If you’re suddenly experiencing inexplicable cravings for spicy, hot food during pregnancy, you’re not alone. Spicy food is one of the most craved things in pregnancy, which leads women to wonder if it’s truly safe or not. Will it harm the baby? Find out here.
Can You Eat Spicy Food While Pregnant? Spicy, ‘hot’ food is safe to eat if you’re pregnant. Spicy food won’t cause premature labor, miscarriage or any other myths you might have heard. The only thing it may cause is indigestion, particularly in the third trimester.
As a chili head myself, I was really interested to read all the weird myths and craving explanations surrounding spicy food – you might recognize some of them covered here, including questions you might have wondered about what spicy food does to your baby.
Why Do I Crave Spicy Food During Pregnancy?
It’s really common to crave spicy food during pregnancy (source: Science Direct). The exact scientific reason as to why this is hasn’t been established, but some unproven theories have been put forward.
The most likely explanation for spicy food cravings is that hormonal changes cause your senses of taste and smell to alter, and your food preferences and aversions change in turn. Cravings don’t seem to have a direct cause, but aversions are linked to what may have made you feel nauseous earlier in your pregnancy (source: Appetite Journal).
Another theory is that pregnant women are often hot, and spicy food stimulates sweating to cool down. More theories also suggested that cravings are due to nutritional deficits, or are purely from cultural influences. Many of these were looked at in a 2014 study and no one conclusion could be drawn (source: Frontiers in Psychology).
The bottom line is – nobody knows exactly why women crave spicy food. If you have such cravings, they’re perfectly normal. It doesn’t have any particular meaning that should affect your or your baby and is not a symptom of anything dangerous or sinister.
Spicy Food and Pregnancy Myths
There have been quite a few bizarre myths doing the rounds about pregnancy and spicy food. Here are some of the most common ones you may have wondered about:
Does Craving Spicy Food Predict Baby’s Gender?
It’s a lot of fun to try and guess, but unfortunately, cravings aren’t a reliable indicator of the gender of your baby.
This myth began doing the rounds in 2008 when around 2,200 women were surveyed on a now-defunct parenting website about what they craved during pregnancy, and what the sex of their baby was.
The survey results showed that women who had boys craved spicy food more often, and chocolate was the most popular craving for those having girls. This was picked up by a tabloid paper in the UK (1), who misleadingly declared ‘if you crave spicy food, you’re probably having a boy’.
Since this was just a survey with no scientific basis or measurements, no real conclusion can be drawn from it until better studies are done in the future. We’ll certainly add them here when they are!
Will Spicy Food Harm My Baby When I’m Pregnant?
Many women worry that spicy or hot food is harmful to their baby in some way. After all, it burns, right?
The good news is that spicy food isn’t harmful to your baby in any way (source: WebMD) and it’s not ‘dangerous’ to eat spicy food when you’re pregnant. It may, however, cause heartburn or discomfort (covered later in this article).
Does Spicy Food Induce Labor or Cause A Miscarriage?
There is no scientific evidence to suggest that spicy food induces labor or causes miscarriages. Research at Ohio State University for the journal ‘Birth‘, found that women often turn to ‘folklore’ such as eating spicy food in order to induce labor.
Over 20% of women surveyed for the study reported that they had tried eating spicy food to induce labor, making this quite a popular (but unproven) myth. The study concluded that these ‘folklore’ type attempts by women largely had no effect and that labor is “something that moms have no control over” (source: ScienceDaily).
In other words, it’s better to let nature take its course, but if you want to eat spicy food in the meantime, you can!
Does Spicy Food Make The Baby Kick or Move More?
Many mothers report that babies seem to kick or move more after eating spicy food, though many of these reports are anecdotal and haven’t been scientifically measured.
What IS known is that babies will often respond when you’ve eaten food – full stop, no matter what type of food it is. A 2014 study reported by Biomed Central surveyed several women about their baby’s activity after eating, and 74% of women reported increased activity (Source: BMC).
This is likely to be because when you eat, your blood sugar level rises (source: Stanford Medicine). Although many spicy foods aren’t thought of as being particularly high in sugar, some of them (like curries, especially Korma) can contain lots of cream and sweetened coconut.
Different spicy foods and their pregnancy-safety are covered later in this article.
Does Spicy Food Cause an Upset Stomach, Diarrhea or Indigestion in Pregnancy?
