In a similar vein to many of the other herbs and spices, we have talked about, expecting mothers often find this ingredient snuck into teas and other food dishes. But not all herbs are safe during pregnancy. Are there any special considerations for fenugreek or does it belong on the list of spices to avoid?
Fenugreek might be a lesser-known herb/spice, but that doesn’t leave it with any fewer safety concerns during pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rated fenugreek as likely unsafe during pregnancy, as the plant has been associated with several negative effects on a baby’s development and birth.
Knowing that fenugreek is added to the list of herbs and spices that are best avoided while pregnant leaves many women with more questions than answers.
In this article, I will break down the science behind why fenugreek should be left in the pantry, as well as which foods and beverages might contain the seasoning and some helpful alternatives to try when cooking.
Is Fenugreek (Methi) Safe When Pregnant?
Fenugreek, otherwise known as methi, is a maple syrup-tasting herb used as a flavoring in foods and drinks, scent in personal care products, and has also long been used in traditional medicine (source: NIH).
This herb is sold in many forms, including seeds, leaves, tea, and as a dietary supplement. While fenugreek is generally recognized as safe by the FDA for non-pregnant folks, it is likely unsafe to consume during pregnancy (source: Michigan Medicine).
There are some conflicting reports about how much fenugreek might be safe, with some agencies recommending strict avoidance while others recommend limiting to amounts found in foods. Because fenugreek is rated as likely unsafe during pregnancy, it is best to avoid all amounts of fenugreek when expecting (source: Michigan Medicine, NIH).
Is Eating Fenugreek Seeds Safe During Pregnancy?
Fenugreek seeds can be both eaten raw and steeped into fenugreek tea or fenugreek water. Whole fenugreek seeds are not as readily available as other popular seeds, such as chia, but can still be found in many bulk and health food shops.
In addition to using the seed whole, fenugreek seeds are commonly used in international cooking to bring flavor to curries and soups. You can identify fenugreek-based curries as they will typically list ‘methi’ in the name- for example, Aloo Methi. Popular seasoning blends such as garam masala and Indian five-spice also include fenugreek.
Based on the guidance from the FDA, rating fenugreek as likely unsafe during pregnancy, it is best to avoid using the herb in any form.
Fenugreek can be sneaky, as its flavor is not as distinct as other herbs. Knowing that fenugreek should be avoided during pregnancy causes many women to be concerned if they have already eaten curries or dishes with fenugreek before learning this.
If you have not been avoiding fenugreek in foods- don’t worry! The amount used in cooking is typically very small and accidentally eating some fenugreek in a dish is unlikely to cause any harm to you or your baby.
Are Fenugreek Leaves Safe When Pregnant?
Very similar to fenugreek seeds, fenugreek leaves may also be steeped into teas and other drinks. During pregnancy, there is no difference in the safety profile between fenugreek leaves and the plant’s seeds. Both are likely unsafe during pregnancy.
For this reason, it is also best to avoid eating and drinking fenugreek leaves while pregnant.
Curious about how to replace fenugreek in cooking? A dash of maple syrup will give similar nutty and maple notes, while curry powder will up the spice factor. If your dish calls for large amounts of fenugreek leaves, mustard, or other tougher greens can be swapped.
Can Fenugreek Cause Miscarriage or Birth Defects?
Knowing that fenugreek is likely unsafe during pregnancy and should be avoided is one thing, but many women also wonder why this is the case. Why is this herb not recommended during pregnancy?
There are two main concerns with fenugreek during pregnancy:
The first is the potential for inducing uterine contractions (source: University of Texas at El Paso). Especially if you have not yet reached term (or under the careful control of your medical provider), early uterine contractions can cause serious harm to your unborn baby.
Many vital organs undergo rapid development during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Giving your baby as much of the precious, uninterrupted time for growth as possible is essential.
The second concern is fenugreek’s impact on nervous system development. One study found that when mice were exposed to fenugreek in utero, the mouse pups had significantly lower neuromotor and spinal cord function.
This means their central nervous system, which controls the movement of the body, was slower to respond. Researchers found that these delays were a result of fenugreek reducing how well the central nervous system developed during pregnancy (source: PLOS One).
Does Fenugreek Have Benefits for Pregnant Women?
While fenugreek has long been used in traditional medicine, there is only limited research to back up its historical uses.
There is some evidence to how fenugreek may help to stabilize blood sugar levels in folks with diabetes, however, most mothers and mothers-to-be will be familiar with its use as a galactagogue (source: Michigan Medicine).
Galactagogues are foods thought to increase breastmilk supply and/or production. In this capacity, fenugreek is a common ingredient in lactation cookies and herbal tea blends- Traditional Medicinals Mothers Milk tea being one of the most popular brands.
But just because fenugreek is an ingredient in products marketed for mothers does not make it a good choice while pregnant. Fenugreek’s status as likely unsafe during pregnancy, as well as its risk for uterine contractions and nervous system delays for baby, trump any potential benefits.
If you were curious about fenugreek’s potential to lower blood sugar and/or increase milk production, your medical provider is more than equipped to help you navigate these concerns and help you find pregnancy-safe alternatives.
For a list of (safe) foods that can aid in boosting milk supply, check out our article 10 Best Lactogenic Foods!
Can Fenugreek Prevent Pregnancy?
Contraceptive options are in no short supply, and neither are the rumors swirling about natural alternatives. Using fenugreek to prevent pregnancy happens to be one of those rumors!
Some of these rumors likely stem from a study done on animals. Researchers showed that rabbits fed very high amounts of fenugreek in their diet were much less fertile. It is important to point out that 30% of these rabbits’ diet was fenugreek and even this high level of the herb was not able to prevent all pregnancies.
Along with the decrease in fertility, a high amount of fenugreek was also shown to cause toxic effects, however (source: Journal of Contraception).
The effect of fenugreek on preventing pregnancy has not yet been studied in humans, but it is worth noting that there are no dietary changes or foods to eat that are FDA-approved contraceptives. If you are not currently looking to get pregnant, speak with your medical provider about reliable and safe contraceptive options for you.
Overall, fenugreek should be avoided while pregnant, as both the seeds and leaves of the plant can lead to developmental concerns for your growing baby. There are some tasty alternatives, however- including maple syrup, curry powder, and mustard greens.
Wondering how these safety swaps stack up? We’ve got you covered!