Do pregnant Japanese women eat sushi?
April 22, 2015 9:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in thoughts and superstitions centred around eating and food in pregnancy around the world. What are you advised to eat or avoid in your country when pregnant? What are you told will happen to your baby (or its character) if you eat specific foods. Also, do Japanese women really give up sushi when pregnant and do the French give up their camembert and brie?
posted by kitchencrush to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't already, you should read Expecting Better. This issue is discussed at length.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:42 AM on April 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

I can't answer about the sushi or brie but just try prying the pint of stout from a pregnant Irishwoman's hands.

These unofficial rules are not universal and it's my impression that the US' are the most stringent of all.
posted by kapers at 9:42 AM on April 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Amazon people who hunt with curare have tabboos against pregnant women eating game killed with this poison. They get fish and grubs, (not the fish killed with the DDT though.)
posted by Oyéah at 9:59 AM on April 22, 2015

This is the advice we get in the UK. (Sushi is generally fine.)
posted by Catseye at 10:01 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was surprised to find that my French sister in law (who is an OBGYN, no less) had approximately the same proscriptions on food and drink that I, and American, did. No unpasteurized cheeses, no alcohol, no oysters, no salad bar ingredients that might be susceptible to listeria, no scooping of cat litter, no smoking. I expected more of a cultural divide. Cold cuts were less present in their minds as a danger, just because cold cuts and sandwiches are less common there anyway.

This changed in France in about 1982, by the way. My mother-in-law didn't observe any of these rules when she was pregnant with her first child (now my husband), and ate oysters and smoked and drank wine all through her pregnancy. When the second one came along, the doctor told her all these things were no-no's, even though she'd done them with no apparent ill effects.
posted by Liesl at 10:07 AM on April 22, 2015

I should add that everyone looked at me with intense pity, eating my industrially-processed pasteurized cheese by myself. Because it wasn't a question of forgoing cheese entirely, of course! But it was reasonably easy to find, no problem there.

No sushi, either, but that wasn't a problem for me.
posted by Liesl at 10:09 AM on April 22, 2015

Also, this article [pdf] from Gastronomica discusses the clay/mud/dirt-eating habits of pregnant women in several parts of the world.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was pregnant in Paris and I told a waiter; he immediately mentioned undercooked fish, soft cheeses and alcohol as a no-no. The cheese part surprised me.

Although it's discouraged, a large number of French and Norwegian women still smoke during pregnancy.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2015

I don't know if Japanese women routinely give up sushi/fish during pregnancy, but it's probably worth it to note that, due in part to their fish heavy diets (and in larger part to unchecked industrial pollution), fetal mercury poisoning is known as "Minamata Disease" after a city in Japan where thousands of people were poisoned by eating mercury laden fish in the 50's.
posted by Missense Mutation at 10:41 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm Dutch. We had the same restrictions that Liesl mentioned when I was pregnant over 10 years ago. Raw meat and fish are well known as "forbidden" here as well, mostly because filet Americain and raw herring are rather popular here. We're also told to cook our other meat. No rare steaks. Raw egg products (like homemade mayonnaise) are warned against as well. "Rules" against alcohol are getting more strict, I think it used to be okay to drink a glass a week, and now it's said that you shouldn't drink at all. You can have coffee and energy drinks, but only about 1 cup per day. And we're told we should not eat too much licorice, which is kind of our signature snack.
posted by blub at 10:45 AM on April 22, 2015

I'm quite pleased with myself for finding this article which addresses some of the concerns women around the world have about pregnancy. They analyzed Google searches to see what questions people have about pregnancy in different countries ("can pregnant women ... ?"). I think you'll enjoy it.
posted by kat518 at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Even in the US there is some difference on these restrictions. And my first pregnancy, my doctor told me no sushi, period. With my second child, my different doctor told me that sushi was fine as long as I avoided fish high in mercury and only ate it from reputable establishments. I'm in the US, by the way.
posted by devinemissk at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

In Chinese culture, pregnant women shouldn't eat broccoli because it increases their "heatness" (火氣), which can harm the baby in some way. There were other foods too but I just remember broccoli. I've never been pregnant, though, so I can't verify the veracity of this. And I don't know if this is still followed.

