Eating While Pregnant: Things to avoid, things to embrace

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So let’s start at the beginning. You’re not “eating for two.” I know. You want that to be the case. But the truth is, just eating your normal amount will suffice for both you and the baby. What’s important is to make sure you avoid some of the unhealthy substances I wasn’t smart enough to stay away from when I was pregnant in 1987, such as nitrates.

Nitrates are compounds that have been found to cause cancer. And experts don’t know what effect eating foods like sausage, hot dogs, bacon and deli meats (which contain nitrates) can have on our unborn baby. If that isn’t reason enough to stay away, there’s also the risk of listeria. Listeriosis happens when you eat food contaminated with listeria bacteria. Aside from making morning sickness feel like a hug, listeriosis can cause you to go into premature delivery and has even been linked to stillbirth.

So, you see why I’m lucky my son has survived 27 years: I certainly didn’t give him the perfect “healthy” start when I gave up the artificial sweeteners and caffeine in my Diet Coke.

What else should you watch out for? Well, how about staying away from any picnics or potluck dinners. Not because your Aunt Bea doesn’t make the best possible chicken divan, but if her eyesight has started to wane and that chicken is undercooked, you could have issues. Plus, potlucks and picnic food are often left out too long. Two hours is the rule. And that shrinks to 60 minutes when the temperature rises above 90 degrees.

Given you might be facing nausea, the following caution might not even be appealing but now’s the time to avoid all things raw. No sushi, raw oysters, carpaccio, steak tartare and definitely no raw eggs. Maybe you weren’t planning on pulling a Rocky Balboa and downing a raw egg, but I bet you’ve snuck a spoonful or two of cookie dough. Caught you, didn’t I? You can’t do that now if you make your recipe with raw eggs. Pasteurized eggs are the way to go.

And since things like mousse and tiramisu have eggs that could potentially be undercooked, you should avoid eating those unless you make them yourself and use a thermometer to ensure the eggs are cooked to above 140 degrees to avoid salmonella poisoning. Even soft cheeses should be avoided unless they’re made with pasteurized milk. And watch for undercooked anything. Burgers especially.

Oh, this pregnancy thing has a lot of rules doesn’t it? And there’s a bit more. If you love swordfish, mackerel and shark you need to be aware of mercury. Current guidelines say it’s OK to eat up to 12 ounces of seafood a week, but you should be looking toward salmon, cod, catfish and tuna. But not just any tuna. If your preference is for albacore (white) tuna, doctors say limit yourself to six ounces a week. (And, yes, I am a doctor, but I’m not that kind of doctor, so make sure to check with your obstetrician if you have questions.)

Fruits and vegetables are wonderful for you, when you’re pregnant and the rest of the time; however, they have to be thoroughly cleaned. It’s not enough to just rinse them. Toxoplasma is a parasite that lives on produce and can lead to toxoplasmosis. Yup, the very reason we’re not supposed to change the cat litter box while pregnant can also be transmitted by unwashed fruits and veggies. So, don’t just rinse—scrub. I like to use a little brush and baking soda. No soap, because you don’t want that taste on your food. Also, cut off any bruised spots on fruits or raw vegetables, as that old listeria could be hanging out there, too.

By now you’re certainly ready to learn what you can eat. Nuts and bananas are at the top of the list of super foods for pregnancy, along with leafy greens and lean protein. Eggs are also the perfect protein, provided they are cooked thoroughly. Soy (good news for vegetarians), dried cranberries, fiber and calcium-rich foods are encouraged.

And for my recipe, not just for pregnancy, but anytime, I’ve picked out an old favorite, filled with two kinds of nuts and bananas.

Pistachio Walnut Banana Bread

3/4 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot flour

1/2 cup almond flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins

4 medium bananas (overripe)

3 large eggs

1/2 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons chopped pistachios

2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together first eight ingredients, coconut flour through raisins. In your mixer or food processor, mix bananas with the wet ingredients until smooth. Stir in the dry ingredients. Do not over-process.

Pour into a greased or parchment-lined baking pan. Sprinkle with pistachio and coconut (if desired). Bake one hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before unmolding the bread.

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