Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but can also be a stressful one. Women have to make many decisions and sacrifices to guarantee the health and safety of the baby. When visiting the obstetrician, women get lots of information about what they can and cannot do during pregnancy and food is one of the topics covered. Keeping balance on food intake during pregnancy is key to both keeping the baby safe but also to gain enough weight to support the pregnancy. It might be daunting at first, but the list of what not to eat during pregnancy is a lot shorter than the list of what to eat. So, it can be easy enough to follow.
What Not To Eat During Pregnancy
Restricted foods are those that could potentially harm the health of the future baby or the mom as well. Here are nine foods to avoid when you are pregnant.
- Raw undercooked meat
Undercooked meat acts as a vehicle for bacteria such as listeria, which is known for causing infections to both the mom and baby, increasing the risk of stillborn and neurological consequences. Parasites like toxoplasmosis can be present in undercooked meat. Toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy can be very dangerous for the baby and its effects range from miscarriages to severe development consequences
- Cold cuts and deli meats
Although is not as common as with raw meat, deli meat is associated with a higher risk of listeria; therefore, the consumption should be avoided
- High mercury fish
Eating fish during pregnancy is not forbidden; in fact it is actually recommended because fish is a great source of protein and healthy fat, but certain kinds of fish have higher levels of mercury that could be detrimental for the baby. The fish to avoid are:
- king mackerel
- tuna (especially bigeye tuna)
- tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
- orange roughly
- raw or undercooked fish
Just like with meat, raw fish is a vehicle for bacteria such as listeria and salmonella (A bacterium that causes an intestinal infection that can become serious), and for viruses like norovirus (a virus that causes intestinal infection). Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to be infected with these pathogens according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC)
These infections can cause symptoms to the mother such as diarrhea and nausea that can lead to dehydration, which is dangerous during pregnancy. However, in other cases, the mother does not present any symptoms but the infection is passed through the placenta to the baby causing serious health problems, miscarriages and stillbirth
4. Undercook eggs
Eggs can be a great source of protein, but when not washed and cooked correctly it can be a source of infection for salmonella. A bacterium that causes an intestinal infection that can become serious.
Always wash your eggs before breaking them and make sure to cook them all the way through. Some of the foods that could contain undercooked eggs are poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, homemade mayonnaise, lightly scrambled eggs, homemade ice creams and mousses. Most commercial products use pasteurized eggs that are safe to consume, but make sure to read the label
- Unwashed fruits and vegetables
Unwashed vegetables and fruit can have dirt on them. Dirt is a source of bacteria and parasites. During pregnancy toxoplasma is a parasite that should always be avoided since it causes serious repercussions on the baby. Toxoplasma can be found on dirt; therefore, you should be careful and make sure to wash all vegetables and fruit, even if they claim to be prewashed from the store
Coffee is not forbidden, but the amount of caffeine needs to be reduced. Studies show that a healthy limit of caffeine is 200mg per day. This is equivalent to approximately two five-ounce cups of coffee a day. Excess of caffeine is related to low birth weight since it restricts the growth of the baby. Caffeine is easily absorbed through the placenta reaching the baby with no restrictions.
Alcohol should never be consumed during pregnancy; there is no safe range or limit of consumption so it should always be avoided. Alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which involves heart defects, face deformities and intellectual disabilities
- Unpasteurized milk and cheese
Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese can contain bacteria as listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. They can all cause gastrointestinal infections on the mother but also problems on the baby. These bacteria can be found in the milk by contamination during collection or storage. Only drink pasteurized milk and cheese. Most commercial products will have pasteurized dairy, but be sure to check the label and avoid artisanal products.
What To Eat During Pregnancy
As a pregnant woman, carrying mothers should follow a balanced, varied, and nutritious diet including which include these five groups:
1. Fruit and vegetables
Fruits are a source of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables have fiber and in some cases protein. Combined, they are a great option during pregnancy, having high levels of nutrients per calorie. Vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, peppers and citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C, needed to boost the immune system. Avocados and bananas are rich in potassium, which helps to maintain blood pressure. Calcium contributes to the development of the baby’s bones and can be found in dark leafy vegetables. Vitamin B or folic acid is needed for the development of the baby’s nervous system, and is present in broccoli, spinach and peas
2. Starchy food
Carbohydrates are a source of energy. When pregnant the body consumes more calories to support the growth of the baby. Pregnant women are required to increase their daily calorie intake and carbohydrates are a good way to do so. These include potatoes, pasta, rice, quinoa and bread. Try to focus on unrefined carbs, these take longer to metabolize, meaning they will keep you full longer, and do not have as high of a caloric value. Examples are whole wheat, multigrain bread, brown rice, and oatmeal
Proteins are necessary for both the mother and the baby. The body of pregnant women undergoes many changes, this requires the production of new proteins and to do so, the body needs to increase the protein consumption. Some examples are eggs, meat, fish and chicken. Alternatively, they can be plant based like mushrooms, tofu, quinoa, and beans
Healthy fats are recommended, but it should not be higher than 30% of the calories from the diet. Fats are necessary to give you energy; however, make sure to consume only unsaturated fats. Good sources are avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil
Fiber is important for digestive health, especially during pregnancy. Secondary to hormonal changes the digestive system becomes slow and many pregnant women will experience constipation. Consuming fiber can help fight constipation off and keep a regular digestive system movement. Some sources of fiber are wholegrain foods such as oatmeal, lentils, fruits and vegetables
Keep in mind to always wash your food properly, cook meat, fish, and chicken all the way through. Discuss with your doctor the best options for you if you have any questions.. Eating healthy will prevent you and the baby from contracting any pathogens but it will also make it easy to get back to your pre pregnancy weight once you give birth.