Thai Food During Pregnancy: What’s Safe and What’s Not

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Written by Amy Kaczor RDN

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Thai food is known for its popular savory dishes, often with a subtle spiciness and a refreshing sweetness. However, can you eat your favorite Thai foods while pregnant?

The good news is the majority of Thai food is safe to consume while you are pregnant when it is fully cooked. But, of course, there are a few dishes that need slight variations to make them as safe as possible for pregnancy.

If you are wondering which Thai dishes are safe and which are not, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s dive into how to consume Thai food safely during pregnancy. 

Is Thai Food Safe During Pregnancy?

Thai food, meaning the Americanized Thai cuisine we find here in the United States, is a favorite of many people. If you’re one of them and are also pregnant, you’ll be happy to hear that most Thai food is safe during pregnancy, especially if you make a few substitutions we will discuss in this article. 

However, it is crucial to note that Thai food tends to be high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, so it should be consumed in moderation. 

seafood pad thai on a plate

Which Thai Dishes to Avoid During Pregnancy

Some popular Thai dishes include ingredients that should be avoided during pregnancy. However, it’s pretty easy to modify these dishes so you can still enjoy them safely. Here are a few examples:

Thai salad is a tasty and refreshing entree with fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, a protein source, and a creamy or zesty sauce. However, one of the fruits typically included is papaya.

Thai salad with unripe papaya on a plate

Papaya is safe to consume during pregnancy if it is completely ripe, but Thai salad often contains raw, unripe, or semi-ripe papaya. Unripe papaya contains a chemical called papain that is potentially very harmful to pregnant women (source: National Library of Medicine & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). 

It is recommended to avoid raw papaya altogether during pregnancy. Therefore, do not eat Thai salad containing raw papaya. Instead, try making your Thai salad at home, ensuring the papaya is ripened with its signature yellow skin. 

Pad Thai can be safe during pregnancy if you leave off the raw bean sprouts. If you order pad Thai at a restaurant, ask to pass on the lime wedge and fresh herbs, since you cannot be sure they have been washed properly. For more on this, see our dedicated article on pad Thai during pregnancy.

Thai tea, a delicious spiced black tea sweetened with condensed milk over ice, is a popular Thai beverage. The main concern of Thai tea is caffeine consumption. Thai tea tends to be brewed longer than traditional black teas and, therefore, can have a higher caffeine intake. It can still be safe during pregnancy if consumed within the limit of 200 milligrams of caffeine daily (source: American Pregnancy Association). 

Bean sprouts are common in Thai cuisine, specifically pad Thai dishes. Pad Thai is a mixture of flat rice noodles, vegetables, and protein such as chicken or shrimp. It commonly includes raw bean sprouts as an ingredient or as a topping.

Avoid eating bean sprouts raw during pregnancy as they have a higher risk of containing bacteria that can cause food-borne illness (source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]). However, if making at home, simply wash and cook the bean sprouts thoroughly before you enjoy your pad Thai!

Check out this article for more information on consuming bean sprouts and sprouts during pregnancy.

Finally, whether you are dining out or eating at home, always ensure that the Thai food you consume is served piping hot and steaming, according to the FDA. If you take leftovers home from a restaurant, make sure you can get home within two hours to put the food in the fridge.

Is Lemongrass in Thai Food a Concern During Pregnancy?

Lemongrass is an herb that can lead to dangerous congenital disabilities in the baby when consumed during pregnancy. Specifically, the citral and myrcene in lemongrass have been shown to cause congenital disabilities in rats (source: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). 

It is recommended to avoid lemongrass altogether during your pregnancy. Check out this article for more information on lemongrass and pregnancy

Tom Yum Koong (Thai Language) is prawn and lemon grass soup with mushrooms the famous delicious Thai food.

Should I Worry About MSG in Thai Food When Pregnant?

Additionally, MSG, or monosodium glutamate, in Thai food is often a concern for pregnant women. 

The FDA has deemed MSG “Generally Recognized As Safe” or GRAS. Therefore, MSG is safe for all individuals, including pregnant women, and there is no need to avoid MSG. 

Some individuals may be more sensitive to MSG than others, experiencing symptoms such as headache or nausea when eating foods containing MSG. If you are sensitive to MSG, you should definitely avoid it during pregnancy.

The Best Thai Food Choices During Pregnancy

When choosing to eat Thai food during pregnancy, there are some crucial factors to consider, especially when eating out. 

It is best to limit any Thai food that has been fried in oil, especially deep-fat fried. Deep-fat fried food is typically rich in saturated fats. While fat is needed during pregnancy, monounsaturated fat is preferable to saturated fat (source: University of California San Francisco). 

Here are more tips to follow while eating out at your favorite Thai restaurants during your pregnancy:

  • Ensure food is piping hot and steaming (source: FDA).
  • Do not order food that contains undercooked meat, seafood, or eggs
  • Ask if milk, eggs, and juice are pasteurized (and avoid if they are not!).
  • Limit sugar-sweetened beverages, such as Thai tea and sugary desserts.
  • Favor dishes rich in cooked vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fiber-rich foods.

If you follow these tips and make a few substitutions, you can safely eat the Thai dishes you usually enjoy during your pregnancy. 

thai curry chicken soup with coconut milk in a bowl

Can I Eat Thai Curry When Pregnant? 

From red and green to yellow and Panang, curry is a popular Thai dish. As long as it is served hot, all varieties of curry are safe to consume during your pregnancy — even if you love the very spicy versions!

However, spicy food, including Thai curries, may cause uncomfortable side effects, including heartburn (source: Indian Journal of Gastroenterology). This effect is more likely in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Otherwise, the spice level of your Thai food is completely up to your personal preference!

Additionally, Thai curry is usually high in sugar and saturated fat as it contains coconut milk. Therefore, it is best to consume Thai curries in moderation. 

Read more about spicy food in pregnancy here.

Is it Normal to Crave Thai Food During Pregnancy?

Craving Thai food during pregnancy is very normal and nothing to worry about. Many people crave spicy and salty foods during pregnancy. Whether you’re in the mood for pad Thai, Thai tea, Thai curries, or other delicious Thai dishes, by using the tips in this article you can safely satisfy your Thai food craving! Check out these resources on spicy food and salt cravings during pregnancy to learn more. 

I hope you found this article helpful in unpacking the safety of breaking down the facts regarding Thai food consumption during pregnancy!