There's a Catch 22 in pregnancy that many of us know well – craving foods your body thinks it needs, but knowing that some of these foods may be off-limits. You’d think your body would just know well enough to not crave these things! Alas, despite my intermittent cravings for sushi, I am meant to avoid one of my favourite meals, at least for nine months.
If you are fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) like me, you crave very little during pregnancy. For me, the thought of any food during pregnancy can be revolting. Our eldest was grown on a diet of cheese on toast (and not any nutritional cheese, rather the "plastic" processed cheese slices). Our second baby tolerated only cereal, and this pregnancy - "Critter," as he is known - (note: don’t let a 4 year-old name his baby brother) is a little of both with the addition of green apple and peanut butter.
So why are some foods off limits? During pregnancy we become more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses (like listeriosis), which can put you and your baby at risk.
Here is a list of what to avoid during pregnancy and why:
Raw eggs may be contaminated with salmonella, which can cause vomiting and diarhea. Watch out for eggnog this holiday season (and beyond while pregnant), raw cookie dough (a personal favourite), and other runny-type of eggs (soft boiled, poached, or sunny side-up). Well-cooked eggs are fine and shouldn't cause any worry.
Parasites, bacteria, and viruses can all live on uncooked fish. Very fresh sushi has less risk, and in areas where sushi is served straight from the sea, there is less of a risk. California rolls and other cooked items are usually ok. Go and enjoy a night out with friends, but stick to cooked foods like teriyaki and tempura.
Pasteurization is the process which kills bacteria and toxins in foods, like milk or apple cider. When shopping at markets, ask the vendors if the cheese or juice is pasteurized, just to be sure. Pasteurized cheeses are safe to eat in pregnancy, even soft cheeses; just read the label.
This is an issue that has gone back and forth amongst professionals. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy for your baby and help with brain development. But certain fish contain higher levels of mercury, which can pose a risk for developing brains (think Jeremy Piven and his overdose on sushi). For sure you should limit swordfish, shark, and tilefish, which tend to have higher levels of mercury. Salmon and light tuna have less mercury and these are safe to consume once or twice a week.
When I got pregnant with our first baby, I was often drinking 2 or more cups of coffee a day (thank you paediatrics residency!) Fortunately, one of my first food aversions was coffee, and I haven’t had any since then. The current guidelines say pregnant women should have 1-2 cups of coffee/day maximum (200-300mg of caffeine). I have 1-cup of green tea every morning and that does the trick for me, so try to find alternatives. If you need something hot in the morning, try green teas or apple cider (pasteurized!)
This is a tough one – we're told to avoid sugar due to the risk of excessive weight gain and risk of gestational diabetes. But we can’t avoid all sweet tasting things. Which sweeteners are safe? So far we think Stevia, Acesulfame, Aspartame (except in moms with PKU), and Sucralose are safe in limited doses in pregnancy. The effect of Saccharin is not well known, so I would avoid that for now under the "better safe than sorry" principle.
It may seem like a lot of things are off limit but really this list is very short! And you’ll be able to enjoy everything you loved before in a few (long) months. In the mean time, that cookie dough is calling me…
Image Source: Flickr