Eating During Pregnancy

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By Dr Harriet Holme MA Hons Cantab MBBS Lond MRCPCH(2009) PhD RNutr

Dr Harriet Holme

Are you pregnant and looking for more information on how to eat well during pregnancy, what foods are safe, and which to avoid?

Firstly, congratulations on your pregnancy! This is an exciting time for you and your partner.

For many women, pregnancy can be a time which focuses their mind on what they are eating. With so much conflicting information available online, it can also be difficult to sift the fact from fiction.

In a recent study, 90% of women in early pregnancy (less than 12 weeks) were found to have incorrect knowledge about nutrition during pregnancy. If you are searching for credible information, look no further. The information is based on the latest guidance and scientific evidence.

Whatever your stage in life, there are some guiding principles for eating well. I like to think of these as foods to enjoy and those to swap out:

Foods to enjoy:

  • a wide range of colourful fruit and vegetables
  • 2 portions of protein per day such as lean meat or fish, eggs, lentils, pulses, beans, and tofu etc, which are also an important source of iron.
  • 3 portions of calcium rich food per day such as diary products, or tinned fish, where you eat the bones, tahini, broccoli, tofu, almonds and dried fruit
  • plenty of fluid (approximately 8 glasses), which is especially important in pregnancy as your blood supply increases. If you are exercising or being sick you will need to drink more
  • eating with friends and family

Swap out:

  • refined carbohydrates for wholegrain carbohydrates (bulgur wheat, millet, brown bread, brown rice
  • sugary drink for water
  • saturated fats like butter, coconut and animal fat for lean protein and unsaturated fats such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and rapeseed oil.
  • ready meals and added salt to home cooked whole foods.

Specific foods to avoid during pregnancy

There are specific foods though that you should avoid during pregnancy, because they risk your baby’s health. This is a summary of foods to avoid during pregnancy and why:

  • Soft and unpasteurised cheese are more likely to contain a bacteria called Listeria. Listeria infection in pregnancy is extremely serious and can have a harmful effect on your baby.
  • Raw eggs that do not have the British lion stamp on them, which symbolises that they are vaccinated against Salmonella.
  • Soft serve ice-cream from machines, which is higher risk of Listeria.
  • Raw, undercooked or cured meat such as chorizo, salami, burgers, steak and prosciutto, because there is a risk of infection by Toxoplasmosis gondii. Thoroughly cooking or freezing for 4 days first, reduces this risk.
  • All pate, even vegetarian ones, as these may contain Listeria, while liver based pate has excess vitamin A, which is also damaging during pregnancy.
  • Raw fish and shell fish carry a risk of food poisoning and parasitic worms. This risk is greatly reduced if the fish is farmed within the UK or EU, and if the fish is frozen first.
  • Shark, swordfish and marlin are all high in mercury. Similarly limit tuna intake to two tuna steaks or 4 cans per week.
  • Liquorice root contains a chemical that may be harmful.
  • Limit caffein consumption to approximately 200mg per day.
  • There isn’t much evidence about the safety of green and herbal teas during pregnancy, so try to limit your intake. Avoid herbal teas that are not made using ingredients that tend to be from a normal diet.
  • Alcohol. The safest approach is if you think you could become pregnant, to avoid all alcohol.

For lost more information about foods that you can still enjoy, for example mozzarella, even though it’s a soft cheese, have a look at my ebook which goes into much more detail. It’s called ‘eating during pregnancy’, with forewords by two obstetric doctors the @theOBGYNmum and @drsterlingOBGYN. I wrote it to provide mums to be with credible information on pregnancy nutrition. Get your copy here or Amazon Kindle.

I’m a Registered Nutritionist (AfN), and former experienced paediatrician. After studying at Cambridge University, I worked in the NHS for over a decade, ultimately specialising in paediatric oncology. I also have a PhD in genetics from UCL. I lecture on nutrition and was commissioned to write a novel degree combining culinary skills, nutrition and health. 

I now use these uniquely developed skills for the benefit of my clients and students, consulting as a Registered Nutritionist and lecturing in culinary science and nutrition. My focus is science backed nutrition, and I’m passionate about sharing credible information to empower people to eat for their health. I have lots of Nutrition and Health articles on my website or follow my ‘facts not fiction’ on Instagram @healthyeatingdr so that you can eat for health today.

Would you like to become a guest writer on my website? You might be a health professional or expert in any area of fertility, pregnancy, birth or parenting, or you may be a parent wanting to share a story. Contact me at marley@midwifemarley.com to find out more.

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