Sat in the midwife’s office you have already answered a barrage of questions ranging from medical history to your personal details; next a healthy diet is to be discussed. Good, you think, I have been waiting for the ‘Do’s and Donts’ to begin…
"And of course, you cannot eat shellfish or raw eggs…" Continues the midwife.
At this point, you snap awake to reply "Sorry? Did I just hear you correctly? No prawns? But I have a huge prawn and mayonnaise baguette in my bag to eat as soon as I escape from your office. I love prawns, I need prawns, I cannot live without prawns."
Now you realise this is all a bit of an overstatement, however, you do really enjoy shellfish, especially prawns. Now she has moved on and its cheese, I love blue cheese, why can I not eat it? The midwife can see you starting to glaze over and rushes through the other ‘Don’ts’ so she can at least end with a few ‘Do’s’…
“You can eat chocolate, but it does contain caffeine so not too much…oh and you must not overeat so…” She pauses and stares down at the page to avoid eye contact.
That’s it, you have switched off for now, too much info to absorb, especially after she crashed your dreams by mentioning prawns.
So what is the truth? Can we debunk any myths? Are any ‘Don’ts’ not actually evidence based? Let’s take a look.
Myth 1. Eating for two
I am sorry to inform you, and you may indeed decide to keep this info to yourself but this is a complete myth. No extra calories are required especially within the first trimester. When you hit the second trimester you may wish to add a little extra energy to your diet as your body adjusts and your baby grows but just a couple of tablespoons of nuts or a large banana and a spoon of honey should be enough. Pop that extra chocolate bar down. We do however need extra vitamins and minerals during pregnancy so feel free to indulge in your daily pregnancy supplements.
What I recommend you do is to just learn to eat smarter.
Myth 2. You need meat
As a vegetarian, my eating habits have always been frowned upon, especially during pregnancy. Surely you cannot get all you need from vegetables? Guess what? Us veggies do eat other things you know and veg is filled with lots of vitamins and minerals (eye roll). Yes, we need extra iron and a little more protein in pregnancy but with a sensible balanced diet even the strictest raw food vegan can get all she needs.
Pair iron-rich foods with a healthy daily dose of vitamin C to help boost absorbtion into the body.
If you avoid milk, I am sure you are aware of other ways to ingest calcium into your body but if you are worried then a good pregnancy supplement should contain what you need to boost your supplies of minerals and vitamins.
DHA Omega-3 is also needed and if you usually avoid fish and shellfish then opt for some Omega-3 packed walnuts or fortified juices or soy milk. These essential fatty acids can also be gained from other plant sources. Flax seeds are a particularly rich source, and they help to stabilise blood sugar.
Vitamin B12 is also important for your baby’s neurological development. If avoiding meat, seafood and eggs which are all rich sources then look towards supplementing or try some alfalfa and seaweed. Blue-green algae are loaded with B12.
Anyway, is it not true that meat is loaded with saturated fats, which is the hardest of all foods for the body to break down and digest?
Myth 4. You must avoid all shellfish
Here we go, got your attention now. Yes, please avoid raw shellfish as it carries a risk of food poisoning which is very unpleasant in pregnancy, but cooked shellfish is absolutely fine to eat. Indulge in those pink prawns as pink is cooked . So it’s no to oysters that are usually eaten raw but most other shellfish such as prawns and crab are usually cooked and as long as they are cooked through then most worrying bacteria is usually destroyed. So have that prawn sandwich and smile.
Myth 5. No coffee
You can indulge in up to 200mg of caffeine-enriched coffee a day. This means up to 2 instant coffee’s or just the one decent filter. So if you really cannot kick the craving then do have a cup or two. It's consistently consuming high levels of caffeine that may lead to problems such as miscarriage in early pregnancy and low birth weight babies being born.
Myth 6 Avoid Tuna and other oily fish
Is canned fish, banned fish? No, you can safely eat 4 medium sized cans of tuna weekly (140g tins) or up to 2 portions of fresh tuna a week. Surely that’s enough for any tuna lover? Having 2 portions of oily fish a week can supply you with the essential fatty acids (DHA omega-3) that are needed for development of your baby’s brain and eyes. Great sources are salmon, tuna and trout but you can now find DHA in everything from orange juice to yoghurt.
Myth 7 Avoid ALL soft and Blue cheeses
Soft cheeses can contain listeria bacteria that can lead to an infection called Listeriosis. Camembert, brie and others with a similar white rind are mould-ripened and should indeed be avoided in pregnancy due to a risk of Listeriosis. You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses such as Danish Blue, Gorgonzola and Roquefort.
Pregnant women are at greater risk of Listeriosis infection due to hormonal changes during pregnancy that weaken the immune system. Although rare, it is important to take extra special care as even a mild infection may cause miscarriage, stillbirth or illness in a newborn. But there is good news ALL other pasteurised hard cheeses are safe to eat. These include Hard blue cheeses such a stilton. And another little bit of good news; you cook the soft cheese and the bacteria are destroyed so you may indulge in baked Camembert or brie.
And by the way, all pasteurised soft cream cheeses/spreads and goat’s cheeses, are also fine to eat.
Myth 8 Avoid Peanuts
There is no current evidence to suggest that the consumption of peanuts is harmful in pregnancy. It was once thought that eating peanuts could be linked with causing possible allergies particularly nut allergies in babies/children but there is no evidence to support such a claim. Peanuts are safe to eat.
I am afraid all the other things you have been asked to avoid may well be suggested with good reason;
• Raw/undercooked egg should be avoided due to the risk of Salmonella (although the risk is very small) • Raw meat – The evidence suggests that meats need to be well cooked to avoid Toxoplasmosis which is a common infection that can be picked up by consuming undercooked beef or pork. Sorry rare steak is still off the menu. Added to this, the FSA (Food Standards Agency) has also asked that pregnant women are careful when eating cold cured meats such as salami, chorizo, pepperoni and Parma ham as these are cured not cooked and may contain toxoplasmosis causing parasites. However, freezing cured meats for 4 days’ kills most parasites, so freeze, defrost, then eat! • Pâté – should be avoided due to the risk of listeria. Liver pate especially due to the added risk of ingesting too much vitamin A which we know can be harmful to developing babies.
So I hope you will agree, it’s not all bad but I do know that now you are going to be sitting there lusting after a rare steak, laced with Gorgonzola, wrapped in Parma ham, with a pâté chaser! Oh, and a nice fruity glass of red. Oh yes, alcohol, I forgot to mention that but I have covered the subject throughly in a separate blog…
Keep smiling, it's only 9 months…
Then there’s breastfeeding to consider…
P.s If there is anything not on my list that you have been asked to avoid and are not sure why, feel free to leave me a message. I will investigate.