Why is healthy eating important during pregnancy?
Healthy eating during pregnancy is like insurance. It ensures that the growing fetus gets enough of the proper nutrients to sustain life, build healthy and properly functioning organ systems and keep the pregnancy going to full-term or 38 weeks. It also ensures that the mother receives all of the proper nutrients to maintain her own healthy during pregnancy. Many people call this “eating for two” but it means eating the right foods, not extra food.
Eating non-nutritious or un-healthy foods during pregnancy only robs both mother and baby of what they need during this strenuous time for the body. Eating too many of the wrong foods does not leave much room for the right ones. In the long run, both suffer tremendously.
During pregnancy, the mother’s body needs extra iron, calcium, protein and essential vitamins so that her baby gets the proper things to build organs, blood and healthy bones. If the mother does not take in enough of these nutrients, her body will literally steal from her stores to give the baby what it needs to grow. For example; if a pregnant mother does not take in enough calcium in her diet, the body will leach needed calcium from her bones and give it to the growing fetus. This is detrimental to both mother and baby, because the mother may not have enough. During pregnancy, babies do not manufacture their own iron. Any needed iron comes from mother. If she does not take in enough iron, severe anemia can result. All of this is one reason that prenatal vitamins are so very important during pregnancy, so that both mother and baby receive essential nutrients for good health.
As said previously, eating the wrong foods during pregnancy leaves little room for the right foods. It is very important to pack the diet with the very best foods and make every bite count!
What foods should be avoided during pregnancy?
Not only do some foods keep pregnant mothers from eating the right foods, some of them can actually be detrimental to the growing fetus. Certain toxins and chemicals in foods can actually cause harm to a growing baby. Knowing which foods are harmful will help a pregnant mother to avoid them during pregnancy and ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Peanuts – Eating peanuts during pregnancy can cause sensitization to them in the baby. Peanut allergies are one of the most dangerous allergies a person can have. During pregnancy when the mother eats peanuts, small traces of the protein can get to the growing fetus and the baby’s body will form antibodies to the protein. After the baby is born, any exposure to peanuts will cause the baby’s body to “fight-off” the peanut protein and have an allergic reaction.
Certain Seafood – Shark, canned tuna, swordfish and mackerel are very high in Mercury. Mercury can cause certain nervous system defects in a developing baby. The FDA does state that up to 6 ounces of tuna a week may be safe, but there are arguments among researchers. Safe seafood includes fresh water fish such as; salmon, catfish and trout. (See Figure 1)
Figure 1: Mercury containing foods
Photo Courtesy of: aqualifeforyou.blogspot.com
Foods that are undercooked – Any undercooked or unpasteurized foods can expose the mother to bacteria that causes food poisoning. While, food poisoning will not affect the baby directly the mother can lose electrolytes and nutrients through vomiting and diarrhea. Unpasteurized foods include; goat cheeses, Mexican cheeses and fresh juices.
Alcoholic beverages – Alcohol is never safe during pregnancy, but is extremely dangerous during the first few months of pregnancy. During the first few months alcohol in pregnancy can cause defects in the face and a form of mental retardation. This is called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Alcohol use can also increase the risk of stillbirth and miscarriage.
Caffeine- Caffeine is mild in adults, but can be potentially threatening to a baby’s heart rate. What gives us a little boost can severely affect a tiny fetus. Doctors recommend that expecting mothers limit caffeine to no more than 200 mg per day. None is best. Caffeine can cause fetal death in large amounts.
Herbal Tea – Some mothers who choose to give up caffeine switch to herbal tea thinking it is safer. Not necessarily the case here, some herbs can have a negative effect on the developing baby. Use extreme caution in choosing herbal teas and research the effects of anything you put in your body. Not a lot of research has been done on herb use in pregnancy, so it is usually safer to avoid them altogether.
Hot Dogs – Any luncheon or processed meats may contain the bacteria Listeria, which is dangerous to a growing fetus. Hot dogs can be thoroughly cooked to reduce the risk by heating them to 160◦ F. Processed lunch meats are usually eaten cold and should be avoided altogether.
Unwashed fruits and vegetables and sprouts – Unwashed fruits and vegetables can harbor harmful bacteria such as; e.coli, salmonella and Listeria. Never avoid fresh fruits and vegetables during pregnancy because you and your baby need these vital nutrients. Just make sure to wash them very thoroughly with soap and water.
So what foods can be safely eaten in pregnancy?
Anything that is fresh and unprocessed is safe to eat as long as it is thoroughly washed and cooked at the proper temperatures. Eat a variety of foods including:
- Green leafy vegetables (washed well)
- Red, yellow, orange and purple fruits and vegetables (washed well)
- Lean Turkey, beef, chicken and fresh water fish (cooked thoroughly)
- Whole grains, cereal, enriched breads
- Low-Fat Dairy; eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt (pasteurized)
- Healthy fats; avocado, almonds, brazil nuts and olive oil
- Use processed carbohydrates and sugar sparingly
Use the following food guide pyramid to make healthier choices for foods in pregnancy (Figure 2)
Figure 2: Healthy Food Guide Pyramid
You and your growing baby are what you eat. Make every bite count for a healthy pregnancy and healthy newborn baby.