There is so much misinformation about what you can and can't eat during pregnancy.
As soon as you discover a positive sign on your pregnancy test, you can be guaranteed to have your culinary dreams crushed by friends, relatives, strangers and healthcare professionals, who will tell you that you can no longer enjoy many of your favourite foods.
Your fridge will be bare by the time you've gone through their “NO!” list, and you'll be left craving all of the said delicious prohibited foods. Is it really necessary?
What Foods Can I Eat During Pregnancy?
There are many pregnant women who are confused as to what foods they can and can't eat during pregnancy.
You may have already cut foods from your diet unnecessarily, due to misinformation.
Though there are some foods that should absolutely be avoided during pregnancy, the list is not nearly as exhaustive as many people are led to believe.
The Truth About Listeria
Listeria is a bacteria that can contaminate food. Eating contaminated food can lead to an infection known as listeriosis.
In most people, listeriosis is a mild illness that lasts three days and does not require treatment. Symptoms include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.
In rare cases, the infection can spread leading to complications such as meningitis.
During pregnancy, the body's defences against listeriosis are impaired, meaning you are more at risk of becoming infected if you eat contaminated food.
In fact, your risk of developing this condition is 20 times higher during pregnancy.
It is incredibly rare for the infection to pose a serious threat to your health, though it can cause miscarriage, as well as pregnancy and birth complications.
It's estimated around one in five cases of listeriosis during pregnancy result in the death of the baby.
Something to bear in mind, however, that listeriosis is an incredibly rare infection.
After 21 years of dedicated work treating pregnant patients, Doctor Andrew Orr is one of Australia's leading integrative medicine specialists, with Masters degrees in Reproductive Medicine and Women’s Health. He also holds a Bachelor of Health Science and is a nutritionist, to name a few of his health qualifications.
He says, “We only see about five cases [of listeriosis] per million people in Australia. Basically, there is about 0.3-0.4% chance of getting it, yet we make such a big deal about it. This is not to discount it, however. If a health issue such as listeria poisoning is so rare, why do we make such a fuss about it and not warn women of other potentially worse issues that cause more cases per year, and can be potentially fatal too?”
He continues, “A perfect example of this is gestational diabetes, which affects over 15,000 pregnant women each year, with an annual increase of around 5%. Uncontrolled diabetes significantly increases the risk of perinatal death – recent studies say by around 30% compared to non-diabetic mothers. In the meantime, pregnant women can eat sugary foods, highly processed foods and grains, all of which are believed to be a major cause of diabetes, and yet nobody says a thing. Mention the word brie, however, and everyone chimes in with disgust!”
What Can You Eat During Pregnancy?
One of the most important things to be aware of is not so much what you eat, but how you eat it.
Food hygiene is always important, but you should pay particular attention during pregnancy. Temperatures between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius are ideal for bacteria, so it's important that your food is always stored at below 5 degrees Celsius, and cooked at a heat over 60 degrees Celsius.
Doctor Orr has identified the following foods that many pregnant women avoid, which are actually safe to consume during pregnancy:
- Cryovacced deli meats – as long as they are in date and cryovacced (wrapped in airtight packaging) they should be free from bacteria
- Seafood that is fresh and cooked
- Pasteurised cheese – soft cheese is ok as long as it has been cooked
- Pasteurised or UHT milk
- Soft serve ice-cream is safe if hygienically stored. For example, McDonald’s stores have a strict hygiene policy where the machines are washed and cleaned every day. Ice-cream trucks are best avoided because they aren't regularly inspected for food standards. However it’s important to be mindful of sugar consumption and not go overboard!
- Nuts – not only are these safe, there is evidence to suggest that avoiding nuts during pregnancy may actually cause nut allergies
- Cooked eggs
- Cooked chicken is safe, but it must be properly cooked all the way through to avoid the risk of salmonella
- Cooked meats
- Tea and coffee is fine, but make sure you limit yourself to just two cups a day
You should try to to eat a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy. It's important that both you and your baby receive enough essential nutrients for healthy development. Pregnancy is worrying enough, without obsessing over the foods you eat.
For more information, please see our article on pregnancy nutrition.
8 Tips For Eating Well During Pregnancy
Here are Doctor Orr's best tips to ensure you are eating a healthy, balanced dietduring pregnancy:
#1: Take a top quality, practitioner strength prenatal vitamin daily (Dr. Orr has his own formula, however if you need to access one elsewhere, skip the supermarkets and go straight to a naturopath or other health practitioner for the best formulas).
#2: Drink eight glasses of water every day
#3: Include two handful of mixed nuts in your daily diet, or two tablespoons of healthy oils such as olive, coconut or flax seed oil.
#4: Limit your grains to a maximum of just one serve per day. If you have issues with your blood sugar levels, you should avoid grains altogether. A bowl of pasta can spike blood sugar levels higher than a bar of chocolate.
#5: Eat one to two small pieces of fruit, and three servings of vegetables or salads each day. Include foods rich in minerals in your daily diet. Minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium are found in a wide range of foods including baked sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables.
#6: Make sure protein is included in every meal and snack you eat throughout the day.
#7: Exercise three times a week for at least 30 minutes. Yoga, swimming and walking are great beginner exercises to try during pregnancy. Get your doctor's all clear first.
#8: Avoid low fat dairy (typically higher in sugar), diet drinks and artificial sweeteners.