Which holiday foods are healthy and which should you avoid?

By the editors of American Baby magazine
October 03, 2005

Pregnancy Nutrition

With all the delicious treats gracing the table, it's difficult to keep your diet healthy and balanced over the holidays. And when you're pregnant, you may justify that extra helping because you're "eating for two."

You do need extra calories and nutrients when you're pregnant. But those extras should be in the form of foods that are good for you and that support your baby's development. Watch your caloric intake, and avoid foods that can be harmful to you and baby. After all, what you consume, your baby consumes. Check out these guidelines for healthy holiday eating for pregnant women from the Mayo Clinic.

Healthy Holiday Foods

Foods that provide the following nutrients are healthy additions to the holiday table. Reach for them, and know you're giving baby what he needs to grow:

Calcium-rich foods: For pregnant women, three servings a day of milk, yogurt, or cheese is recommended. Talk to your doctor or registered dietitian if you're lactose intolerant. Calcium-fortified juice, collard greens, kale, broccoli, dried beans, sardines, and canned salmon (with bones) are also healthy sources of calcium.

Folic acid-rich foods: Folic acid (the B vitamin also known as folate) helps blood cell and hemoglobin development throughout pregnancy. It is especially beneficial when taken before conception and during the early weeks of pregnancy to prevent brain and spinal cord birth defects in a baby. Good sources include:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Dried peas and beans
  • Citrus fruits, bananas, cantaloupe, and tomatoes
  • Fortified breads and cereals

Iron-rich foods: Pregnant women need extra iron in their diet -- 30 milligrams (mg) of iron a day. It's very difficult to get this much iron in your diet, so prenatal supplements can make up what you don't eat. At the holiday table, look for these foods rich in iron:

  • Lean red meat
  • Spinach
  • Dried fruits
  • Whole grains, fortified breads and cereal

Consume in Moderation

Some foods look wonderful on the holiday table, but they're not healthy choices for regular or excessive consumption if you're eating for two. Consume these treats in moderation:

Caffeine: According to the Mayo Clinic, moderate consumption of caffeine -- 200 mg daily -- is not harmful during pregnancy. When you drink 500 mg or more of caffeine daily, it may cause a decrease in your baby's birth weight and head circumference. In general, it's best to limit caffeine intake to one to two cups of coffee daily.

Fatty food and sweets: Sugary and fatty foods are not high in nutrients you and your baby need. They do taste wonderful, and it's okay to indulge. But don't fill up on so many fats and sweets that you eat less of the healthy foods your baby needs to grow. Keep your intake of fats and sweets low. And if you choose to splurge on dessert, don't butter your potato at dinner!

Fish: While fish is a good source of protein, it should be approached with caution. Pregnant women should eat certain types of fish in moderation because the fish could contain environmental contamination from mercury or industrial pollutants. Check with your doctor about safe fish choices in your area.

Foods to Avoid

You may find these foods as part of the holiday spread, but it's best to avoid them:

Alcohol: It's recommended that pregnant women avoid alcohol because it's potentially harmful for an unborn baby. You should also avoid alcohol if you're breastfeeding, since alcohol is transmitted via breast milk. Alcohol could cause problems in your baby's development.

Raw eggs: Raw eggs may contain salmonella bacteria and should not be eaten by pregnant women. Recipes that contain raw eggs, such as Caesar salad dressing, eggnog, and uncooked cake batter or cookie dough should be avoided.

Soft cheeses: Cheese platters are typical holiday fare. Cheese is a healthy and wholesome food, but pregnant women should avoid the soft cheeses, including Brie, Camembert, feta, and Mexican-style and blue-veined cheeses. These types of cheeses are the main food-borne source of the disease-causing bacteria listeria.

Source: The Mayo Clinic

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby