Food Taboos

Food Taboos traditional belief and religious restrictions, prohibitions and prejudices which make a pattern of consumption of certain foods and food products. Food taboos are also termed as food fads and fallacies, and vary with cast and creed. As a result of wrong and unscientific belief, a number of foods are excluded from the list of food items by people of many religions and society. Most of these beliefs affect pregnant and lactating mothers and convalescent people. There is a common belief, for instance that the pregnant mother should eat less to keep the size of the baby minimum for easy delivery. This is totally misleading and dangerous. A pregnant mother should eat one-fourth amount of food more than her normal requirement. Since she needs to eat for her baby as well. Another food taboo prohibits intake of water at the time of delivery of a baby. But the truth is that during delivery a mother loses huge amount of water as sweat, along with blood and delivery fluid. To compensate for this loss, and to save the mother from dehydration, sufficient amount of liquid should be given.

During pregnancy, mothers are often refused fruits like papaya, banana, black berry and many other nutritious fruits due to the belief that these may affect the child. Some families refuse to serve jaggery to a pregnant mother for obscure reasons. Often a pregnant mother is not allowed to take an egg because of the belief that the egg may interfere with the pregnancy. In Bangladesh a notable taboo is that new-born babies are not given colostrum because of the belief that the thick material may upset the stomach.

Some people believe that prawn or shrimp causes reduction of milk secretion among lactating mothers. But this belief has no scientific basis. Some families believe that if the baby is given cow or buffalo milk, the baby will gain the character of the animal and will be less talented and meritorious. Some people believe mistakenly that banana causes convulsion or tetanus in children. Another wrong practice is giving castor oil to children suffering from indigestion.

Traditional healers believe that during stomach upset cold food like curds are beneficial. For cough and breathing problems, hot foods like jaggery, meat, fish etc are believed to be beneficial. Further, in case of skin diseases, it is often believed that the disease is the result of impure blood and therefore, hot food should be avoided. In case of jaundice, the patient is not allowed to take any yellow coloured food. People suffering from viral diseases like measles, chickenpox etc are not given any food of animal origin, because of the belief that the Hindu goddess who is the cause of these diseases is a vegetarian, animal food should be avoided. None of these beliefs have any scientific basis. Indeed, they are barriers to the development of good and nutritious food habits. [M Kabirullah]