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Five Korean Ingredients You Should Avoid While You Are Pregnant

Are you pregnant and concerned about eating certain Korean food? Then read on!

Five Korean Ingredients You Should Avoid While You Are Pregnant | MyKoreanKitchen.com

(Image credit – canstockphoto.com used with licence)

First of all, I want you to understand that this article is not intended for medical, health or dietary advice. Nor is it extensively researched to give you any new findings. It merely serves as a discussion point based on my brief internet search where I noticed the below ingredients tend to get mentioned repeatedly in Korean media outlets. If you’re really concerned about what you can eat or should avoid, you should seek appropriate professional advice.

Initially I wrote this article back in 2013 when I was first pregnant with my daughter. As an expecting mother I too was very nervous and apprehensive about whether I was eating as best as I could.

At my first obstetrician visit (at around 8 weeks pregnancy), I was handed a pregnancy information pack. It included what to expect in the coming months and types of exercise that are good for a pregnant women etc.  Among these, one of the papers listed food that should be avoided by a pregnant woman.

As I was going through the list, there was a couple of ‘whaaat!?’ moments. Just to name a few, it said I can’t have smoked salmon, ham, salami, sushi, soft cheese (e.g. brie) etc. Oh no! They are all my favorite foods!

In fact, without knowing, I had been eating those foods until that moment. Then I started to worry. Is my baby going to be OK!?

After reading that paper, I watched very carefully what I ate. Then it crossed my mind, what about Korean food? I eat Korean food more frequently than anything else. What Korean food can I eat and what should I avoid? So I did some quick internet searches of Korean language media articles and compiled a list of ‘Korean food you should avoid while you are pregnant’ to bring up some discussion with you. 

Disclaimer – I want to make it clear again that this article is not intended for medical, health or dietary advice. Please seek appropriate professional advice if you have any concerns or questions about your pregnancy.

1. Job’s Tears (Korean name – Yulmu, 율무) 


(Image from tastehongkong.com)

A most common way to intake Job’s tears (also known as Adlay) in Korea is via multi-grain rice (Japgokbap, 잡곡밥) and Job’s tears tea (Yulmu-Cha, 율무차).

Job’s tears are known to burn water and fat that is required for a baby’s growth. It also increases the risk of premature birth as it releases amniotic fluids and apparently it can cause constipation as well.

On the other hand, Job’s tears are known to be beneficial after giving birth as it discharges unnecessary fluids from the body and helps reduce swelling.

2. Mung Beans (Korean name – Nokdu, 녹두)

 Mung bean

(Photo credit – canstockphoto.com used with licence)

Mung beans are mainly used in Mung bean pancake (Bindaetteok, 빈대떡) and Mung bean sprout salad (Sukju Namul, 숙주나물) in Korean cuisine.

Mung bean has a cold characteristic (in food yin and yang) and hinders digestion. 

Mung beans are also known to burn the fetus’s fat and if consumed in large quantities it can cause a miscarriage.

3. Red Beans (Korean name – Pat, )

Red beans (Adzuki beans)

(Photo credit – canstockphoto.com used with licence)

Red beans (also known as Adzuki beans) are commonly consumed in a form of Red bean posrridge (Patjuk, 팥죽), Korean shaved ice desert (Patbingsu, 팥빙수), Korean Glutinous Rice Ball Doughnuts (Chapssal Donuts, 찹쌀도넛) and Half-moon shaped rice cakes (Songpyeon, 송편).

While red beans make the whole body’s hormones active, it can cause oxytocin activity due to the hormone hyper-secretion.

4. Ginger (Korean name – Saenggang, 생강)


(Photo credit – canstockphoto.com used with licence)

I frequently use small doses of ginger when cooking meat. Relatively large volumes of ginger are used in Korean ginger tea (Saenggang cha, 생강차) and Korean cinnamon punch (Sujeonggwa, 수정과).

While ginger is known to improve morning sickness in the early stage of pregnancy, eating too much ginger can cause atopic dermatitis to the fetus due to the spicy characteristic.

5. Barley Malt Powder (Yeotgireum Garu, 엿기름 가루)

Barley Malt Powder

(image from cookcooktv.com)

Barley malt powder is most commonly used in sweet rice drink (Korean name – sikhye, 식혜). It is known to dry breast milk if consumed, so many Korean women drink sikhye when they want to stop breastfeeding but not so much before.

