How to Eat for Two: Steer Clear Of The Wrong Stuff

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on May 2, 2012 · 0 comments

You’re pregnant and you are determined to do everything you can to be sure your baby is growing and thriving. But, everywhere you turn people are giving you advice. It’s hard to know who to listen to, especially when it comes to food.

Most foods are safe to eat and will provide important nutrients and calories to help your baby develop. Some foods, however, may pose a risk. Let’s take a close look at the wrong stuff.

Fish provides protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fats that aid in brain development and may reduce the risk of premature labor. But, your aunt told you never to eat fish during pregnancy because it could poison your baby. That got your attention. Some fish, especially large fish that eat smaller fish, can accumulate mercury and other toxic substances in their flesh. Pregnant women should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Smaller fish and farm raised fish have less mercury. You can eat up to 12 ounces a week of shrimp, salmon, pollack, cod, catfish and canned light tuna. Albacore tuna has higher mercury levels because it comes from a larger fish. Light tuna has much lower levels and chunk light has even less.

These is an excellent resource – You enter the type and amount of the fish you will be eating, plus your weight, and the site will calculate the amount of mercury in the serving.

Don’t eat raw shellfish. Clams, mussels, and other shellfish get food by filtering large quantities of water through their bodies. This concentrates more bacteria and viruses in their flesh, putting you at risk for getting sick. Thoroughly cooking shellfish kills harmful organisms. Say yes to clam chowder but pass up clams on the half shell. Same goes for sushi, stick with only the cooked or vegetarian choices.

The level of environmental contaminates in most seafood is low enough not to pose a health risk. When needed, regional and local alerts are issued by the Environmental Protection agency for all 50 states, District of Columbia, US territories, and Canada, at,

Don’t eat raw milk, soft cheeses, pate, smoked seafood, or ready-to-eat meats like deli meats and hot dogs. All of these foods may carry the bacteria listeria. Pregnant women are more likely to get sick from listeria-contaminated foods and they can harm your developing baby. If you crave a hot dog, simply cook it until steaming hot to be sure any bacteria is destroyed. Avoid soft cheese – feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined, queso blanco and queso fresco. Hard cheeses – cheddar, swiss, colby – and processed cheese made from pasteurized milk – American, cream cheese, cottage cheese – are perfectly safe to eat.

Unpasteurized fruit juice, apple cider and raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean) may all carry salmonella and E.coli bacteria making them unsafe choices during pregnancy. The FDA requires that unpasteurized juice carry a label stating it has not been pasteurized. Choose only pasteurized fruit juice now and for your new baby after he is born.

How about alcohol and caffeine? There is disagreement over both. A growing number of women and their doctors feel that an occasional drink during pregnancy does no harm, promoting the idea that a small glass of wine for dinner was okay. Is it? We can argue forever about how much alcohol is safe, but we just don’t know. We do know that alcohol crosses the placenta freely. Chronic exposure will cause mental and physical defects in unborn babies. But lesser exposure can have more subtle effects – problems with learning, memory, problem solving, and attention; minor growth abnormalities; alterations in stress response leading to difficulty with social and emotional functioning; minor heart abnormalities; and lower birthweights. The best advice – don’t drink during pregnancy.

The March of Dimes recommends that pregnant women consume no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day. That equals a 12-ounce cup of regular coffee. One study found a link between caffeine intake and miscarriage but another study did not. Energy drinks, soda, regular coffee and tea are the main sources of caffeine. It is easy to avoid energy drinks and soda with caffeine. A simple switch to decafe tea or coffee can dramatically lower your normal caffeine intake. If you need a cup of joe to get you going in the morning, switch to half café, and drink no more than 2 cups.

You should know – there is no food you can eat or avoid that will change the sex of your child. One study claimed women who ate more cereal had sons. When the statistics used in the study were examined more closely the findings did not hold up. Eating good food during pregnancy definitely helps insure your child’s health but not his sex.

Eat well and take good care of both of you.

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