Eating healthy is something every man, woman and child should be doing. It is essential to keep the immune system strong, fight ailments, improve energy and live a long, healthy life. Eating healthy is especially important, however, for expectant moms that have a life literally forming inside of them. The food you eat while pregnant can not only affect your unborn baby during pregnancy, but may also influence your baby's health into adulthood. The diet of an expectant mom directly correlates to the developing fetus, even from the date of conception, so it is crucial that pregnant women are educated about what they should eat and what they should avoid when expecting.
Foods to Enjoy While Pregnant
Before we discuss what you should not eat while expecting, let us first clarify what you should be eating. During pregnancy, it is essential to give your growing baby all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients necessary for proper fetal development. Although there are prenatal vitamins that can supplement your diet and give your baby the essentials, it is still necessary to eat a balanced, healthy diet to maintain your health, as well as your baby’s. During pregnancy, expectant moms should eat a balanced diet that includes a variety of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy. Foods should generally be whole and unprocessed whenever possible and contain plenty of fiber to keep the digestive system working properly. Pregnancy can cause constipation and proper fiber intake will help alleviate this. Since expectant moms tend to have some pretty interesting cravings, it is important to allow yourself to indulge every once in a while as well. Desserts are acceptable but, in order to prevent gestational diabetes, it is important to eat a diet that is low in sugar. As previously mentioned, prenatal vitamins are also a key source of nutrients for mom and baby. These vitamins add to an already healthy diet and give baby the necessary nutrients he may not be getting from mom. Since these pills tend to cause nausea in many pregnant women, it is best to take them before bedtime with a full glass of water and food.
Foods to Avoid While Pregnant
Although an expectant mother’s diet should contain lean proteins, dairy products, whole grains and various other nutrients, there are some proteins, dairy products and other foods that pregnant moms should stay away from. Some of these foods can harm the baby and, at times, have even been known to trigger a miscarriage.
Alcohol, including beer, wine and hard liquors, should all be avoided during pregnancy due to the negative effects they can have on fetal development. Alcohol consumption of any kind during pregnancy has been linked to brain damage, facial deformities, developmental delays, behavioral issues, depression and diminished intellectual development. Drinking any amount of alcohol while pregnant is one of the leading causes of birth defects and no amount of alcohol is considered acceptable while pregnant.
Although caffeine may seem harmless in small amounts, it can be detrimental to your baby’s growth and development. Adults process caffeine quickly through the digestive system, but babies do not. When the caffeine consumed during pregnancy reaches the baby, it must first travel through the placenta and is then absorbed into the baby’s digestive system. Since the baby is still developing , the caffeine remains in his or her blood for a much longer period of time, sometimes at levels that are much too high for a fetus to handle. Excessive caffeine consumption can lead to elevated heart rate, lack of crucial nutrients being absorbed and even a higher chance of miscarriage.
Seafood High in Mercury
Foods high in mercury are not safe for anyone to eat, but they are especially dangerous for pregnant women to consume. Mercury consumption has a negative effect on a baby’s brain and nervous system development. Swordfish, shark, king mackerel and white snapper are all fish containing high levels of mercury and should be avoided during pregnancy. During pregnancy, women should eat fish containing low levels of mercury such as salmon, tilapia, catfish, chunk light canned tuna and shrimp. These varieties are much safer to consume, and can be enjoyed as long as they are limited to 12 ounces per week.
Raw or Undercooked Seafood, Poultry, Beef or Other Animal Products
Raw or undercooked meats, poultry, fish or other animal products can pose a threat to anyone when consumed, whether pregnant or not. These foods may contain deadly strains of bacteria that can lead to death or serious illness. In pregnant women, these foods can lead to food borne illness that can cause a miscarriage and possibly even death to the mother. In order to avoid contracting any virus, bacteria or parasites from raw or uncooked foods, it is important to cook all foods thoroughly. Meats should be well done, eggs should be fully cooked and poultry should be cooked to the point where there is no sign of pink inside the cut. Seafood should be fully cooked as well, avoiding sushi and seared fish.
Raw or Undercooked Sprout Vegetables
Although most vegetables and fruits are harmless, sprout vegetables pose a serious risk. These vegetables, such as alfalfa sprouts, radish and clover, can contain E. coli or Salmonella. When consuming these types of vegetables, expectant moms should make sure they have been well cleaned and are fully cooked.
Unpasteurized, Soft Cheeses
Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as Brie, Roquefort and queso fresco all have the potential to contain E. coli or Listeria. These types of bacteria can cause food borne illnesses and pose a severe risk to both mother and baby. When buying cheese, make sure you are choosing pasteurized options to ensure yours and your baby’s safety.
Hot Dogs and Deli Meats
Foods with nitrates, such as hot dogs and deli meats, have the possibility of being contaminated with listeria. Listeria is a deadly bacteria that can cause severe illness in the mother and miscarriage for an unborn baby. These bacteria can go from the mother, directly to the placenta, and lead to possible poisoning of the fetus. If you decide to eat lunch meats or other foods containing nitrates while pregnant, make sure to cook them thoroughly in order to kill any bacteria that it may have had in its original form.
Excessive sugar consumption during pregnancy is the leading cause of gestational diabetes among pregnant women. Gestational diabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes later in life for the mother, and a higher risk of the baby suffering from diabetes in the early adult years. In order to avoid the possibility of getting gestational diabetes, expectant moms should limit sugar intake to natural sources such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Processed foods such as cookies, cakes, donuts, candy and other foods high in sugar should be limited and/or avoided whenever possible. Proper amounts of exercise, coupled with a diet consisting of low glycemic, high fiber foods, have been shown to help prevent gestational diabetes and improve a mother’s insulin levels.