Eating Ethnic When You’re Expecting

chinese chicken
For busy expectant mothers who juggle family, school and work, healthy eating is a constant struggle. And, sometimes the healthy options seem dull. The challenge increases when your body starts craving exotic and bizarre foods—especially those that are deep-fried or dipped in chocolate. With these obstacles, and no time to prepare even the simplest ‘30–minute meal,’ what’s a woman to do?Order out and eat ethnic!Ethnic restaurants can provide a wide variety of tasty meat and vegetables dishes rich in nutrients such as folic acid, calcium, potassium and iron essential to a healthy pregnancy.

Many of the worlds’ healthiest foods can be found in abundance in the staples of many ethnic cuisines, according to nutritionists at the George Mateljan Foundation, a non profit organization that offers scientific information about the benefits and nutritional value of food. The exotic dishes from other regions or parts of the world can even satisfy–in healthy ways—your sweet, sour, salty or spicy cravings.

The key to eating out at ethnic restaurants is to be informed and make healthy choices, says Whittney Hoyler, a reproductive educator with the American Pregnancy Association. She cautions pregnant women to avoid soft cheeses found in some ethnic dishes. For example, Hoyler says that brie, feta, gorgonzola and Mexican-style cheeses such as ceso blanco or ceso fresco may have been made from un-pasteurized milk and put woman at risk of contracting listeria, a kind of food poisoning that can be fatal to the fetus.

Eating ethnic foods can be a healthy culinary adventure. Choose foods with high nutritional value. Ask questions about food preparation and select low-fat variations. In general, nutritionists recommend that pregnant women avoid deep fried or over-cooked foods, raw meat, heavy creams and foods cooked with fatty meats or lard. With this information, explore ethnic restaurants and satisfy your cravings the right way.

Soul Food
Among the staples on a soul food menu are at least six of the foods that the Mateljan Foundation has identified as the world’s healthiest foods. These super foods are collard greens, sweet potatoes, Lima beans, green beans, mustard greens and watermelon.

These foods are packed with calcium, dietary fiber, iron and folate (folic acid), one of the most important nutrients for a pregnant woman and her baby, says Angelika Bekman, a nutritionist at Beth Israel Women’s Health Center in New York. According to Bekman, folic acid is crucial in the early stages of pregnancy to prevent neural-tube birth defects such as spina bifida.

Rickey Hill, a chef at Bob Law’s Seafood Café in Brooklyn, New York says that people should find soul food restaurants that do not cook vegetables with pork fat or lard. He adds that important vitamins are lost when the food is over cooked in the traditional southern manner. Ask health conscious friends to recommend their favorite restaurants.


The myriad spicy, sweet and aromatic menu choices are topped only by the nutritional value of the core ingredients. “The magic of Indian cuisine is that one dish can bring every food group together,” says Survir Saran, executive chef at Devi Restaurant in New York City.

Lentils, always present on restaurant menus, are also named on the Mateljan list. One cup of cooked lentils has about 90 percent of the daily recommended value of folate. They are also high in fiber, iron, potassium and protein.

Another nutrition-packed staple in Indian food is the chickpea. It’s used in curries, ground into flour and uses independently. Chickpeas contain high levels of folate, fiber, protein and iron.

Not only are the core ingredients chock-full of good things, but the herbs and spices used to flavor them are also healthy.

Avoid the fried breads and opt for naan instead. Also, be aware that most menu items will be cooked in ghee (clarified butter), unless you request otherwise.

Chinese food is known for a variety of crisp stir-fried and steamed vegetable dishes that do not lose much of their vitamin content. With the addition of steamed rice, lo mein or rice noodles, these dishes can be good sources of iron, carbohydrates and other vitamins.

Avoid restaurants that use msg (monosodium glutamate) to flavor and preserve foods. Ask before you order. Also, stay clear of the deep-fried wontons, pot stickers and egg rolls.