Is Shawarma Healthy? Can Pregnant Women Eat It? What Do Experts Have To Say

Is Shawarma Healthy? Can Pregnant Women Eat It? What Do Experts Have To Say

The reason behind Kerala shawarma-death of the 16-year-old has been identified as severe food poisoning caused by Shigella. This article explores - is shawarma healthy - by looking at the benefits of shawarma, the side effects of shawarma and whether shawarma is safe for pregnant women.

The state Health Department has identified the cause behind the death of a 16-year-old and the hospitalization of more than 50 people in Kerala who contracted food poisoning. Devananda, 16, died, and several others were hospitalized on 1 May after eating chicken shawarma from an eatery in Kasaragod, Kerala. According to Dr AV Ramdas, the bacterium responsible for the severe food poisoning was Shigella.

This is not the first time that shawarma has been the subject of controversy in the state. For example, the term 'shawarma death' became popular after a 21-year-old youth died after reportedly eating shawarma in 2012, despite officials clarifying that there was no trace of food poisoning in his body.

Meanwhile, three Tamil Nadu students who consumed shawarma and were sickened by food poisoning have been admitted to Thanjavur Medical College Hospital for treatment.

Amidst this news, this popular Levantine dish has received disrepute and with the cause, of course. However, this has urged we to explore more about shawarma, whether this crowd-favourite food item is healthy, and if eating shawarma can negatively affect your health. Let's take a look.

This article includes the following:

  • What are the main ingredients in shawarma? Are there any health benefits of shawarma?
  • What are the health risks of eating shawarma?
  • Why did the shawarma case in Kerala result in the death of the consumer?
  • Is shawarma healthy for pregnant women?
  • How to prevent shigella infection?

Shawarma: Is It Healthy?

What are the main ingredients in shawarma?

Shawarma is a popular street food in the Mediterranean, as well as in the Middle East. However, while this dish is quite delicious, it is high in calories.

Thinly sliced meats, like chicken, beef, goat, lamb, or turkey, are rolled up and layered with tahini sauce or hummus before being steamed or heated with flatbreads or pitas. Vegetables are also inside the pita, such as lettuce, , and pickles. Shawarma spices include coriander, allspice, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, , and black pepper.

Are there any health benefits of shawarma?

  • Chicken shawarma is a good option if you wish to reduce carbs and become healthier.
  • If you skip the bread and eat it with only a few salads and cucumber dressings.
  • You can satisfy your craving without adding excess fat to your body when eating meat.
  • As well as being a good source of protein, vitamin A, and C, it is also a good source of fibre.
  • Chicken shawarma contains calcium, magnesium, iron, and sodium for your body.
  • Note: All of the health benefits mentioned above depend entirely on the way the shawarma is prepared, that is, the ingredients used in its preparation.

What are the health risks of eating shawarma?

  • Increased risk of because excess sugar consumption may cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate, causing the brain to seek more carbohydrates, leading to overeating.
  • Increased risk of and migraines. It is rich in sodium, and an excessive amount of sodium can cause a shortage of water in the body, causing headaches, dehydration etc.
  • Causes dental cavities.
  • Raise LDL cholesterol levels, which usually increase the risk of.
  • The food has zero cholesterol, increasing blood sugar levels and insulin resistance -thereby increasing the risk of .
  • Regularly eating shawarma can have a negative impact on the skin. The high unhealthy fat content, sugar levels, and grease can wreak havoc on your skin, making it dull and even triggering pimples.
  • May weaken bones because eating shawarma or other fast food regularly can raise your blood pressure levels, increasing the risk of as you get older.
  • May increase the risk of because due to the presence of high sugar levels and fat, this savoury food can suppress brain activities which lead to brain peptides associated with learning and memory formation.

Why did the shawarma case in Kerala result in death?

According to food safety officials, shawarma is not the only food that can cause food poisoning. Any item prepared in an unhygienic state or stored improperly can cause infection.

is caused by organisms that form on decaying or old food items and release toxins. During summer, the food will decompose sooner in the heat, which increases the chances of this happening. Keeping food in the freezer or at low temperatures prevents the growth of organisms, thus preventing contamination.

According to safety standards, meat should be stored at 4°C for short-term storage and at -18°C or below for long-term storage. The meat must be consumed within two to four days if stored under normal chilling conditions (0 - 4°C). Meat stored at -18°C or below should be consumed within 10 to 12 months. To destroy bacteria, meat and foods must be cooked to a minimum temperature of 75°C.

Food items that have been contaminated with microorganisms produce toxins which, once consumed, cause symptoms to appear immediately. Bacteria may begin functioning inside the body after someone eats the food in the second scenario. In this situation, symptoms appear between 12 and 24 hours after eating.

Extreme diarrhoea can lead to severe dehydration and death, but the chances are very low in Kerala. Due to this, the experts were quickly able to link the student's death to that of the food she had consumed. The toxins caused by bacteria can enter the bloodstream and affect other vital organs. It can, for instance, cause myocarditis in the heart and encephalopathy in the brain.

Is shawarma healthy for pregnant women?

Shawarma is rich in calories and should be avoided during pregnancy. Consuming this food during pregnancy is not recommended because of the high saturated fat content, which increases the level of cholesterol in the blood and increases artery thickening.

Healthy homemade rolls are a healthier alternative. To satisfy your craving for shawarma, prepare it at home and avoid unhealthy additions like sauces and mayonnaise.

How To Prevent Shigella Infection?

Shigella can be prevented with basic personal hygiene and frequent handwashing.

After going to the bathroom, before preparing food, and after changing diapers, you should wash your hands carefully with soap. Small children and toddlers should be supervised when washing their hands.

Shigellosis can also be prevented by following these tips:

  • While ill with diarrhoea, do not prepare food for others.
  • Do not swallow water from ponds, lakes, or untreated pools.
  • Ensure that soiled diapers are disposed of properly and disinfect the changing area after use.


As experts pointed out, it's all about how the shawarma is prepared and what ingredients are used. Healthy preparation of shawarma would consist of using less or completely avoiding fatty/unhealthy sauces, especially mayonnaise, and also avoiding add-ons such as ketchup, excess oil, butter etc. Moreover, avoid daily/regular consumption.

Arya KrishnanEmergency Medicine MBBS