What to Eat During Pregnancy: Myths and Facts
What to eat during pregnancy? This question has many answers and navigating mixed messages can be confusing. Prenatal nutrition expert, Ryann Kipping of The Prenatal Nutritionist joins us here to explore some myths and facts about what to eat during pregnancy. Content has been republished, with her permission, from her blog for this post.
“I’ve waited nine months to eat this sushi!” “Ugh, do you have any decaf? I’m pregnant.” “Is it pasteurized? I’m not sure if I can drink that.” These are all statements made, at one time or another, from women who are pregnant. Unfortunately, there are a lot of question marks when it comes to deciding what to eat during pregnancy.
It can be hard to sort out the facts, and no one wants to make “mistakes” when deciding what to eat during pregnancy. We get it, but let’s preface this with noting that a lot of these “myths” have grey areas. It is difficult to label something completely safe or completely unsafe for eating during pregnancy due to lack of scientific evidence. And, it is unethical to conduct most studies on women who are pregnant because of potential risks.
MYTH OR FACT
1. We need to eat for two during pregnancy.
MYTH. Yes, we are our growing babies sole source of nutrition, but does it really make sense to eat an additional 1600-2000 calories per day?
Many women use pregnancy as an excuse to overeat when the truth is only a slight calorie increase is needed during the later stages of gestation. It’s more important to eat until you are satisfied; this is generally still not a time when you need to count calories! (thank goodness)
There are many strategies for satisfy cravings – here’s one we can share. Let’s pick a dish everyone can relate to – pasta. Opt for additional veggies in your pasta plus a side salad instead of an extra helping of noodles. This strategy will increase your intake of vitamins/minerals, while only slightly increasing calories. And it reduce chances of excess weight gain.
Try this vegetable-forward Spaghetti Squash with Chard recipe to fuel your pregnancy – using spaghetti squash as a base significantly increases nutritional value but feel free to do a 50/50 split with pasta – the sauce is delicious!
It doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. You can make a few small adjustments to up your nutrition game and make a difference during the term of your pregnancy.
2. Coffee should not be consumed during pregnancy.
MYTH…for the most part. The answer to this question is somewhat grey. As far as pregnancy research goes, this topic has been studied more than usual due to the vast consumption of caffeine all over the world. Here’s what we know…
- Caffeine is a known stimulant that does cross the placenta and enters into the infant’s system
- In most studies, coffee over other caffeinated beverages had the most significant effect on infant outcomes. Although, studies mainly from the US stated soda surpassed coffee as the most widely consumed beverage containing caffeine. Adverse effects found in these studies could be correlated to artificial ingredients and sugar content.
- Some studies suggest no association at all between coffee consumption and poor infant outcomes
- Other studies suggest high coffee or caffeine consumption (> 3-10 cups/day) may cause poor infant outcomes
So, what is the final recommendation? Some find it simpler to avoid it at all costs, but WHO (World Health Organization) currently recommends no more than 300 mg of caffeine per day and ACOG recommends no more than 200 mg/day.
The caffeine content of coffee can vary greatly, but generally speaking an 8 oz. cup has ~ 80 mg. Our final thoughts are this – if you want a latte now and then drink the latte! If you drink 2-3 cups of coffee a day, think about reducing intake or finding new ways to gain energy!
3. We should avoid herbal teas during pregnancy.
MYTH AND FACT. Let’s first distinguish between herbal and non-herbal teas. Non-herbal teas are broken down into black, green, and oolong. Herbal teas are made from berries, roots, seeds, leaves of plants, or flowers.
Herbal teas typically do not contain caffeine. There is not a tremendous amount of research on the use of herbs in pregnancy and little to no oversight by the FDA.
A study done in Australia found that 56% of pregnant women used some form of herb (pill or tea) during their pregnancy, which is high. Many other cultures routinely use them due to a reduction in common pregnancy complaints and other potential benefits. For example, ginger has been used for 100’s of years to reduce nausea and chamomile is often used for sleep promotion and may increase milk production postpartum.