(Heatness is a little hard to describe. It's not really physical body temperature. Probably more like temperament.)
posted by curagea at 11:15 AM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are no unpasteurized cheeses in the United States except for long-aged-and-therefore-safe stuff like parmesan. In France it makes sense not to eat brie and so on while pregnant because they don't pasteurize it. Here we do, so the edict makes no sense.
posted by Don Pepino at 11:44 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

the association of stout and Irish women is pretty offensive to be honest. I know we have a drinking culture but NOT during pregnancy. if it was ever a feature, it was pre-50's when the relationship of alcohol and foetal abnormalities was not widely know. I heard it from my grandmother that pubs would offer a 1/2 glass of stout to pregnant women when she was a girl (30's) according to her for the 'iron content' but she herself never liked stout so I never really discovered if it was true.
the same urban mythologists still claim that irish blood donors get free stout after a donation and I can certainly confirm that in the 60s this was true as my uncle was a regular donor but as a donor in the 80s onwards it most definitely was not true. The aim I'm sure would have been to increase male donations, drinking outside the home was still relatively touchy for most women until about the 70s except for special occasions or a one pub night at the weekend where the men might have a 'feed of drink' while the little woman would have a couple of Babychams or a sherry.

As an Irish woman who had 3 pregnancies in Ireland the same restrictions were emphasised as you see for France above.
posted by Wilder at 11:55 AM on April 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm not an expert on this, but years ago Japan had a crisis where many babies were being born with Mercury poisoning- which has terrible life-long affects. One of the most heart-wrenching videos I've ever seen in my life was this old black and white video where a father was speaking to a crowd unable to hold back his tears about the children being born with "eyes that can't see and hands that can't grasp".

The mercury poisoning came from eating too much fish... I'm guessing it was from eating primarily bigger sized sea creatures. The bigger the fish the more mercury it has. So Tuna has more during pregnancy staying away from larger fish varieties is probably good.
posted by manderin at 12:28 PM on April 22, 2015

Yes, they do eat sushi during pregnancy.

My wife is Japanese, and she was really surprised when I told her most American women give up sushi during pregnancy. Until I explained the thinking she hadn't even considered it.

My sister in law (on my wife's side) and us ate sushi together a few weeks before her due date. All of my wife's friends/family ate sushi while pregnant.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:54 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here in Italy I was told by my doctor at the time no rare meat or raw fish (cue much gnashing of teeth), no raw eggs (buh-bye tiramisu), easy on the caffine (buh-bye coffee habit), no moldy cheeses (buh-bye Gorgonzola and Brie), no raw produce that I hadn't wash myself with Ammuchina (blech) and no prosciutto crudo; I found out later when comparing with US restrictions deli meat was a no-no in general, but I opted for eating less of them and eliminating the prosciutto as told.

She also said half a glass of wine or beer here and there was no big deal, but to stay away from the harder stuff. Both Peanuts in gestation scotched that for me though; only the priciest wines didn't taste like total and complete ass-vinegar.

That was the official word from my doc; then there was what everyone else chimed in with because of what they did when they were preggo, what their sister did, or their cousin's neighbor's wife: no pork at all, no fish or seafood at all, no spicy foods, no strawberries. I shut that shit down hard with a dangerous smile and a "that's not scientifically proven/it's done differently in the US" (subtext: do not come between the pregnant lady with a fork and her strawberries)

Even better? After giving birth to my first a male acquaintance was capital S shocked I had dropped the diet restrictions because according to his sister, I should continue until I stopped breastfeeding. As if.

With my second (not yet 3 months old) the night nursery nurses who insisted that my newborn couldn't possibly have gastric discomfort because "it's not like you've eaten beans or raw fish or drank gassy mineral water." GRAR. (turns out Peanut #2 is a wee bit refluxy)
posted by romakimmy at 12:54 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

My mother (not Irish) was recommended a regular glass of Guinness while pregnant in the 50's for the iron. (My grandma, her mother, would not set foot in a pub even as late as the 70's because she considered it Not Respectable.) I keep forgetting the current advice for pregnant women is not to touch a drop of alcohol - it's such a turnaround from previous advice.
posted by glasseyes at 12:56 PM on April 22, 2015

There's a book on this -- more a history of it, but an around-the-world history -- and my Google-fu is weak and I can't remember anything of the title, just that a library here had a book on the history of cultures/customs re. what pregnant women must avoid, and it had a turquoise-y cover. Ask your librarian...? It was a very entertaining read.

Here, the Canadian gov't says no to a number of things including sprouts. (I did not avoid sprouts; I love a wad of alfalfa in sandwiches.)

Odd aside: I had nearly no experience with constipation prior to pregnancy, and when it became an issue and I mentioned it to my midwife, she told me to eat goat cheese. I shovelled in the chèvre, and was astonished to find it worked for me.

Gov't recommendation here is no booze at all; neither the midwife nor the obstetricians I saw (Ottawa, 2007) thought me having the odd drink posed any problem.
posted by kmennie at 6:58 PM on April 22, 2015

No pineapple or durian if you're pregnant in Asia. And a woman in my class had to forgo the box of chocolates being passed around and everyone guessed immediately she was pregnant with a strict Chinese mother-in-law.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:05 PM on April 22, 2015

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