While you’re pregnant, eating becomes a huge undertaking. Not only are you eating for two, increasing your appetite, you also have to be careful what you eat while your baby is in the delicate stage of development. There is lots of advice out there on what to eat while pregnant, but it is just as important to know which food not to eat while pregnant.
This article offers advice on what food not to eat while pregnant, which nutrients you need the most, and what foods will increase your baby’s intelligence and immunity to allergy. Moderation and balance are key, and few foods need to be entirely avoided during pregnancy. For the moms-to-be out there looking to maintain a fitness regimen, check out WatchFit’s guide on how to exercise in pregnancy, as well as workout questions you might have such as whether you can lift weights during pregnancy?.
Foods Not to Eat While Pregnant
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Too much Vitamin A
There is one particular food not to eat if you are pregnant. It is liver. Yes, I know there are lots of nutrients in liver, but it has a lot of vitamin A in it, especially if it comes from an animal that is given vitamin A supplements in its feed. What is wrong with vitamin A? Well, too much of it increases the production of a chemical in the body called homocysteine, and this can lead to cleft palate and spina bifida. Too little is also a problem in pregnancy. Remember Goldilocks. She didn’t like her porridge too sweet, or too bitter either.
She wanted it just right. Vitamin A in pregnancy needs to be not too much, and not too little. Liver contains a huge amount. Butter, cheese and egg provide a little. Do eat these. Carotenoids in green, orange, red and yellow fruits and vegetables are converted to vitamin A in the body. Some people do this efficiently.
Most do not. In the summer, most leaves are green, because of the magnesium compound, chlorophyll in them. In autumn the leaves die, losing their chlorophyll. That is when you see the orange, red, and yellow carotenoids, without the chlorophyll hiding them.
Sugar is unhealthy for mother and baby. Sugar causes tooth decay and type two diabetes, and is involved in heart disease and cancer. Starch is healthier. Another reason to avoid sugar, is that it is addictive.
There is no need for the baby to grow up wanting sugar. Cakes, puddings and sweets contain a lot of sugar, as do many soft drinks, but savoury meals and sauces often contain too much sugar too.
Manufacturers put it in food to make it more appealing. “Healthy” low fat food often contains much sugar, in order to make it palatable. The more you make food at home, the easier it will be to reduce the sugar in your diet.
Drugs are harmful for babies, and that includes nicotine, alcohol, prescription drugs, over the counter drugs and other recreational drugs. Only use prescription drugs if you really need them.
Additives include artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavourings and colourings. They include the sweetener aspartame, the flavour enhancer, monosodium glutamate, and the gelling agent, carrageenan.
These are not foods, and should be avoided. Read labels carefully. If a label says, “contains no artificial colourings and sweeteners,” it may well still contain a preservative, a gelling agent and a flavour enhancer. Only buy packets of food if you understand everything in the ingredients list.
Nutrients most Important During Pregnancy
Why are you told to take folic acid or folate in pregnancy? It is because this B vitamin, together with vitamins B12, B2, B6, magnesium and zinc, reduce the level of homocysteine.
As you might guess from the name, folate comes in foliage, and so you need to eat plenty of green leafy vegetables. If you don’t like green leaves, you could have walnuts, cauliflower, eggs and mushrooms for your folic acid. Or try adding some of these green smoothie recipes–-in addition to a healthy diet, wait to cleanse til after pregancy.
There is some evidence that the folate in food is better than the tablets. Vitamin B6 is in meat and fish. Eggs, bananas, peanuts and pineapple are vegetarian sources.
Zinc is particularly important in pregnancy, as protein is needed to grow the baby, and zinc is needed for making protein. Shortage of zinc in pregnancy can lead to damaged babies.
Zinc is also needed to activate vitamin B6, in order to lower homocysteine. Zinc is most easily absorbed from meat, but it is also in nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.
Magnesium isn’t only involved in reducing homocysteine. It also reduces blood pressure. So eat plenty of nuts, seeds and green vegetables for magnesium. Over-ripe bananas raise blood pressure. So eat your bananas when they are just ripe.
If you are anaemic, eat plenty of meat and eggs for iron. There is iron in vegetables, but it is harder to absorb. Too much iron is not a good idea, as it will act against your zinc. Eating meat will give you iron and zinc, while taking iron pills can increase your iron and decrease your zinc.
There is plenty of calcium in cheese for building bones. Sesame seeds provide calcium, and also finger millet, which makes an excellent porridge. In the Asian shops it is labelled ragi flour.
Vitamin B12 is involved in removing homocysteine. It comes only in animal foods. Vegans need to supplement this vitamin.
Vitamin B2 helps remove homocysteine, and also activates vitamin B6, protecting against morning sickness. It is in hard cheese, eggs, and mushrooms. Never take vitamin B6 pills without the vitamin B2 that activates it. WatchFit has plenty of information about B vitamins and what foods are packed with B vitamins.
Omega three fats from fish are needed for the structure and function of the brain, and is a nutrient that reduces inflammation. If you want an intelligent child, eat fish. Vegetarians can eat flax, but they need plenty of vitamins and minerals to convert flax to the fats that fish make.
Omega six fats from nuts and seeds are also essential, but many people have too much of these, and this causes inflammation.
Throughout pregnancy, and breastfeeding, have a nutritious diet of freshly prepared food, with lots of variety, to introduce your baby’s immune system to the foods that will be encountered later on, and to do what you can to enhance the baby’s health and intelligence.
A baby’s immune system has to learn what is food, and what is not. Start programming the immune system while the baby is still in the womb, by eating a broad diet, of vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, grains, cheese and a little fruit. This way the immune system has encountered many foods before birth. Be sure to be good to yourself as well, these simple exercises will provide relief from the backpain of pregnancy.
Then breastfeed exclusively for about six months, continuing to familiarise the immune system with a wide diet. Then continue breastfeeding for about another six months, while feeding the baby the mother’s meals, liquidised at first, and then mashed. When the baby is ready to seize pieces of food, it is time to become used to eating them.
Do not avoid the more allergenic foods like peanuts. There is a window of opportunity for the baby’s immune system to learn that foods are acceptable. Introducing them after that is more likely to cause allergy. Of course you need to avoid whole nuts and seeds that could cause choking, and spread nut butters on bread or a savoury biscuit, as a lump of nut butter could also cause an infant to choke. Nut butters can also be added to porridge.