For a lot of expectant moms, the list of no-no foods during pregnancy can be upsetting. When I was pregnant with my daughter, there were few things I craved more than all the things my doctor said I specifically wasn’t supposed to have: lox, feta cheese, and over-easy eggs with salty, runny yolks. There’s good reason behind most of the rules about food during pregnancy. Expectant mothers’ immune systems are suppressed, so they are much more prone to food poisoning — and many kinds of food-borne illness, like listeriosis, can cause miscarriage or birth defects.
Luckily, there’s good news for moms like me who don’t want to forfeit some of our favorite off-limits foods — in many cases, we don’t really have to! You might be surprised to find out that it’s safe to eat certain foods that you may have been warned against. As long as you take proper precautions and discuss it with your practitioner, these surprising foods are actually on the “okay” list during pregnancy.
Contrary to very common misconceptions, “sushi” doesn’t mean raw fish! Many of the most popular kinds of sushi are completely safe and acceptable options for pregnant women. Infectious disease specialist John Pickering notes that uncooked fish can contain parasites that can cause serious illness in pregnant women. While acknowledging that sushi chefs are very careful to ensure the quality of their products, he doesn’t consider raw fish to be a risk worth taking. So instead, ask the server at your local sushi restaurant for a list of cooked and vegetarian items. There are literally hundreds of types of sushi that are delicious and satisfying but don’t contain any kind of raw fish.
Excessive caffeine use has been linked to miscarriage and can cross the placenta and affect an unborn baby. Knowing this, lots of moms are quick to give up coffee as soon as they find out they’re pregnant. While this is the healthiest option (and it can’t hurt to quit) it’s not actually necessary to surrender your daily cup of joe entirely. Mayo Clinic simply recommends limiting your daily caffeine intake to 200 milligrams, or about two eight-ounce cups of coffee per day. If you need a little coffee here and there to give you the boost you need to survive the exhausting first trimester, go for it– but use moderation.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, only two kinds of artificial sweetener are on the no-go list for pregnant women: saccharin (or Sweet’n Low), which is far less popular than it was a few decades ago, and cyclamate, which has been banned in the U.S., and which you will only encounter if traveling to certain countries during pregnancy. All others have been investigated thoroughly by the FDA and have been found to be safe for all stages of life. Still, it is best to avoid artificial sweeteners if you can– whole, minimally processed foods that are naturally low in sugar and saturated fat are always the healthiest choice.
One of the main dietary concerns for pregnant women is the possibility of exposure to listeria, a bacterium most notably found in unpasteurized dairy products. Because popular cheeses like bleu cheese, gorgonzola, feta, and brie are generally made with unpasteurized milk, doctors and midwives tend to issue a blanket warning to avoid “soft cheeses.” This isn’t really necessary, though– just check the labels on your cheeses and make sure they’re made with pasteurized milk. Many brands offering feta cheese, for example, are pasteurized– just check the label to make sure. Additionally, processed soft cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese, and neufchatel are safe to eat. If you’re eating out or the label doesn’t specific “pasteurized,” though, err on the side of caution and avoid soft cheese.
Raw and Undercooked Eggs
Read this part carefully: raw and undercooked eggs are safe during pregnancy if (and only if!) they are pasteurized. According to the USDA, it is safe to eat pasteurized eggs in raw dishes (like eggnog and Caesar salad) and to eat them undercooked, such as in sunny-side-up or over-easy fried eggs. Until recently, the only pasteurized egg products that were available were liquid egg blends sold and prepared in cartons. However, recently, in-shell pasteurized eggs have become available and have been approved by the FDA. If you’ve got a hankering for some sunny-side-up eggs, go for it– but make sure you check the carton to verify that they are pasteurized first.
Dietary safety and good food hygiene are important for preserving your health and for protecting your unborn baby from harm. But, as daunting and restrictive as a healthy pregnancy diet may be, it can be a surprising relief to find out that many of your favorite foods are actually acceptable during all stages of pregnancy. If you have any questions about food safety or nutrition while you’re expecting, talk to your obstetrician or midwife for detailed guidelines.