Follow These Rules For Safe Pregnancy Eating

Now that you’re pregnant, you feel like you can justify that midnight trip to grocery store for pickles and chocolate pudding. It’s true that some pregnant women crave unusual food combinations, but are some foods actually harmful to eat during pregnancy? Read on to find out the pregnancy food rules.
By Jessica Levco

Dr. Ann Starr, an OB/GYN with Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group in Chicago has some advice for expectant mothers who find themselves in the following tricky food scenarios. “There are three main food borne illnesses for pregnant women—listeria, methyl mercury, and toxoplasmosis,” Starr says. “All can be passed down from mother to baby through the placenta and for that reason, they are problematic.”

Here’s how you can avoid getting these multi-syllabic diseases passed down to your baby:

Be careful when you’re ordering off a seafood menu. Skip the shark fish, king mackerel, swordfish, and tilefish. “Methyl mercury is found in these large fish because they live for a long time,” Starr says. “But, you can eat salmon, tilapia, and catfish. Fish is a great part of a healthy diet and a great source of omega 3 fatty acids.”

Don’t go to any sushi restaurants, either. Avoid shellfish and raw oysters. The Food and Drug Administration recommends not eating any refrigerated smoked seafood (salmon, lox) unless they are eaten in a cooked dish, like a casserole. “Limit your cooked fish and seafood intake to 12 ounces per week, with a typical serving size between three to six ounces—about two to three servings per week,” Starr advises. 

How’s this for a conversation ice-breaker: “Did you know toxoplasmosis is typically passed through undercooked meats or unwashed fruits and vegetables?” Well, at least it’s a warm-up to when you start showing everybody your baby pictures.

“Pregnant women should be sure to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly and be sure red meat and chicken are cooked all the way through before eating,” Starr says. Listeria is a bacterium and can be found in cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. If there’s a cheese spread, substitute soft cheeses (Brie), with hard cheeses (cubed cheddar or Swiss). And make sure the salad isn’t topped with feta or goat cheese— both unpasteurized cheeses to avoid.

Nothing says summer like a sweltering day at a baseball game, cheering on your favorite team. But, be careful about celebrating victory with a hot dog or defeat with a cold beer. You can eat the hot dog only if it has been heated to steaming, Starr says. But to be on the safe side, stick with a hamburger. And your newborn might like that kid-size Cubs hat better than fetal alcohol syndrome.
Only RSVP if you have a great amount of willpower. If not, maybe now’s the time to make some new friends who won’t tempt you with Zinfandel and Brie.  “Avoiding alcohol prevents fetal alcohol syndrome,” Starr says. “This is felt to develop from chronic exposure to alcohol throughout a pregnancy—not in the case of having a few drinks before a woman knows she’s pregnant.”

How much is too much? “No one knows the minimal amount of alcohol and over what period of time that needs to occur for fetal alcohol syndrome to happen, so I don’t feel like I can tell women exactly what amount is safe,” Starr says. “I recommend no alcohol intake during pregnancy.”

“Pregnant women really should just concentrate on eating a healthy, balanced diet,” Starr says. “That includes a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, lots of fruits and vegetables.” Calorie intake is important, too. Be careful not to eat too much, Starr says. She advises that calorie intake should only go up to be 300 to 500 calories per day.

“Even women who ‘eat healthy,’ need to watch portion sizes and ensure they don’t eat too much, even of a good thing,” Starr says. “During pregnancy, women want to get enough calcium, folic acid, iron, and Omega 3 fatty acids.” Drinking milk is an easy source for calcium. Folic acid can be found in dark green leafy vegetables and dried beans. Iron can be found in red meats (cooked thoroughly—stick to lean cuts), fortified cereals, and orange juices. Look for Omega 3 fatty acids in fish and flaxseed.
Bottom line: “The way to keep the fetus healthy is to keep the mom healthy,” Starr says.

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