Closing Remarks

So, how accurate and trustworthy is the above information? Well, I don’t know. The judgement should be yours, your health and medical professional’s to bear. I listed two reference materials below, which you can read if you like. (Just FYI, they are written in Korean.)

There were many other websites and group discussion forums that listed pretty much the same ingredients as above, however I didn’t want to list them all in the below reference section to avoid crowding the space. 

Have you had any of the above foods while you’re pregnant? Do you think you will still have them after reading this post? Why not share your experience and plans with your fellow Korean food lovers!


Reference (written in Korean)

임신부 금기 음식의 속사정 : 맘 & 앙팡. 2013. 임신부 금기 음식의 속사정 : 맘 & 앙팡 매거진. [ONLINE] Available at: https://m.post.naver.com/viewer/postView.nhn?volumeNo=8402797&memberNo=7821584 [Accessed 05 July 2013].

파인애플은 먹으면 절대 안 된다? 임산부가 조심해야할 음식: Chosun.com 홈 & 리빙. [ONLINE] Available at: http://danmee.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2017/01/20/2017012001946.html  [Accessed 14 March 2021].

Written by: Sue

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Welcome to my Korean kitchen! I’m so happy that you're here. I am Sue, the creator behind My Korean Kitchen (since 2006). I love good food and simplifying recipes. Here you will find my best and family approved recipes. Thanks for stopping by!


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28 thoughts on “Five Korean Ingredients You Should Avoid While You Are Pregnant”

  1. I’m really, really surprised by this. Most of these foods are fine for pregnant women in small quantities if fully cooked. And yet you’ve neglected to include the one scientifically proven Korean food that ALL pregnant women must absolute avoid: bracken fern, or gosari. Even when prepared safely to remove the natural toxins, gosari/fernbrake is a well-known fetal growth disruptor and embryo toxin. This study was done on mice, but it’s enough to make any one want to avoid eating this food while pregnant:

    • I didn’t see gosari mentioned in any of the Korean articles I’ve read in my original research back in 2013 and I still couldn’t find it listed as a general ingredient to avoid in my quick search today.

      However, when I searched for gosari specifically in relation to pregnancy and I was able to find small number of Korean articles and most of these implied that you can still eat a small portion of it if prepared and cooked properly, but pregnant women should approach it with caution.

      On a side note, I did briefly mention that there is some controversy with gosari in my recipe a while ago. But that was about the general health risks, not specific to pregnancy.

      I also want to reiterate that I’m merely providing an interpretation service here while providing my comment only in relation to the recipes and dishes that are connected to those ingredients. I’m also simply trying to facilitate discussion.

      If you are really concerned about any of these ingredients or beyond, you should seek professional advice rather than relying on information available online here or elsewhere.

  2. Great article. I lived and taught English in Korea for 6 years and all these ingredients brought me back good memories. By the way, I used your article for one of my Korean students who is pregnant. I am teaching English online from Texas now and your article made last night’s class very interesting. I did not copy any pictures or anything of the sort. I just sent your article to my student via kakao talk and we discussed it. She said the only piece of information she didn’t know was the fact that 식혜 dries breast milk. Now I’m craving paldo 식혜. Thanks again. I might even use your Korean recipes to cook at home!

  3. Thank you for making this post. I looked into adzuki beans (red beans, pat) and found an article from Healthline referencing NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information, US Department of Medicine) stating that adzuki beans are actually recommended during pregnancy since they’re high in folate and reduces risk for neural tube defects. (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/adzuki-beans#other-benefits). I love patbingsu and songpyeon and had some last month, and being almost 7 months pregnant, I just had to look into this. I wish I was fluent in Korean so I can look into these ingredients in more detail 🙁 Did the articles mention anything about misugaru powder during pregnancy? Thanks in advance!

  4. Hi everyone. Does anyone have read somewhere or heard if it’s safe to eat a small quantity kimchi (like 3 tbsp) on a regular basis (3-4 times a week) when pregnant? I am obsessed with the Korean brand Chongga. It seems that there is a small amount of kelp in it which I believe is high is iodine.

  5. I thought Mung bean SPROUTS were not the ones allowed and not the bean itself. According to research Mung Bean has 80 percent folate. Now, I’m worried. I just ate a bowl of mung bean.

  6. Hi, this article has made me really worried. I just had a huge bowl of mug bean noodles and am 8 weeks pregnant. Did anyone eat mug bean noodles while pregnant? I am so worried. Thanks. 😊

  7. Hi Sue!!!

    Can I have Samgyetang Hmota soup during pregnancy ( 15 weeks) and after delivery of baby ( for confinement)?

