What to eat when you’re pregnant

Eat this, not that! All your prenatal nutrition questions, answered

Whitney English Tabaie is a registered dietician nutritionist and founder of the prenatal and pediatric nutrition site, Plant-Based Juniors.

Most of us have heard the laundry list of foods that pregnant women are told to avoid. It may seem annoying or overly cautious to have to monitor everything going into your body during pregnancy–especially when you’re told to watch out for seemingly innocent foods like watermelon–but it is important.  Certain foods carry a higher risk of contamination from bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. While infections with these microbes typically cause food-borne illnesses that are treatable in healthy adults, they are much more dangerous to pregnant women and can even be deadly for a developing fetus. But being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on good food and flavor. I’m going to simplify the do’s and don’ts for you and provide you with some delicious, nutritious alternatives so you can have a healthy, worry-free pregnancy.

Certain foods carry a higher risk of contamination from bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, and E. coli. While infections with these microbes typically cause food-borne illnesses that are treatable in healthy adults, they are much more dangerous to pregnant women and can even be deadly for a developing fetus.

 

Animal Products

There is generally a higher risk of bacterial contamination when eating meat or eggs since they can easily be undercooked, but even some store-bought products should be avoided–case in point, deli meat. I don’t recommend deli meat for anybody, pregnant or not, given the health concerns associated with processed meat, but deli meat can be especially dangerous when you’re pregnant due to the risk of listeria, a serious bacterial illness.

For this same reason, soft cheeses (unless made specifically with “pasteurized milk”) should be avoided, as they too can harbor bacteria and have not been heat-treated. So, you’ll want to skip the meat and cheese deli sandwich. Leave the sprouts off your sandwich too–while well-cooked sprouts are safe, raw or lightly-cooked sprouts should be avoided as they also carry a risk of bacterial contamination.

Instead of a turkey and brie sandwich, try grilled veggies with avocado or plant-based “cheese!”

If you eat meat and eggs, make sure they are always well-cooked. This means no sunny-side up or soft-boiled eggs, since they can carry salmonella. This also means no raw fish–I’m talking to you, sushi lovers.

Instead of sushi with fish, try a cucumber or avocado roll!

 

Produce

The risk of infection doesn’t come only with animal products–there are also fruits, veggies, and other plant-based foods to watch out for. I mentioned raw sprouts should definitely be avoided, but it’s also important to be wary of all raw fruits and veggies. Raw produce can carry harmful bacteria, so be sure to thoroughly wash and correctly store produce.

If my watermelon comment earlier had you worried, let me put your fears to rest: you don’t have to avoid melons altogether, you just have to be careful when you eat them. Melons have a high risk of bacterial contamination when stored improperly. You can reduce risk of contamination by properly washing the outside of melons, eating them immediately after cutting, or storing them immediately in the refrigerator. Avoid cut melons that have been sitting out for over four hours.

 

Beverages

Most people know that pregnant women should avoid alcohol. Alcohol during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, complications, and even miscarriage or stillbirth. When pregnant, remember that everything you eat and drink, your baby also eats and drinks.

Unpasteurized drinks should also be avoided. This includes kombucha, unpasteurized milk and cheese, store-bought cold-pressed juice, and even herbal tea. While herbal tea seems like a harmless beverage, many herbs contain contaminants or they haven’t been tested during pregnancy to verify their safety. Therefore, they should be avoided just to be safe.

You will probably be relieved to hear that one popular drink is not off limits – coffee! The American Pregnancy Association and other health care experts say 200-300 mg/day, or 1-2 cups of coffee is perfectly safe for mamas to be.

For a lower-caffeine alternative to coffee, try green or black tea!

Last but not least, leave the artificial sweetener out of your coffee. While there isn’t much research on artificial sweeteners during pregnancy, artificial sweeteners can disrupt the microbiome and lead to glucose intolerance, which can then cause other pregnancy complications.

Instead of the fake stuff, try maple syrup, agave, or honey!

I hope this list helps make it easier for you to select safe, healthy foods for you and your baby. If you want to learn more about fueling a healthy pregnancy, check out my Predominantly Plant-Based Pregnancy Guide, which covers everything from nutrition to exercise to lifestyle, plus over 50 recipes–including this smoothie!

 

Pineapple Ginger Smoothie aka “Morning Sickness No More” Smoothie 

Pineapple Ginger Smoothie aka "Morning Sickness No More" Smoothie

Nauseous again? Try this pineapple ginger smoothie. Cold, refreshing, and packed with nausea-quenching fresh ginger, this is the perfect drink when not much else sounds good. 

 

Serves 1

1 cup pineapple (fresh or frozen) 

1 tablespoon fresh, peeled ginger 

1 tablespoon lemon juice 

1 cup kale leaves, stems removed 

1 tablespoon maple syrup 

1 cup ice 

1 ½ cups water

 

1. Add all ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Taste, adjusting as needed. If too tart, add more pineapple or maple syrup. 

 

Serving Size: 1 smoothie

Calories Per Serving: 142

Total Fat 0.5g

Saturated Fat 0g

Cholesterol 0mg

Sodium 25.3mg

Total Carbohydrate 36.4g

Dietary Fiber 0.7g

Sugars 26.6g

Protein 1.8g

8% Calcium 78.4mg

4% Iron 0.7mg

4% Zinc 0.6mg

11% Folate 44.4µg

The information provided by Pipette is intended solely for educational purposes. The information is not to be used for medical diagnostic purposes and is not intended to serve as a recommendation for treatment and/or management of any medical/surgical condition. Most of all, this information should not be used in place of a physician or other qualified health provider. If you believe you or your child have a medical condition, please contact your physician immediately. 

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