In pregnancy, you’ll probably already know that you’re encouraged to eat more nutrient-dense foods, and this includes more veggies like fennel.
Fennel (also called Saunf) can be eaten in many ways, and it’s also available as fennel tea, an essential oil, and as a supplement. Are they all safe in pregnancy? I decided to find out.
Is Fennel Safe in Pregnancy? Fresh fennel bulb is safe in pregnancy in moderate amounts as food. The same applies to fennel seeds, for culinary use only. Pregnant women should avoid fennel tea, essential oil and fennel supplements due to Fennel’s estrogenic effect.
It’s not common for a food to be safe in some forms and not others, so this article breaks down all the different types of fennel for you, and whether it’s safe to have when you’re pregnant.
Is Fresh Fennel Bulb Safe in Pregnancy?
Fennel, with its sweet, anise-like flavor is commonly found sautéed or roasted, particularly with seafood dishes. It can also be finely shaved raw into a salad or slaw. Some chefs use the green, frond-like ‘fennel tops’ as well, especially as a garnish.
Fresh fennel, whether raw or cooked, is safe for pregnant women to eat in moderate amounts, as a food. There is no standardized ‘maximum’ amount of fennel, but if you’re eating a lot of it (for example, a whole roasted bulb of fennel), then it’s probably safer to limit eating it to a couple of times a month. Fennel is likely safe when taken in food amounts (source: WebMD).
Are Fennel Seeds safe for Pregnant Women to eat?
Fennel seeds are safe in pregnancy if they are eaten in moderate food amounts, such as:
- In a herb or spice blend
- To add flavor to dishes, such as a flavoring in soups or stews
- Mixed into some meat dishes (like meatballs or Italian sausage)
- Baked into bread, sweets or cookies.
Such recipes normally call for a small number of fennel seeds, and eating this moderate ‘food’ amount is likely to be safe in pregnancy (source: WebMD).
Eating excess amounts of fennel seeds is not recommended, for example, many ground-up seeds, or steeped to make fennel tea (discussed below).
Can Fennel (as food) be eaten in Every Trimester?
Some women worry about eating fennel in late pregnancy, or the third trimester, in case it induces labor due to its estrogenic effect.
There is no current evidence to suggest this is the case, and if fennel is consumed in moderate, ‘usual’ food amounts (which are usually very small), you should be able to eat fennel throughout your pregnancy, and in every trimester.
Why Fennel Should Only Be Eaten in Food Amounts
The reason you shouldn’t eat excess fennel is because it contains Estragole, a compound that acts like estrogen in the body (source: Science Direct). Fennel may also increase levels of progesterone and prolactin in the body (source: Journal of Medical and Biological Sciences).
Large amounts of fennel, such as those found in teas or supplements, may result in a shorter gestational term (source: Journal of Ethnopharmacology).
These effects and their impact on unborn babies have not been sufficiently studied, so pregnant women should avoid taking fennel at any amount that goes above regular culinary use.
Remember, these studied refer to fennel in higher amounts (such as in supplements, ingesting as an oil, or taking as a tea), so if you’re only eating fennel occasionally in a salad or as a side vegetable, you should be fine – and you’ll benefit from its nutritional advantages, covered later in this article.
Is Fennel Tea Safe in Pregnancy?
Fennel tea, also sometimes called Fennel Water, is usually made by steeping fennel seeds (whole or ground) in hot water.
Herbal teas should be approached with caution in pregnancy, not just for the herb used, but because some tea infusions or blends can contain much more of the herb, from one blend to another (source: APA).
For this reason, fennel tea should be avoided by pregnant women. Making fennel tea uses a large number of fennel seeds, often one or two tablespoons or more. They’re often ground up, too, which releases more fennel oil.
This is more fennel than a pregnant woman would expect to consume in a “normal” food dish with fennel in it. Therefore, drinking fennel tea may mean you have too much exposure to the estrogenic compounds found in fennel.
The Safety of Fennel Supplements and Fennel Oil in Pregnancy
For the same reasons that it contains Estragole, fennel oil (usually as an essential oil) should be avoided in pregnancy, as it’s only available at concentrations that are much higher than are typically found in food.
Similarly, fennel supplements are a very concentrated form of fennel and are not suitable for pregnant women (source: WebMD). The effects of fennel oil and supplements on pregnant women have not been studied sufficiently. In the absence of further information, pregnant women should avoid oil and supplements containing fennel.
The Benefits of Eating Fennel as Food
Since you now know that fennel is safe if you’re eating moderate amounts of the bulb or seeds as food, you might also want to know the benefits of fennel for pregnant women. Fennel contains some vitamins and minerals that are essential in pregnancy:
Fennel is a good source of vitamin C. It also contains small amounts of important minerals such as potassium, manganese, calcium, potassium and iron (source: Wikipedia). There’s more vitamin C in the bulb than the seeds.
Fennel also contains antioxidants and the compound Anethole, which may have beneficial anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic effects (source: PubMed).
Finally, when eaten as a vegetable, fennel is also a good source of fiber, and high-fiber diets can be beneficial in pregnancy, as they prevent constipation – something that commonly occurs in pregnancy (source: APA).
If you’re trying to increase your fruit and veggie intake in pregnancy, you might also be interested in reading about how cucumbers can benefit you in pregnancy and what to look for when eating mushrooms, too.
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