Another commonly consumed herb is red raspberry leaf; midwives often recommend it to prepare the uterus later on in pregnancy. It is also high in antioxidants and contains beneficial minerals.
With that being said, we recommend you do your research and if you are going to drink herbal tea, buy from a reputable source, read the label for any unknown ingredients, and don’t overdo it (like 3 cups a day or more). Before you use a considerable amount of herbs in your pregnancy, consult with a trusted health professional and potentially an experienced herbalist.
Adding some fruit and fresh herbs to your tea of choice can be an excellent way to stay hydrated [super important during all stages of pregnancy.] We love this Hibiscus Tea Sangria for summer!
4. Do not drink kombucha during pregnancy.
MYTH AND FACT. Another grey area topic to discuss. What exactly is kombucha? Kombucha is a sweetened green or black tea that is fermented with the help of symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The yeast works to convert the sugar which releases some ethanol (alcohol) usually less than 1%; if alcohol goes above 1.1% it is considered an alcoholic beverage according to the FDA.
The use of it as a “cure-all” drink has been on the incline since the late ’90s and early ’00s although studies are lacking to support all the benefits it claims to offer.
Here’s are some potential cons to consumption:
- it does contain small amounts of alcohol, and no amount of alcohol has been found safe during pregnancy
- it is unpasteurized, and unpasteurized products should not be consumed by those with compromised immune systems (pregnant women) due to the risk of ingesting harmful bacteria
- there are limited (not significant evidence) studies on the benefits of kombucha, and there have even been cases of illness from drinking *incorrectly prepared* kombucha
Here’s are some potential pros for limited consumption:
- fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that are a healthy part of a prenatal diet
- the bigger concern is the sugar content in kombucha, not the small amounts of alcohol or beneficial bacteria
The key points are this, drinking kombucha during pregnancy is a personal choice, if you do drink it, ensure it has been prepared properly and contains as little sugar as possible; do not drink it every day, possibly limit to once per week.
If the kombucha you are drinking has been pasteurized, you are negating the benefits of drinking it in the first place.
5. We should not eat sushi during pregnancy.
MYTH AND FACT. If you said fact, you aren’t wrong and if you said myth you aren’t wrong either. The general advice is to stay clear of all sushi when you are pregnant due to the risk of food-borne illness and mercury from bigger fish.
Raw fish, if not managed properly can contain parasites. Although much advice is focused on avoiding sushi, the bigger problem is typically raw shellfish, which has caused many more cases of illness than sushi.
Currently, there is no evidence linking sushi consumption to adverse birth outcomes. Did you know the recommendations in Japan are quite different than in America? In Japan, they advise pregnant women to eat sushi and sashimi and consider it an integral part of a prenatal diet.
Some researchers even suggest Americans lack of seafood consumption in pregnancy is detrimental and that we need to be advising women to consume more.
If you do decide to eat sushi during your pregnancy, there are a few things to consider:
- Do not eat raw shellfish
- Choose fish that are low in mercury
- Eat sushi from a reliable source (it is probably more expensive) and ensure it has been flash frozen for 24 hours before being prepared and served
6. What we eat during pregnancy affects even our grandchildren.
FACT. What we eat during pregnancy not only affects our baby but may also affect our child’s children (our grandchildren). While most studies focus on the effects of eating habits on the baby we are growing, some studies have looked at how these habits affect the third generation.
A research study done in Switzerland over this topic [although it was conducted in rats – many prenatal nutrition studies are] suggests a similar pattern is seen in humans.
Can you believe we have some ability to help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease in our grandchildren?! Healthy eating habits during pregnancy are the epitome of preventative healthcare.
We hope that this article helped you with making decisions about what to eat during pregnancy. Every person and everyone’s body is different. So it’s important to check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your eating habits.