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5 Pregnancy Food Myths Demystified

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Pregnancy Food Myths

Pregnancy Food Myths (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Myth #1: Eat for two, when pregnant.

Truth: The nutritional needs of an expectant mother certainly increase. But it does not call for eating for two. The principles of nutrition do not, under any circumstance, recommend hogging. The aim should be to eat a well-balanced diet to ensure health of both mother and foetus. Extra care should be taken to avert nutrient deficiencies (iron and folic acid) that are common during pregnancy. Supplements should be taken as per doctor’s advice.

Myth #2: Eating papaya during pregnancy leads to miscarriage.

Truth: Papaya is believed to be an abortifacient (a substance that causes abortion). The belief is so deep-rooted in the Indian culture that even the learned and well-informed keep away from papaya during pregnancy. Its because they do not want to take chances.  Actually, it is only the unripe/semi-ripe green papaya that contains high concentrations of latex which mimics the action of labour-inducing hormones like oxytocin and prostaglandins. But as the papaya ripens the latex content decreases and it becomes safe for consumption. These facts were strengthened by a rat study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. So a pregnant mother can very well include ripe papaya in her diet, without causing any perils to the foetus.  It might in fact mitigate heart burns or constipation which are common during pregnancy.

Myth #3: Saffron intake during gestation makes the to-be-born baby fair-skinned.

Truth: The skin colour of the baby is purely determined by genes and nothing else. It is a tradition in India to gift pregnant mothers with small boxes of saffron. Milk flavoured with a pinch of the powder or few of its strands are given to pregnant mothers, in the hope that it would make the baby light-skinned. Alas, what saffron does is improve the colour (and flavour) of just the dish and not that of the baby. If there is anybody who benefits from this purported claim of saffron, it is of course its seller – as such saffron is the most expensive spice in the world – as little as a gram costs anywhere between Rs.80 – 300.  

Myth #4: Consumption of a lot of ghee during child-bearing phase eases delivery; consumption of a lot of ghee during postpartum period quickens healing of uterus.

Truth: These are the most outrageous food misconceptions associated with pregnancyFunny that somebody even imagined child delivery to be like baking – grease the tray to facilitate easy release of the finished product. Ghee neither eases parturition nor helps in swift healing of uterus.  Remember! ghee is saturated fat and its consumption in excess will only lead to undesirable body weight and subsequently other related ailments.

Myth #5: Eat well once water breaks or pain starts because you will not be given food for another few hours.

Truth: Eat or drink nothing once the water breaks or pain starts.  In the words of the famous obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr. Gita Arjun,

“When you are in active labour, it is best to avoid any solid food. As the cervix dilates, there is a tendency to vomit. Drink small amounts of water, buttermilk, milk or juices. You may be asked to have only sips of water or nothing at all, if the obstetrician suspects that you might require a Caesarean section. This will prevent you from having a full stomach if an emergency Caesarean section is decided upon. This makes it less risky to give you anaesthesia.”

If you want to pooh pooh other pregnancy food myths, share them in the comments; if you are one of those who has daringly broken a pregnancy food myth and survived a full-fledged, healthy pregnancy, share your success story with the readers; if you have been a victim of such myths and left to pathetically crave for some of the so called forbidden foods all through pregnancy, vent your feelings here. 

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Food Myths Vs Facts

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Food Myths Vs Facts

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Misconceptions about food are aplenty. There is no clue as to how many of them originated. Some are specific to particular regions whereas others are universal. They confuse us so much that at times they prevent us from practicing what is right and at others they push us to do what is wrong.  It is vital to differentiate fact from fiction to lead a healthy life. This article is an attempt to demystify some common food myths that prevail among people.

1) Cucumbers slithered over by snakes turn bitter

This is just folklore.

The bitterness in some cucumbers is due to a substance called cucurbitacin. A high nitrogen and aminoacid content of the cucumber leaves promote nitrogen metabolism, thereby favouring enzymatic synthesis of cucurbitacin. This induces bitterness in the leaves and fruits. It is also interesting to know that stressful growing conditions (high temperatures, wide temperature swings, too little water, uneven watering practices, low soil fertility and low soil pH) trigger a higher concentration of cucurbitacin in cucumbers and may be responsible for the offensive taste. Over mature or improperly stored cucumbers may also develop a mild bitterness. Spare the poor snakes, for they have no connection whatsoever with the bitterness of cucumbers.

