Food Taboo – A hidden Threat to Pregnancy


The present world is so much indulged in discussion about implementing the United Nation proposed 17 goals termed as SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). One of the most crucial goals is SDG 2: End Hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. As we know all the 17 goals have a total of 169 targets, if we pick a particular target of this SDG: 2 and it is about ending every single form of malnutrition, certainly it is a matter of great significance. A particular target of SDG 2 states ‘By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant, lactating women and elder persons. Now it is needless to say that, healthy maternity can ensure healthy child. If mothers are deficit in essential nutrients during pregnancy, there is no hope for achieving a non-stunted, non-wasted, cognized, i.e. physically and mentally sound generation. Balance diet for pregnant and lactating mother, nutrient rich foods for mother, extra calories and extra protein intake, necessary arrangements for various vaccinations and iron tablets, folate tablets intake during pregnancy are the most vibrating concerns for ensuring health and safety for a mother and her baby. But there are some shrouded factors which have detrimental impact on healthy pregnancy. Food taboos and misconceptions are such kinds of factors creating impediments in the way of expected healthy pregnancy outcome.

According to Encyclopedia, A food taboo is a prohibition against consuming certain foods. The word “taboo” (also spelled “tabu”) is Polynesian and means ‘sacred’ or ‘forbidden’; it has a quasi-magical or religious overtone. In another way, food taboos can be defined as the cultural and religious customs that restrict the consumption of certain types of foods. If I highlight some of the most common food taboos during pregnancy around the world, it will be felt shocking but doubtlessly these taboos are still prevalent in this modern area and especially in Asian and African region.

If I emphasis on protein rich foods of high bioavailability, it is surprisingly true that many people believe eating fish will lead the child having scales and fish like head, salted or dried fishes consuming during pregnancy may lead to birth of dull-headed baby, prawns or shrimps can reduce breast milk production, eating duck meat may lead the baby having harsh voice and duck egg may cause asthma of baby, eating chicken during pregnancy can make the baby chicken hearted (miser), beef can dry breast milk and influence a child in stealing things and even Eggs are said to create psychological problems in baby.

Now focusing on plant food items also reveal some appalling proof of persistent food taboos. One of most visible and common food taboo is any twin fruits or vegetables such as twin banana, twin apple and even eggs having double yolks will cause twin pregnancy, which has no scientific verification. Other underlined taboos about plant food items are- papaya, banana, and blackberry etc. nutritious fruits can affect the child psychologically, ripe plantain and banana can cause premature contraction and subsequent miscarriage, Eating plum and pear will make child blind, coconut can cause birth of blind baby, a term called ‘white eyes’, pineapple may cause miscarriage, mango and guava can cause appendicitis, okra can cause slime in baby or watery mouth and citrus fruits delay the healing process.

Even it is remorsefully true that people believe colostrum may upset the stomach of the newborn although colostrum is the safest and blessed edible item for the new born.

And most important issue regarding this health hazard is that food taboos and several other misconceptions are not only predominant in rural, underdeveloped and illiteracy covered areas, but also seem prominent in urban educated families and sometimes these taboos get priority due to the unscientific and ancient beliefs and superstitions by the elderly relatives of families.

Undertaking effective measures as soon as possible for lessening the prevalence of food taboos during pregnancy is now urgent on account of assuring healthy mother, healthy pregnancy, reduced rate of stunting and wasting, reduced rate of micronutrient deficiency in children, proper mental growth of child, healthy and productive nation, overall socio-economic development and thus achieving sustainable developments throughout the globe. Among the measures- providing nutritional knowledge and education, providing the basic knowledge on nutritious foods, community based health and nutrition counselling for pregnant and lactating mothers, effective measures from both Government Organizations and Non-Government organizations and also in the nutrition and food policy of each country, eradication the food taboos and misconceptions during pregnancy period must be prioritized. Above and all, each clinic, hospital and mother care center should recruit health experts for providing knowledge on food taboos, regular newspaper publications by health experts on food taboos and wrong beliefs, inspiring the commercial advertisement authorities to include themes of food taboos in advertisements in radio, television and newspaper, various youth clubs and youth organizations can take necessary steps and pasting posters in institutions and hospitals and leaflet distribution highlighting the wrong conceptions for particular nutritious food items can be accomplished to eliminate this threat. Moreover, conducting researches to systematically investigate the situation, causes and consequences of persistent food taboos for establishing effective recommendations to solve the issue, initiating projects with a definite aim to eradicate food taboos from our communities for ensuring scientific food intake pattern free from all misconceptions and superstitions and including lessons on food taboos in primary and secondary school curriculums can be some effectual controlling steps in putting an end to the prevalence of food taboos during pregnancy.


Nandeeta Samad currently pursuing her Master degree under Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Dhaka. She is also an associate Fellow, Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS), Youth Ambassador, ActionAid Bangladesh and Young Fellow, South Asian Youth Society (SAYS). She is from Bangladesh. Mail her at

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