I was surprised at how stressful restaurant meals became once I was pregnant -- and I'm a nutritionist! When you're constantly looking over your shoulder for sneaky sources of bacteria and mercury while also thinking about the best ways to nourish your baby-to-be, ordering off a menu can feel like navigating a food minefield. The fact is, pregnant women are indeed more likely to contract foodborne illness -- and when they do the stakes are higher. This cheat sheet to restaurant fare will help you figure out whether to stop, go, or proceed with caution when it comes to popular menu items. From now on, you can eat out with confidence. Bon appetit!
Red Light: Chef's salad with iceburg lettuce, vegetables, ham, turkey, hard boiled egg, and swiss cheese
"Avoid this salad," says Elizabeth Ward, R.D., mother of three and author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After Pregnancy. It's unlikely the restaurant has heated the cold cuts until steaming, as the FDA recommends you do during pregnancy to cut the risk of listeria infection, which can infect the placenta and the baby, and result in miscarriage or stillbirth.
Green Light: Mesclun greens with grilled vegetables and chicken
A salad topped with a freshly cooked meat is a much better choice than cold cuts, says Ward. Plus, unlike wimpy iceberg lettuce, dark leafy greens are rich in vitamins, such as A and K, as well as all-important folate.
Yellow Light: Caesar salad
Traditional Caesar dressing is made with uncooked eggs, a pregnancy don't. Many places no longer prepare it that way, and some use the pre-made bottled kind, which is safe. But always check with your server, says Frances Largeman-Roth, R.D., mom of two, and author of Feed the Belly: The Pregnant Mom's Healthy Eating Guide. If the restaurant can't give you a firm answer, swap dressings to say, balsamic vinaigrette, or change your order altogether.
Green Light: Tuna sandwich
"The FDA recommends up to six ounces of canned white albacore tuna a week," says Ward, due to the mercury content in the fish. Chunk light tuna is a bit lower in the toxin, so you can have up to 12 ounces per week, roughly equal to three regular-sized sandwiches. If you're within this amount, "I say go for it," says Largeman-Roth. Pregnant women tend not to get enough omega-3s which are important for Baby's brain and vision development, so if you're craving tuna, don't overthink it.
Yellow Light: Greek omelet with feta cheese, spinach, and tomato
First ask your server if the feta is made with pasteurized milk. If so, eat up. Most cheese sold in the U.S. is safe, but some soft cheeses -- such as feta, queso fresco, queso blanco, blue cheese, and gorgonzola -- may be made from unpasteurized milk which puts you at risk for listeria infection, says Ward. The eggs (as long as they're thoroughly cooked) and veggies in this dish are both top pregnancy nutrition picks.
Red Light: Seafood ceviche
You may already be sticking to cucumber rolls at the sushi bar, but did you know that ceviche is raw fish, too? The words "carpaccio" and "crudo" on a menu also warn you that your dinner hasn't seen a stove and therefore could put you at risk for foodborne illness, says Largeman-Roth. Other raw red flags: "sashimi" and "tartare."
Yellow Light: Fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil
Most of the fresh mozzarella you find at the grocery store is pasteurized, but you can't be sure about restaurants. "If the package doesn't say or the server's not sure, skip it!" says Largeman-Roth.
Red Light: Prosciutto and melon slices
Sure, it's a bit fancier sounding than say, ham or bologna, but prosciutto is still considered a lunch meat, so nix it.
Green Light: Shrimp cocktail
The shrimp in this dish have been fully cooked -- just check to be sure it arrives at your table thoroughly chilled.
Red Light: Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
A high-mercury fish, swordfish is best avoided altogether during pregnancy, says Ward. Opt instead for flounder, haddock, freshwater trout, and wild salmon to deliver brain-building omega-3s to your baby.
Green Light: Stir-fried beef with broccoli and white rice
Beef is a great source of iron, a crucial mineral for helping your little peanut grow and develop during the whole nine months. What's more, the vitamin C found in the vegetables will help your body absorb that important iron. Swap the white rice for brown or wild to make the dish even better.
Yellow Light: Penne a la vodka
It's actually a myth that all of the alcohol in a cooked dish burns off from the heat. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that between 45 percent and 85 percent of the alcohol used in a recipe remains, depending on the cooking technique. If you've just gotta have some, share a few bites as an appetizer.
Green Light: Wild salmon with baby potatoes and spinach
"Farmed and wild salmon are both low in mercury," says Largeman-Roth. However, wild salmon is the preferable choice because it also has lower levels of chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) compared to farmed salmon.
Green Light: Chicken kabob with whole-wheat couscous
This is a winner: Lean protein, loads of nutrient-rich veggies, and the whole wheat couscous packs a punch of fiber.
Yellow Light: Berries with Cream
Pass if it's Zabaglione (a popular Italian treat), which is made with minimally cooked egg yolks and wine. Ask for whipped cream, frozen or plain yogurt, or ice cream (but not homemade, which may also contain raw egg).
Yellow Light: Cannoli
You get a thumbs up if this pastry has been made with cheese that is pasteurized.
Green Light: Chocolate cake
News from the "too good to be true" department: "Some studies show that eating chocolate while pregnant can lead to happier babies," says Largeman-Roth.
Green Light: Sorbets
Just keep the serving size small because most sorbets are made with tons of sugar, which can spike your blood sugar levels.
Wait to safely eat these items until after Baby is born:
Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.
Originally published in the November 2013 issue of American Baby magazine.
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