Food and Behaviour Research

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BBC News - The myths about food and pregnancy

Daniel Silas Adamson

pregnant - Credit Unsplash CC0 public domain.jpg

All over the world, pregnant women are bombarded with opinions about what to eat and what to avoid. All too often, sound advice gets lost in a stew of badly-reported science and old wives' tales.


This brief report flags up how media coverage leaves many mothers-to-be confused, if not fearful, about what to eat - and what not to eat - during pregnancy.

Unfortunately, headlines and stories that inspire fear and anxiety always tend to attract more attention, as this article notes.

However, even official dietary guidelines can sometimes over-emphaise risks in relation to benefits. One important example involves current dietary advice on fish and seafood, which still advises pregnant women to limit their intake, and to avoid certain types of fish completely.

This advice is based on purely theoretical risks from possible contaminants to the brain development of the unborn child.

However, real-world data, from large-scale population studies in which real women ate real fish (or didn't) during pregnancy show that eating more fish and seafood during pregnancy than the current advisory limits leads to better neurodevelopmental outcomes for children - with no upper limit of benefit. See:

Please see also:

25 March 2015 - BBC News


If pregnant women are confused, the media must take a good share of the blame, says Linda Geddes, mother of two and author of Bumpology, a book that deploys cutting-edge science to slice through the tangle of anecdote, myth, and mumbo-jumbo that surrounds pregnancy.

"Journalists will seize on any study about pregnancy because they know that people are interested," she says.

"Often, inconclusive or early stage studies get picked up, and by the time a scientific consensus has emerged - sometimes years later - the story has become too old and boring to report. So you end with a lot of misleading information out there. The result is that when a woman googles a question, she's faced with a mass of scare stories."

The science is not just badly reported. It usually gets stirred into a stew of superstition and folklore that varies from country to country.

Plenty of common sense gets handed down too, of course. Eating green leafy vegetables is recommended by traditional cultures all over the world. But sound advice often gets packaged together with ideas that are closer to magic than to medicine.

It's in the least developed communities, though, that ignorance and old wives' tales still do real damage. In parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, food taboos can prevent women from eating a balanced diet and deprive them of essential nutrients.

Advice from the UK National Health Service:

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables - at least five portions every day
  • Foods that contain protein - including meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses - are essential, as are calcium-rich foods like milk and yoghurt
  • Oily fish such as mackerel and sardines are good, but stay away from fish at the very top of the food chain, such as shark and swordfish
  • Avoid mould-ripened cheeses like Brie and Camembert, as well as soft blue cheeses like Gorgonzola and Roquefort
  • Stay away from raw eggs, raw meat, raw shellfish, and all types of pate