During 2017, 3,853,472 babies were born in the USA according to the National Center for Health Statistics. While motherhood is without a doubt one of life’s greatest blessings, pregnancy itself can prove to be somewhat overwhelming, especially when taking into account the countless opinions and pieces of unsolicited advice with which pregnant women are regularly bombarded.
Apart from having to pick between millions of names, attend baby showers, and decorate a nursery, expectant women also have to try and sift through the myriad of myths and facts pertaining to optimal pregnancy nutrition.
While doctors are in agreement that adequate nutrition is of primary importance to both mom and baby, a lot of sound advice ends up getting lost between a heap of old wives tales and pseudo-science.
In order for both you and your unborn baby to remain healthy throughout your pregnancy you will have to buckle up and learn to distinguish between the most common nutrition-related myths and facts.
Myth: You need to double your food intake
How often do we hear that pregnant women need to double their food intake because they are eating for two? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) most pregnant women overeat, resulting in potentially dangerous complications throughout the pregnancy and birth. Gestational diabetes and compulsory C-sections are just two consequences of gaining too much weight during a pregnancy. In truth, a pregnant woman only needs to up her calorie intake marginally, while instead focusing her efforts on eating wholesome foods that are filled with all the extra nutrients she requires such as calcium, magnesium and iron.
Instead of pigging out on a pyramid of Quarter Pounders and tubs of Haagen-Dazs, stick to small portions and instead increase the amount of wholegrains, lean protein and fresh fruit & vegetables you consume. Try to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and veg a day without neglecting any of your other food groups.
Fact: Coffee may be worse for you than you think
While it was once believed that drinking up to three 8-ounce cups of coffee a day was safe for a pregnant woman, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends limiting your daily caffeine consumption to less than 200 milligrams. A number of studies have found that drinking more than 200g of caffeine a day can increase the risks of low birth weight as well as miscarriage, while drinking enormous amounts of caffeine can even lead to stillbirth.
Instead of drowning your sorrows in coffee and energy drinks (that are riddled with nasty ingredients), reach for healthier alternatives such as decaf coffee, red (rooibos) tea, and milk-based drinks that will still provide you with a warm, fuzzy feeling without compromising the health of your baby in any way.
Myth: You have to avoid all
fish during pregnancy
Contrary to popular belief, not all fish and seafood is bad for you during pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually advises pregnant and lactating women to eat up to twelve ounces of low-mercury fish such as salmon, hake, sardines, tuna, and cod each week, while only steering clear of those with high mercury levels such as shark, king mackerel and swordfish, and any uncooked fish like that found in sushi.
It is the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish that you are after as they play a significant role in the development of the baby’s brain and eyes. If you can’t bring yourself to prepare a whole fish for dinner, simply open a can of tuna, season as desired and eat with some crackers or in a hearty salad.
Fact: You may require nutrients that
you have never even heard of
When you are pregnant you will undoubtedly have slightly elevated nutritional requirements compared to before. While it is almost common knowledge that you must up your calcium and iron intake by eating more leafy greens, legumes, and dairy, you may never even have heard of another very important nutrient: choline. Choline is essential for your baby’s brain health and is commonly found in pork, cauliflower, eggs, soy products, and liver. You will require approximately 450mg of choline a day which can be obtained from roughly two eggs, half a cup of soybeans, and a four ounce pork chop.
Myth: Eating pineapples and papayas cause miscarriages
Pregnant women are often told to stay away from pineapple and papaya while they are pregnant as they will undoubtedly have a miscarriage. While it is true that unripe papaya contains chymopapain and pineapple bromelain, both of which have been linked to uterine contractions, you would have to consume enormous amounts of both in order for them to have a negative effect on you. There is no scientific evidence that support this old wives’ tale and the rumors are nothing but anecdotal.
In fact, the nutrients contained within these fruits can be of great benefit to pregnant women. Not only are they brimming with vitamin C and folate, but they also boast a healthy dose of magnesium, copper, and vitamin B6 that can all contribute towards a healthy pregnancy.
Organic food is good for you
A number of studies have indicated that the regions across the United States with a high prevalence of pesticide and nitrate residue also have the highest premature birth rate. Following a diet that is as organic as possible is without a doubt best for both baby and you. While it is true that organic produce is generally more expensive than mass-produced commercial food items, you can simply view the added expense as a worthy investment in your baby’s future. By making careful food choices, you will also find you do not spend nearly as much as imagined.