2) Garlic is a potent galactogogue 

This is another old wives’ tale.

Garlic does not contain any active component that makes it a potent galactogogue. Studies have shown that consumption of garlic by lactating mother imparts its flavour to breast milk and significantly increases the time the infant remained attached to the breast and suckled. They further showed that though there may be an insignificant increase in the ingestion of milk by the baby, it may be limited by the quantity available.  They also reported that this effect may wear off with frequent intake of garlic by the nursing mother. 

3) Do not drink water during exercise

This shocking advice is concocted by few people. They justify it by saying that water bloats the stomach and hinders performance. This may happen in all probability, if a large volume of water is guzzled down. If only they understood that dehydration could produce worse effects on performance and health, they would not pass such careless statements.

It is essential to rehydrate our body sensibly, in fact before, during and after exercise.  About 2-3 hrs before the training session drink about 400-600 ml of water; during the session take either 150-350 ml every 15-20 min or sips of water at 10 min gap (American College of Sports Medicine Recommendation); post-session drink water adequately to replenish that lost through sweating. Weighing yourself pre and post session is usually suggested to gauge water loss from the body (1/2 kg loss is approximately equal to 750 ml of water). Again it is not advisable to gulp down the whole quantity at once, but drink it slowly and stretch it across a time period, may be ½ hr.

4) Eating potatoes will make a person fat

Potato is more often portrayed as the culprit behind obesity. Potato bears the brunt of all accusations because of its starch content and high glycemic index. 

It is noteworthy that besides starch, potato is also a good source of vitamins C and B6, potassium, folate, copper and manganese. Apart from flavonoids and carotenoids blood pressure reducing substances kukoamines are also present in it. A simple potato salad may be healthy; retaining the skin in some preparations may bestow upon us the benefits of the fibre in it. But on the contrary, if we prefer to treat our palates with potato chips, French fries or any fatty potato preparation, then we may definitely have to pay in terms of a few extra kilos gained on our body. In reality, the consumption of potatoes in itself is not the issue, but the form in which they are eaten is.

The glycemic index (GI – it is the capacity of a food to raise the blood glucose level) of potato holds good for a pure potato meal but changes when eaten in combination with other foods. It would be wise to eat it along with other low GI foods. Moreover the glycemic load (GL) of a particular meal is what matters than GI of individual foods. GL of a meal is the sum of GL of all foods in a meal. GL of a food is obtained by multiplying its GI with grams of carbs in it and then dividing the resultant by 100.  So portion control is another aspect of this issue. Cut down on the load when the index is high. Do not binge on potatoes. Use them in the right form, right quantity and in conjunction with other vegetables to stay healthy.

 It is time we stopped playing the blame game and improved our eating habits instead.

5) Olive oil is good for health and so you can add it generously in your diet

We have to do away with this idle fancy in order to safeguard our health.

The chief reason for categorising olive oil as good is because it is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyphenols. But that does not mean it provides lesser calories per gram. Just like all oils it also contributes 9 calories/g (no matter whether it is virgin, extra virgin or organic olive oil) and so we may have to exercise the same kind of caution as with any other oil while using it. Moreover, to derive the beneficial effects of olive oil, we have to substitute and not supplement the saturated, hydrogenated or trans fats that we have been using with it.

So, which of these myths have you come across? If you know other food myths – some that absolutely lack veracity but are still followed because they were passed on to us by our forefathers and others that are so strongly propagated by quacks, take time to share them here.


References:

Bean, A., 2009. Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition, sixth ed., A&C Black Publishers Ltd., London, pp.85-100.

Briggs, G., Freeman, K.R., Yaffe, J.S., 2011. Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation: A Reference Guide to Fetal and Neonatal Risk, ninth ed., Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, Philadelphia, p.639.

Dr.Gita Arjun, 2009. Passport to a Healthy Pregnancy, Westland Ltd., India, p.160.

Rinzler, C.A., 2009. The New Complete book of Food: A Nutritional, Medical and Culinary Guide, second ed., Facts on File Inc., New York, pp.315-317.

Stress Struck Cucumbers Turn Bitter

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