    Your advice is highly appreciated!!


  8. So glad that I came across this article, I started drinking yulmucha this morning for breakfast and my stomach started hurting so I went to research and came across your page. Definitely staying away from it now!

  9. I’m 5 weeks pregnant and loves korean food. Can you recommend some korean dishes I should make and eat during my pregnancy that’s healthy for baby and I?

    • Hi Zulay, I can’t make a specific recommendation as I’m not a doctor or nutritionist. Though I heard a lot during my pregnancy that folic acid is very important during early pregnancy, so try to eat food that has it.

  10. Dear can you please advice if sesame oil and seeds are ok to consume. I am 20 weeks and love korean food. want to make some at home . just reading on the internet its saying seasame seed oil is not good for baby .
    N korean food is no good without the strong roasted seasame oil and seeds …yummmmmm

    • Hi Neha, I can’t give you advice as I’m not an expert in this area. However I can say this. I had sesame oil and sesame seeds during my pregnancy and I didn’t have any problem! 🙂

  11. Hello Sue! I am 8 weeks pregnant and I live in Korea. My OB/GYN didn’t give me any information on what to eat and what not to eat. I’m American and my hubby’s Korean so we eat a lot of Korean food. When I asked the doc about what is safe, she just said “Korean food is sooooo healthy. Why wouldn’t you want to eat it? That’s all you should eat!” That wasn’t helpful at all for a concerned first-time mother!! Your blog was the only thing I could really find on the matter in English so thanks!!

    • Thanks JK, I know how you would have felt after talking to your doctor. Yes, it is very scary and you want to do what’s best for you and your bub. Bear in mind, this post is for your information only so it’s not medical advice. 🙂 I hope you and your bub’s doing well.

  12. Hello,

    Red beans should be safe during pregnancy. Many websites claim that it is good for pregnancy and very nutritious. I love Korean food and grew up on it.

  13. I live in Sweden, and we have very good recommendations here. For us sushi is okay to eat as long as it has been frozen for three days before eating it. Every good restaurant do this and everyone at home as well if the fish is raw. The same goes with salami, just keep it in the freezer for three days and all possible listeria will die. Soft cheese is okay as long as it is made of pasteurized milk!

    You have to eat a very unhealthy big amount of ginger to be dangerous for the baby. Here, ginger is recommended for pregnancy illness or morning sickness. Spicy food during pregnancy is okay as long as you are alright.

    When you are breatfeeding on the other hand, cabbage and have negative effect on the baby’s stomach.

  14. Congrats! So glad to see you’re back- you helped me first learn to cook Korean food for my husband when I was first married! Now our third baby is on the way! 😉
    About ginger- I never heard that. And I would think that if it would cause atopic dermatitis then Korean women should not eat gochujang or Kimchi either! Many Korean foods are very spicy! I think moderation is fine. Be careful after pregnancy though- I know you will eat a lot of Miyuk guk- those spicy foods will visibly upset your baby of you plan to breast feed!

    • My mum also told me not to eat spicy food while breastfeeding, including Kimchi! She told me that it will upset baby’s stomach.
      I had heaps of spicy food during my pregnancy though (just typical Korean food). Hopefully, my bub doesn’t develop any skin rashes. Good luck with your third baby!

  15. One of crazy weird craving I had when I was pregnant with my first child was Japanese red bean ice bar. I was eating at least one bar a day. Good thing I didn’t know about red bean then. Heheh. I craved for sushi and sashimi when I was pregnant, but I heard preggers still eat them in Japan (maybe freshness is different as the fish quality is so good in Japan). Anyway, good luck with your delivery! I can’t wait to hear the great news. 🙂

  16. Is that your belly? This may sould creepy but you have a really cute pregnant belly! 🙂 Also, I have read and heard about these cautions from Chinese traditions as well so I guess they are somewhat reliable. Maybe? Better be safe aye.

  17. I went through three pregnancies and I stay away only from raw meat/fish, but I didn’t know about all these especially ginger and beans. I ate beans like crazy 😀 Also ate plain Barley instead of the rice many, many times.I’ve had smoked salmon, ham, salami, and soft cheese throughout all my pregnancies too. Although I am not planning to have another baby this is good post and very informative.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Sandra! I sometimes think an advice we receive nowadays are way too cautious. I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’m so looking forward to having smoked salmon, salami and soft cheese soon!!! (Not too long to go. :))


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