As soon as you found out you were pregnant, you cut the
caffeine and skipped the celebratory toast, right? But how far is too far? And do you
really have to go cold turkey on that, uh, cold turkey? "If it were me, I'd err
on the side of caution," says Boston-based registered dietician Elizabeth Ward, author of Expect the Best: Your
Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After Pregnancy. "After all,
it's only nine months. Pregnant women are at a much higher risk of the effects
of a food-borne illness. Your immune system is compromised, so you need to be
extra careful." Here, she spills on what to rip from your baby-bearing menu.
Hot dogs, lunch meat and smoked salmon: "Hot dogs, smoked salmon and deli meats carry the risk of
listeria, which is a bacteria," says Ward. "And it can produce an infection
called listerious, which is very serious. It's been linked to miscarriage,
pre-term delivery and even infant death."
Bottom line: Skip 'em. "Better safe than sorry," says Ward. Boiling
the lunch meat could kill germs, she said, "but it kind of defeats the purpose. Plus, for
hot dogs, nutritionally, there's really nothing to recommend them—pregnant or
not." If you're really craving a sandwich, Ward recommends making your own
roast and slicing it thin. "Even if you eat it cold," she says, "you've cooked
it yourself. The more you process something, the higher the risk of
Bacon: The FDA hasn't restricted this meaty must-have for pregnant
women, but it's not without its caveats. "Bacon's not really on the no-go list,
because the FDA and other agencies haven't ruled out consuming nitrates during pregnancy.
But the fewer preservatives and chemicals in the food you eat, the better."
Bottom line: Indulge carefully. "Read the
package," says Ward, "and stick to nitrate-free meats, which are available in
most grocery stores these days."
steak: Get ready for the scary: "There's that bacteria risk again,"
says Ward. But that's not all. "Raw or undercooked meat can have toxo-plasma in
it, and that's a parasite. You definitely don't want that."
Bottom line: For
meats, the more well-done, the better. "It doesn't have to be shoe leather,"
says Ward, "But it should be medium, or about
145 degrees, at least. A little bit of pink is okay." Ward suggests always
using a meat thermometer. "It just gives you peace of mind."
Alcohol: Ward's take? "Nothing, zero, nada." And just to be clear:
Bottom line: "We just do not
know what the effects are," says Ward. "The baby's brain is developing at
breakneck speed even through third trimester, so err on the side of caution.
It's nine months out of your life." Still, she adds, "If you had a couple of
drinks before you found out you were pregnant, don't worry about it."
Caffeine: The good news? You don't have to go cold turkey. But you do
have to limit your intake, because too much caffeine has been linked to
Bottom line: "Stick
to the March of Dimes Limit of 200 mg a day of caffeine," says Ward.
Translation? A cup of joe is about 90 to 150 mg, while a Diet Coke clocks at 47
mg. But skip the Starbucks. "A regular coffee there is about 320 mg," says
Ward. "So order a child-sized, do decaf or just sniff it!"
Big fish: While the FDA now recommends up to 12 ounces of low-mercury
fish per week for pregnant women, an old school rule still applies: "The bigger
the species, the higher the chances of mercury contamination," says Ward.
Bottom line: Skip shark, swordfish, king
mackerel and tilefish in favor of salmon, catfish, clams or shrimp, preferably
wild-caught. "I also recommend staying away from tuna steaks, but canned tuna
is amongst the most readily consumed in the United States. So there, I'd say no
more than 6 ounces of canned white tuna." And, Ward warns, no sushi. Period.
Sprouts: We know what you're thinking: sprouts? Aren't those supposed
to be super-healthy? But they are a pregnancy no-go.
Bottom line: "They have a high risk of E. Coli," says Ward, "so don't
eat them at all unless they're cooked."
fruits and veggies: If you tend to overindulge in something on the non-organic hit list,
like strawberries, Ward suggests going organic. But it's not a deal-breaker.
Bottom line: If you can, buy organic. If not,
don't stress. "Who can afford to eat totally organic all the time?" says Ward.
"Do what you can, especially with things you eat often, like milk or particular
fruits." The smart thing either way, Ward suggests, is washing all fruits and
tea: After a long day on your feet, chamomile tea hits the spot,
no doubt. Ward says it's okay to indulge—as long as you're buying carefully.
Bottom line: "There's no really good
research," says Ward. "Anything on the supermarket shelf should be okay, but
skip the stuff from the natural food store or those leaves you might buy at the
egg: Before you dig into that Caesar salad, double check that
there's no raw egg in that dressing.
Bottom line: "No raw animal products, ever!"
says Ward. "You run the risk of salmonella in eggs. So no meringue, no licking
the bowl when you're baking. These are all things you shouldn't be doing
anything! Here's where listeria rears its ugly head again. "There's a
big movement towards farm-fresh everything, even at everyday grocery stores,
but during pregnancy, it bears a risk," says Ward. "Brie, Camembert, queso
Bottom line: Raw milk, raw soft
cheese and unpasteurized juices are all no-nos on Ward's list. "When in
doubt, read the label or ask your server," says Ward. "If they're pasteurized,
they're fine. Otherwise, skip it."
you're breastfeeding … If you're nursing, says Ward, some of these rules do carry
over. "Use common sense," she says, "but you can relax a bit. Have that
celebratory drink, but go easy."
Bottom line: "The fish thing applies throughout your child-bearing years," says
Ward, "because mercury sticks with you for years." She suggests keeping
caffeine and alcohol to limited amounts, "because that baby is going to feel
the effects of that."