Where possible, opt for organic meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables or, at the very least, purchase your goods from local suppliers who tend to use fewer pesticides than large-scale farmers. Apart from being better for your health, organic produce also has a lot more flavor, making mealtimes more enjoyable than ever before.
You need to eat meat.
Protein is of great importance during pregnancy, but there is no pregnancy rule book that states that your protein and iron has to be derived from meat. Although meat is by far the most convenient protein source, it is not the only one. There are countless good non-meat sources of protein such as edamame, tempeh, soy and, of course, eggs. Eggs are known as the perfect protein for good reason and can be prepared in a variety of ways that will prevent you from getting bored with them.
For a welcome change from your regular sunny-side up or boiled eggs, why not whip up a quick frittata or omelet filled with an array of delicious and nutritious filings such as onion, tomato, peppers, and cheese. Apart from protein, there are also a large variety of excellent vegetarian iron sources including spinach, fortified oatmeal, dried apricots, Swiss chard, lentils, and pumpkin seed that can readily be incorporated into any balanced diet.
Fact: Practice good kitchen hygiene at all times
While a woman is pregnant, her immune system is automatically slightly reduced, which puts both her and her unborn baby at a greater risk of contracting various viruses, parasites, and bacteria. Foodborne illnesses, in particular, can be worse during pregnancy and may even lead to premature delivery or miscarriage. The easiest way to avoid contracting a foodborne illness is to only prepare food in a clean kitchen and to avoid eating any raw or undercooked foods.
Chicken that has not been cooked properly is especially dangerous as it can lead to illnesses such as campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli, which can prove to be fatal if not treated in a timeous manner. It is highly recommended to not give in to any cravings involving unpasteurized cheeses and lunch meats, instead making healthy choices that involve freshly prepared food and beverages.
Always wash your hands prior to preparing food and again before eating and be careful not to cross contaminate your foods while cooking. Keep your cooked food away from your raw ingredients and remember to always store perishables in the fridge or freezer.
Spicy food will induce labor
For centuries, myth has suggested that eating spicy food during pregnancy can not only burn your unborn baby’s eyes, but induce premature labor as well. Thankfully, there is absolutely no scientific research supporting these myths and spices can safely be consumed in moderation throughout the entire pregnancy. The only downside to eating a lot of spicy food while you are pregnant is the fact that it may increase the prevalence of heartburn, however.
If another old wives’ tale is to be believed, your heartburn will result in your son or daughter being born with a head full of hair. If you want to tone down the heat of your favorite Mexican or Indian dishes, add a spoonful of sour cream or Greek yogurt, as a garnish or accompany it with a cool side salad and icy drink.
Most sweeteners are safe to use
Gestational diabetes is a major concern among pregnant women, which is why so many veer away from conventional sugars in favor of seemingly healthier options. Although research is fairly limited with regard to the use of non-nutritive sweeteners during pregnancy, there are a number of sweeteners including Stevia, Acesulfame Potassium, Aspartame, and Sucralose. Sugar alternatives that have not been proven safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding include Saccharin and Cyclamate. If you are unsure whether a sweetener is safe to use or not, it is best to consult with your doctor or stick to good old-fashioned beet or cane sugar.
Once you have found a sweetener that you enjoy and to which you have no adverse effects, you can even start using it in your cooking and baking instead of traditional sugar. While some sweeteners, like Stevia, do have a somewhat distinctive taste, you won’t even be able to taste the difference when baking with sucralose or coconut sugar, for example.
Avoid dietary fat if you don’t want to pick up weight
Fat is a very necessary component of any healthy diet and should never be eliminated in its entirety. Apart from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stating that small amounts of saturated fats are necessary to keep a body healthy, further research has found that consuming healthy fats during pregnancy can even reduce the risk of a child being born with autism. Without consuming copious amounts of cooking oil and margarine, you can benefit from including an array of healthy fats in your diet. Some of the best fats to indulge in from time to time can be found in avocados, nuts, olives, and beneficial oils such as coconut, olive, and macadamia nut.
You can up the fat content of a meal by adding a little butter to your vegetables, slicing an avocado into your salad, or roasting nuts and adding them to your granola or oats. Have your cholesterol checked at regular intervals during your pregnancy, just to make sure you are not indulging in fatty foods too often.
Sifting through the myriad of myths and facts pertaining to pregnancy nutrition is certainly not for the faint-hearted. While it is natural that you would not want to offend any friend or family member that tries to offer you pregnancy nutrition advice, it is in the best interest of both you and your baby to choose what advice you follow very carefully. Always trust your instinct and when in doubt, seek professional medical advice instead of following any dubious advice blindly.