Spicy food is more likely to cause heartburn and discomfort, especially in the second and third trimesters (source: Indian Journal of Gastroenterology).
The journal’s study found that acid reflux is more common the further along you are in pregnancy. This is because of lower pressure on your esophagus, and additional pressure on your abdomen from the baby’s growth in your uterus.
If you’re wondering: can I eat spicy food in all trimesters? You can, but it’s more likely to cause heartburn the further along you are. Depending on what stage your pregnancy is at, you may want to eat milder food, if only to avoid excessive heartburn or discomfort.
Spicy food can cause diarrhea in all people, not just pregnant women. Capsaicin, the compound in chilies that makes them ‘hot’ is irritating to the stomach and digestive system (source: PubMed). It frequently causes diarrhea, especially in people who aren’t used to it.
If you find that spicy food gives you diarrhea, try to cut down or choose milder ‘heat’ options. The main concern with diarrhea in pregnancy is dehydration, so increase your intake of fluids if you can (source: APA).
If you’re not normally a chili-head, and you’re craving something very spicy, try to eat milder food first and work your way up. This builds up a tolerance to capsaicin.
Many women ask: How much spicy food can I eat when pregnant? Everyone responds differently to spicy foods, so there really is no ‘upper’ limit to how much spicy food you can eat when you’re pregnant.
If you experience unwanted side-effects like heartburn or diarrhea, you might find you have to cut down on spicy food. Again, it’s not harmful to your baby, but it may be inconvenient for you to handle an upset stomach.
Examples of Spicy Foods and their Safety in Pregnancy
If you’re going to eat something spicy in pregnancy, it’s also worth checking if the other ingredients are pregnancy-safe, too.
Rather than just classifying everything with the term ‘spicy food’, I know there are several dishes that pregnant women often ask about, so I’ve addressed them specifically here:
- Chilies (whether green chillies, red chili or any other type of chili pepper) – chilies are safe to eat in pregnancy, though be aware that most of the ‘heat’ comes from the seeds and ‘ribs’ inside the pepper.
If you’re handling a hot variety, wear gloves and avoid touching your eyes or skin after prepping. Chilies should be treated like any other vegetable – wash them first. For more on how to wash veg properly when you’re pregnant, there’s a guide here.
- Hot Chips or Crisps – these are all safe in pregnancy. Common brands include Hot Cheetos, Doritos Flamin’ Hot, Seabrook Scorchin’ Hot Fire Eaters, and Takis Fuego. Like many high sodium, high-fat snacks, chips and crisps should be enjoyed in moderation when you’re pregnant.
- Hot Sauce – most varieties of hot sauce are safe for pregnant women to eat. Shelf-stable, bottled versions are all sterile and can be safely eaten. Occasionally you’ll see a ‘fresh’ refrigerated hot sauce or salsa – these should be checked depending on their ingredients since it won’t be cooked or pasteurized. You can search this site from the homepage for individual ingredients to check.
- Spicy Hot Mayo – you should treat spicy mayo as you would normally mayonnaise as far as pregnancy safety goes. Here’s my guide to mayonnaise in pregnancy to help you out.
- Spicy Tuna Roll (Sushi) – it’s not the spice in a tuna roll that may make it unsafe for pregnant women to eat, but the tuna instead. Whether the tuna roll is spicy or not makes no difference to pregnancy safety, but whether the tuna is cooked or not does. Tuna shouldn’t be eaten raw, and you’ll need to check its mercury level. For more on this, check out my complete guide to eating tuna when you’re pregnant.
Can I Eat Curry When Pregnant?
Finally, I’m addressing one of my own favorite foods – curry – because it gets asked about it a lot! Pregnancy cravings for curry are quite common because it’s creamy, comforting and (depending on your taste) very spicy.
You can safely eat curry when you’re pregnant – the spice level is really a matter of preference and how prone you are to indigestion or heartburn, particularly in late pregnancy. This applies to Indian, Thai or any other type of curry.
If the curry is made fresh and served piping hot (or reheated properly until it is), most curries are fine to eat. Since pregnant women should try to increase their intake of nutrient-dense foods and choose options lower in saturated fat, you might want to opt for vegetable curries, stir-fried, tandoori or grilled items rather than creamy, rich or deep-fried menu items.
If you enjoy eating out, you might also enjoy this article I wrote on Pregnancy Tips for Eating Out (which includes Indian Takeaways and more)
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