grams|
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Sweet and sour chicken (or pork) is very popular because it is delicious. How can it not be, when you are dunking deep-fried meat into a succulently sweet sauce? Anything tastes good like that. The nutritional values of this dish are astonishing, and it could have easily been included in the above sodium section. This is healthy for no one.
|Caloric Content||1,763 calories|
|Sodium Content||1,737 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||168 grams|
|Total Fat Content||89 grams|
Rice does not provide much nutritional value, and fried rice takes that a step further. Any amount of nutrition brown rice had is bleached away to form white rice. Then, the white rice is fried in oil and doused with soy sauce. This dish does not offer any benefits for a healthy pregnancy.
|Caloric Content||228 calories|
|Sodium Content||554 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||43 grams|
|Total Fat Content||3.2 grams|
Fried Egg Rolls
Egg rolls are a common appetizer or side dish with most Chinese dishes. While they do contain some vegetables, this is only true in a technical sense. Mostly, egg rolls are fried dough filled with pork and dipped in a sweet sauce. The values below do not take into account the sugars and carbs sauces might add.
|Caloric Content||223 calories|
|Sodium Content||447 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||31 grams|
|Total Fat Content||11 grams|
This dish is mostly fried dough and cream cheese. There may be imitation crab somewhere inside, but it is negligible. Besides, imitation crab is not healthy, either. One of these is not too terribly unhealthy, but a serving size of crab rangoons is usually two or three. They do not offer any fiber or nutrients that would aid a pregnant person.
|Caloric Content||240 calories|
|Sodium Content||210 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||20 grams|
|Total Fat Content||14 grams|
Fried Pork Dumplings
Depending on how dumplings are prepared, they are not always too terribly unhealthy. However, when they are fried and crispy, it is best to avoid them while you are pregnant. They are not a good choice and do not include the nutritional values you would want for you or your growing baby.
|Caloric Content||301 calories|
|Sodium Content||529 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||25 grams|
|Total Fat Content||19 grams|
Duck sauce is a popular sweet sauce added to many dishes. While the values below are not as shocking as the soy sauce table, one single tablespoon of duck sauce has 11 grams of carbs. When added to a dish that already has a high carb count, the number keeps on growing.
|Caloric Content||44 calories|
|Sodium Content||82 milligrams|
|Carbohydrates and Sugar Content||11 grams|
|Total Fat Content||0 grams|
You will notice that many of the items above, like the duck sauce, are appetizers or side dishes. Many of these items are served alongside some of the entrees mentioned earlier. Eating a full meal, you could be getting a huge amount of sodium plus a massive number of carbs, which might cause a spike in both blood pressure and blood sugar.
Fish and Sushi
Many Chinese dishes feature fish. Fish is not off-limits during pregnancy. On the contrary, fish can be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, not all fish are safe to eat during pregnancy.
Since predatory fish consume smaller fish, they have more mercury built up in their systems, making it important to avoid eating them while pregnant. Avoid any Chinese dishes that include shark, king mackerel, swordfish, or tilefish.
Predatory Fish Dishes
Any of the fish dishes below can be cooked in different ways. The important thing to remember is that these fish are not to be eaten while pregnant. There is plenty of other fish that are safe to eat. Therefore, avoid:
- Shark Fin Soup
- Braised King Mackerel
- Grilled Swordfish
- Roasted Tilefish
Sushi is a Japanese dish, but many American Chinese restaurants serve sushi on their menus. It is not true that sushi is completely forbidden. The fear of sushi comes from the misconception that all sushi contains raw fish, which is untrue. Some sushi contains raw fish, and some do not. While pregnant, it is best to avoid raw types.
- Sushi (containing raw fish)
Most sushi joints know how to prepare their sushi, raw or not, without giving their customers food poisoning. But, while you are pregnant, you want to err on the side of caution.
Raw fish is more likely to contain illness-causing bacteria, so during pregnancy, stick to the cooked fish when you do decide to partake in sushi.
Another favorite among Chinese dishes is beef liver. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Chinese restaurants have a variety of stylings from beef liver stir fry to Szechuan style liver and onions. However you slice it, pregnant women should avoid organ meat due to its levels of preformed vitamin A, which can cause complications.
Everything is most tumultuous during the first trimester, and your diet is no different. Eating too much preformed vitamin A can lead to a miscarriage. It can also lead to a baby being born with birth defects. It is best to avoid this scenario altogether and steer clear of organ meat and excess preformed vitamin A.
While the allure of a Chinese street food vendor can be irresistible, you have to find a way to resist. These carts, by nature, are less likely to serve food that is fresh and up to code. You do not want to risk getting food poisoning or some kind of infection. Plus, it is very difficult to determine exact ingredients this way.
Moreover, street food is often unhealthier than other food, considering the methods to prepare the food are limited, and they operate on an even lower profit margin.
Some Things in Moderation
While there are a lot of dishes you should avoid due to these reasons, they can be okay in moderation.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): MSG is a flavor enhancer that is present in many Chinese dishes. There is really no risk to pregnancy when consuming MSG in reasonable quantities. Like the sodium section above, be wary of dishes with excessive sodium content, and you will be okay.
- Extremely Spicy Foods: There is nothing wrong with spicy food, and it will never cause pregnancy complications. However, pregnancy can cause cravings for spicy foods that were not present before. Eating too much spicy food at once can cause indigestion, so take it slow if you are not used to eating spicy food.
Caffeine: Chinese green tea does not contain much caffeine. You would have to drink a great deal to reach the threshold of 200 milligrams that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has deemed safe for daily intake. However, other drinks can contain a lot of caffeine, so be aware.