Medical and nutrition experts say there is no scientific evidence to suggest that eating spicy foods during pregnancy is dangerous and can result in blindness in babies.
According to them, no study yet has linked blindness in children to spicy food consumption during pregnancy.
They, however, said eating spicy foods might predispose pregnant women to the risk of heartburn, especially in those who had ulcers before conception.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, one of the experts and a Professor of Public Health Nutrition, Prof. Ignatius Onimawo, said it is untrue that consuming spicy foods during pregnancy leads to blindness in babies.
The myth suggests that spicy foods eaten during pregnancy can burn the baby’s eyes, resulting in blindness.
Prof. Onimawo, a former Vice-Chancellor, of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, said, “It is a pure fallacy. There is no research to back that kind of statement. I am not aware of any spices pregnant women should avoid. But I can say that eating spices is a bit more cultural.
“There are some people that eat a lot of spices but others don’t. They don’t like it because of the way a person is brought up.”
The don said he was not aware of any spicy food that is contraindicated in pregnancy.
Prof. Onimawo, a former President of the Nutrition Society of Nigeria pointed out that drugs and alcohol are the things that are contraindicated in pregnancy and have harmful effects on the foetus and not spicy foods.
The nutritionist, however, urged pregnant women to eat healthily and consume more fruits and vegetables.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, food safety is vital for everyone – but especially for pregnant women, their unborn babies, and children younger than five.
An online portal, BabyCentre says spicy foods are safe during pregnancy.
“Yes, spicy foods are safe for you and your baby when you’re pregnant. They certainly don’t make the long list of foods you should avoid when you’re expecting.
“Plenty of people (wrongly) believe that eating spicy food is dangerous, whether or not you’re pregnant. It’s not true! Spicy foods are safe, although your taste buds and digestive system may not always do well with the heat”, the centre said.
BabyCentre is an online company in the United States that provides information on conception, pregnancy, birth, and early childhood development for parents and expecting parents.
The new National President of the Healthcare Providers Association of Nigeria, Dr Austin Aipoh, also corroborated Prof. Onimawo’s statement, saying the claim that eating spicy foods during pregnancy may lead to blindness in babies is just a myth and has no scientific basis.
Dr. Aipoh, a public health physician said, “For me, there is no scientific evidence to show that any of the spices that we know of causes blindness in babies. But despite that, if there are some spices that one is not sure of, a pregnant woman should avoid them.”
The physician, urged pregnant women to avoid unknown spices, adding that consuming certain spices could aggravate stomach ulcers.
The HCPAN president noted, “For heartburn, it is a possibility, pregnant women are exposed to heartburn. For people that have ulcers or gastritis, when they are pregnant, it gets worse. In such patients, if they go and take a very spicy food with plenty pepper or ginger or alligator pepper, yes, it could make them have heartburn- dyspepsia.”
BabyCentre also affirmed that spicy foods could increase the risk of heartburn in pregnancy.
“Many pregnant women suffer from heartburn, and spicy foods can aggravate it in some people. Heartburn occurs as pregnancy hormones relax the valve between the oesophagus and stomach, allowing stomach acids to creep back up into the oesophagus.
“While heartburn can happen in any trimester, it’s most common in the last trimester, as your growing baby pushes stomach acids up into the oesophagus,” the centre explained.
Researchers in a 2018 article published in Nutrients said a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy is essential to support optimal growth and development of the fetus and the physiological changes that occur in the mother.
Nutrients is an open-access peer-reviewed scientific journal.
The researchers explained, “Fundamental aspects of healthy dietary behaviours during pregnancy include consuming foods that contain optimal amounts of energy as well as macro and micronutrients, achieving appropriate weight gain, adhering to general and pregnancy-specific food safety recommendations, and avoiding ingestion of harmful substances.”