Can I Eat Spicy Foods While Pregnant?

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When you find out you're pregnant, you may immediately begin wondering what kinds of changes you need to make to your diet. If you love cooking with plenty of hot chili peppers in your food, you might start to question whether spicy foods are safe for you to eat now.

The good news is that eating spicy food will not harm you or your baby. "There is no inherent harm to spicy food in the health of mom or health and development of the baby," explains Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD, a Texas-based registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian.

That being said, your body may react differently to spicy foods during pregnancy. At the start of pregnancy, morning sickness can make these foods unpalatable, and later on, they may contribute to heartburn or indigestion.

Eating Spicy Food During Pregnancy

Eating spicy food during pregnancy is safe, but it may contribute to pregnancy discomfort. "Eating spicy food while pregnant is completely the decision of the pregnant person," notes Hanes. If you regularly eat spicy foods, eating them while pregnant may be less likely to make you uncomfortable, but it is still possible.

Spicy foods have some benefits during pregnancy. They have been shown to reduce cholesterol and early exposure to spicy flavors while in the womb may encourage children to try a wider variety of foods when they're older.

While spicy foods are not dangerous to you or your developing baby, you may not crave them when you are pregnant, even if you normally love spice. Early in pregnancy, nausea and food aversions may not make you feel like eating anything spicy. Later on, spicy food may exacerbate heartburn and indigestion.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating spicy foods while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

Spicy food will not harm a developing baby. If eating spicy food bothers your stomach or you have an aversion to the taste, you can choose to avoid these foods. But you do not need to be concerned about your baby's health and development either way.

Benefits of Spicy Food During Pregnancy

Not only is spicy food safe for your baby but it may have some benefits too. Spicy food may keep you healthy during your pregnancy and it may help prevent your baby from becoming a picky eater later on.

Expose Baby to New Tastes

Eating a variety of different tastes may have benefits in the future. "Some research actually suggests that eating multiple different flavors during pregnancy and breastfeeding increases the likelihood of the child accepting those flavors later!" shares Hanes.

Flavors from the food you eat are transferred to your amniotic fluid. Your baby swallows this fluid, and by nine weeks gestation can taste its flavor. This is your little one's earliest exposure to the tastes and flavors of your culture, and the more varied it is, the more likely your baby is to try and enjoy a wider variety of foods when they are older.

Heart Health

Some studies have shown that eating spicy food can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

HDL is the "good cholesterol" that your body needs to flush LDL ("bad cholesterol") from the body. HDL reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. If there is not enough HDL the LDL builds up, increasing your risk of chest pain and heart attack.

Research indicates that both HDL and LDL levels increase during pregnancy. Because HDL helps to flush LDL out of your system, anything you can do to increase it (like eat more spicy food!) is beneficial.

Safety Precautions

Although there are no inherent dangers to eating spicy food while pregnant, the heat and strong flavor may cause some discomfort. Physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy may make it hard to eat spicy foods, even if you normally enjoy them.

Heartburn

Many people experience heartburn later on in their pregnancy. From early in pregnancy hormone changes cause relaxation of the muscular band that protects your esophagus from stomach acids.

As the baby grows, your uterus expands and the rest of your organs rearrange and squish themselves into whatever space is left to make room. This includes your stomach, which may become much smaller and more prone to heartburn due to acids pushed back up into the esophagus.

"Heartburn is a very common pregnancy symptom and is generally exacerbated by spicy foods," notes Hanes. "[Other things can magnify heartburn] include tomato-based foods, fatty foods, peppermint, caffeine, and chocolate." 

Indigestion

As your pregnancy progresses, the rate at which your stomach empties slows down. Shifting organs may also be responsible for other types of indigestion during pregnancy. This may include feeling uncomfortably full after eating.

"Spicy foods have a tendency to cause indigestion discomfort later in pregnancy, so moderation is advisable," notes Bruce K. Young, MD, an internationally known leader and innovator in obstetrics and gynecology. "This is not always the case though, especially if [spicy foods] have been part of your normal diet and your system is accustomed to them."

Nausea

Morning sickness is a classic early pregnancy symptom. Debilitating nausea, persistent vomiting, and strong food aversions are not restricted to the morning like their label suggests. Instead, these symptoms can last all day long for weeks to months.

If you are experiencing pregnancy nausea, eating spicy foods will likely make you feel worse, Dr. Young points out. Plus, if you do vomit, chili peppers or other strong spices may make throwing up even more uncomfortable than it already is. Bottom line: listen to your body. If you don't feel like eating it, you probably shouldn't.

A Word From Verywell

Spicy foods are completely fine to eat during pregnancy, as long as they don't cause problems for you. If you normally love spicy foods, it's OK to continue eating them. Many people find that between morning sickness, heartburn, and indigestion, spicy food just does not agree with them during pregnancy. Others have no issues and continue to enjoy spicy throughout all three trimesters.

Since spicy foods pose no inherent danger to your developing baby, this is a case where you can try it out and decide whether you want to continue eating these foods, eat them in moderation, or not eat them at all. Whether you can stomach spicy foods may depend on where you are in pregnancy and it may differ from pregnancy to pregnancy.

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