I’m pregnant – can I eat…

There are a range of foods thought to be no-go zones for pregnant women, but do you really have to avoid cheese, sushi, coffee and the like?

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Here are a list of ‘food no-no’s’ for pregnant women, or are they? We give you all the information you need on what’s safe, even when you might think otherwise…

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Sushi:

Contrary to some reports, it’s fine to eat sushi raw when you’re pregnant – as long as any raw fish used to make it has been frozen beforehand, according to The Food Standards Agency.
This is because fresh fish may contain very small worms, which could make you feel ill if they’re still alive when you enjoy your sushi!
In most shops that serve ready-made sushi, you should be ok, as the fish should have been frozen at -20˚C for at least 24 hours. But if in doubt, do ask.
So there’s no need to shy away from sushi; it’s a low fat food that’s a good source of omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.

Caffeine:

With new research often hitting the headlines, it’s hard to know whether coffee is safe during pregnancy. A recent study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that a group of pregnant women who had ingested 200mg or more of caffeine (two or more cups of coffee) per day had twice the miscarriage risk of women who had not had any. The UK Food Standards Agency is conducting its own research, but currently says that up to 300mg of caffeine a day is safe.
However, Pat O’Brien from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says the study is the best evidence available on the subject, and that he would be advising to avoid caffeine, ‘at least for the first 12 weeks’

Cheese

Cheese is one of the best sources of calcium, which you need more of during pregnancy, especially in the later stages, to enable your baby’s bones to develop.
But it’s hard to know what’s safe during pregnancy – and what won’t take too much of a toll on your waistline!
The Department of Health maintains that there’s no risk of listeria (damaging bacteria you should particularly avoid in pregnancy) with cottage cheese, processed cheese and hard cheeses, but avoid soft, mould-ripened cheese such as Brie and some goats’ cheese, as well as blue-veined cheeses like Stilton.
For safe, lower fat options, Emmental, Edam and mozzarella all come in light versions (as does Cheddar), while cottage cheese is also a healthy option.

Fat

Although we’re often advised to eat low-fat foods, we need some fat in our diets to provide fatty acids, crucial for many vital functions. You need to keep an eye on which type of fat you’re eating, though. Saturated fats and trans fats (found in foods such as fatty meat, dairy products, cakes and biscuits) should be eaten in small amounts only, while unsaturated fats – found in olive oil, sunflower oil and oily fish – can be eaten more frequently (although oily fish shouldn’t be eaten more than twice a week by pregnant women, due to accumulative levels of pollutants). As far as your waistline goes, all fats are created equal in terms of calorie content, so follow guidelines and try to restrict your overall fat intake to around 30 per cent of your daily calories.

Sugar

What if you knew there was a higher price to pay for overdoing the sugar during pregnancy than the effect it has on your waistline? According to the American Diabetes Association, the most significant risk is gestational diabetes, which affects around four per cent of pregnant women. This develops when the body is unable to create and utilise the insulin it requires (insulin helps to turn glucose from food into fuel for the body). Recent studies show that excess sugar can also result in a large birth weight, which in turn can increase the likelihood of a Caesarean.
So, exercise caution with sugar. Opt for fruit over refined-sugar snacks, and aim to restrict puddings to weekends. Limit chocolate to the good-quality dark stuff and, most of all, if you have a sweet tooth, don’t have sugary foods in the house!

Eggs

Eggs are one of those grey areas when you’re pregnant, but in fact it’s safe to enjoy them as long as you’re careful. Eggs are a good source of protein and rich in vitamin D, vitamin A and iodine. Because of the salmonella risk, however, you should avoid eating raw or partially-cooked eggs – only eat an egg with a firm yolk and with the white completely set, when it’s taken on an opaque appearance (this is around five minutes of cooking for a medium egg). This means you should also avoid any foods that contain raw eggs, such as home-made mayonnaise, Hollandaise sauce and some ice cream. To prevent the spread of bacteria, be careful how you handle eggs, too –wash your hands after touching them and keep them away from other foods.

A glass of champagne with Christmas dinner

The latest advice from the Food Standards Agency is that avoiding any booze when pregnant is the best option. But if you do want a tipple, don’t exceed one or two units, once or twice a week. So where does a celebratory glass of champers fit in? In a 120ml glass, there are 1.5 units, so you might want to have a small glass. The
Department of Health also strongly advises against getting drunk, so keep your willpower strong, stick to just the one glass and don’t drink on an empty stomach.

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Prawns

Shellfish are often given a bad press as far as pregnant women are concerned, but as long as they’ve been thoroughly defrosted and even more thoroughly cooked, prawns shouldn’t pose any problems to your health. The Department of Health recommends that you avoid raw shellfish such as oysters as they can contain various bacteria and viruses. However, these bacteria are destroyed during the cooking process – you’ll know when prawns are properly cooked as they turn a reddish colour. Like most shellfish, prawns are low in fat, high in protein and are a good source of the vitamins B12, A, D and E – ideal as part of a balanced pregnancy diet. 

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