Safe Food Alternatives
Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you have to miss out on all your favorite culinary treats. Yes, there are some definitive no-nos. But you may be surprised to learn there are indeed safe ways to avoid the riskiest of foods with a few easy diet changes.
The Cheesy Details
You don't have to swear off soft cheeses completely during pregnancy. Chat with your doctor; most will agree that you can have almost anything that says "pasteurized" on the label! But do avoid eating cheeses with visible mold, such as blue cheese, Brie, and Camembert; the mold is added after pasteurization, which poses a potential risk.
Eating Out? Ask your server to check cheese labels for you. If you're feeling shy, order a dish made with melted cheese, such as a pizza or a grilled cheese sandwich -- heating cheese until it bubbles kills bacteria. In Mexican restaurants, avoid queso blanco and queso fresco, cheeses that tend to be homemade and unpasteurized.
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Meat & More
When you're pregnant, your protein needs go up by about 50 percent. But, prepackaged or sliced to order, deli meat (including hot dogs) can contain bacteria that cause illness. Try this fix to kill any potential bacteria: Warm up meat until it's steaming. If you use a microwave, let the food sit for a few minutes before eating so the heat can evenly distribute. You can even test the meat using a food thermometer, look for a reading of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Eating Out? At the hoagie shop, order heated sandwiches -- and make sure they're piping hot. Ditto for a hot dog from a street vendor or at a baseball game; look for rising steam. At a sit-down restaurant, say the magic words: "well done."
To avoiding mercury contamination or high PCB levels in fish is to enjoy it in moderation. Stick to 12 ounces total per week and avoid king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish. Tuna is in the moderate mercury range, so if you eat it, do so infrequently (canned light tuna is safer than white albacore). As for PCB, stay away from eel, shad, and white croaker.
Your safest fish choices are: anchovies, pollack, wild salmon, scallops, and shrimp. Be sure to cook fish to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Also, to lower PCB levels, remove skin and fat.
Eating Out? Raw sushi is another thing to cross off your food list for the next nine months. Instead order cooked varieties or try a vegetarian sushi roll, such as avocado and cucumber rolls.
Experts say it's okay to have a daily cup of joe or a few sodas or caffeinated black teas. Any more than that poses a risk. A 2008 study found a twofold increase in miscarriages among pregnant women drinking 200 milligrams or more daily -- the equivalent of two regular-size cups of coffee or five 12-ounce sodas.
Eating Out? If you're ordering a coffee, be sure to choose the tall, not a venti.
A Safer Happy Hour?
Sorry, skip the martinis. Period. Experts still aren't sure if any minimum amount is safe, so the official word on alcohol is still a resounding "no" from both the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Instead try blend sparkling water and your favorite fruit juice -- like pomegranate juice (or orange or apple) -- and pour it into a fancy glass.
Eating Out? Don't spruce up your drink with a lemon wedge. Research shows that these are likely to contain harmful bacteria.
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For More Information
Looking for more safe eating resources? Test out our tasty ideas:
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of American Baby magazine.