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Your Guide To Pregnancy Eating

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."

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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 contamination."

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."

Rare 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."

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Alcohol: Ward's take? "Nothing, zero, nada." And just to be clear: "Nope."

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 miscarriage.

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.

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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."

Non-organic 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 veggies thoroughly.

Herb 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 Asian market."

Raw 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 anyway."

Unpasteurized 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 fresco."

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."

And when 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."

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