What to Eat While Pregnant
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Pregnant women constantly wonder about their food choices during pregnancy. Here’s a quick rundown of the good and the bad, as well as some striking figures to help keep you focused on eating right while pregnant.
Try to eat something fresh or raw every single day—whether that’s fresh fruit, raw vegetables, or both. Also make sure you’re getting some of every food group each day: fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. Be sure to eat as many of the following pregnancy super-foods as you can:
- Pregnancy-approved fatty fish (Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies)
- Leafy Greens
- Sweet Potatoes
- Beans and Lentils
- Lean Meats
Be sure to avoid the following foods as they have been deemed unsafe for pregnant women to consume:
- Lunch meat & hot dogs (these are only safe if they’re cooked to steaming)
- Raw fish and sushi
- Certain types of cooked fish – swordfish, shark, tilefish, king mackerel
- Undercooked eggs
- Undercooked meat – opt for well-done everything
- Unpasteurized anything—juice, cheese, milk, etc.
- Excessive amounts of caffeine (up to 150 mg per day is considered okay)
A 2010 study by the Institute of Medicine found that 48% of women gained more than the recommended amount of weight during their pregnancies, leading to difficulties during delivery, additional risks to baby, and more difficulty losing weight post-pregnancy.
An astounding number of pregnant women do not consume the recommended daily amount of many important nutrients: 97% don’t get enough folate, 79% don’t get enough calcium, and 100% don’t get enough iron.
A proper, well-balanced diet during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of many birth defects, including neural tube defects (such as spina bifida and anencephaly), congenital heart disease, cleft palate, and more.
Why avoid these foods while pregnant?
You’ve got the basics down now. You know the foods to avoid while pregnant and you know the best foods to eat while pregnant. But you may be wondering what the big fuss is about the foods you should and shouldn’t eat while your baby is growing inside you. Yes, you want your baby to be as healthy and safe as possible, but why is sushi unsafe? Why shouldn’t you eat undercooked eggs? And why the limit on caffeine? Read on to learn the “whys” of all the foods to eat and avoid while pregnant.
Undercooked meat (including fish) and highly processed meat (like lunch meat) bring risks of infection due to bacteria or parasites. Cooking kills any potential hazards in the meat, so everything you eat should be well done. If you contract a parasite or bacteria, you could just get a little sick, or you could have much more severe consequences. Your baby could experience severe neurological issues, blindness, epilepsy, mental retardation, or stillbirth. This is definitely a strong contender for the most important “what not to eat while pregnant” food.
Raw or undercooked eggs bring the risk of salmonella. Usually, salmonella results in the mother being very sick with fever, nausea, cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting. In extreme cases, stomach cramps can affect the uterus and lead to premature birth or stillbirth.
Caffeine, while okay in moderation, should be avoided in excess during pregnancy. You’ve probably heard this, but you may not know why. Unborn babies aren’t able to metabolize, or break down, the caffeine effectively, which can result in a buildup of caffeine in their tiny bodies. This can bring about restricted fetal growth and low birth weight, which can later lead to an increased risk of infant death and an increased risk of chronic disease during adulthood.
Unpasteurized milk, juice, and cheese all bring about a risk of contracting bacteria, such as listeria, salmonella, E. coli, and the like. These infections, in addition to making mom sick, can bring about life-threatening problems for the unborn baby. Make other choices and check out our list of what to eat when pregnant to get more nutrients and vitamins while avoiding dangerous foods during pregnancy.
Alcohol is a big no-no during pregnancy, even though some people are convinced it’s safe in moderation. Not only does it increase the risk of stillbirth or miscarriage, but it can hugely impact your baby’s brain development, and it can cause heart defects and mental retardation. It’s not worth the risk to your child to enjoy a few glasses of wine, so just avoid alcohol altogether during your pregnancy.
You may wonder why there are “pregnancy-approved” fish and other fish that are off limits. The fish you should avoid during pregnancy are high in mercury, like swordfish, king mackerel, and tuna. Mercury is often found in water where these fish live, and it can be incredibly toxic to you and your unborn baby. It can negatively affect your nervous system, your immune system, and your kidneys, and it can bring about serious developmental issues in babies and children.