So, what can I eat? This is one of the first things pregnant women want to know.

Women's Health | 3 years ago

What You Can – And Can’t – Eat During Pregnancy

So, what can I eat? This is one of the first things pregnant women want to know. Get the dish from Dr. Patil, an Atrium Health OB/GYN.

Editor’s Note: This is a shortened version of an article featured in Atrium Health’s “Your Guide to Pregnancy & Motherhood.” To read more, get your free copy of the guide! 

When you’re pregnant, the last thing you want to do is eat something that’ll harm your baby. But there’s good news: When it comes to what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy, there are only a few restrictions.

Most of it is common sense, but Ajay Patil, DO, an OB/GYN at Atrium Health Copperfield OB/GYN, gives the dish on what you can – and can’t – eat during pregnancy. He even includes tips on what to do if you accidentally eat something you shouldn’t. (Hint: Don’t panic!)

Keep It Real at Mealtime

There aren’t many foods you need to avoid during pregnancy, but a few menu items are off-limits – especially those that have a higher risk of harboring listeria. “Listeria is a bacterium that can cause a miscarriage,” says Dr. Patil. “Although most women who get listeria will have a slight response, it has the potential to be disastrous.”

You should avoid raw or undercooked meat – like sushi and steak that’s not cooked through – as well as meats stored cold, like deli meat. You should also say no to foods made with unpasteurized milk, like raw cheeses.

Your favorite sushi dish might not be allowed, but other fish options are safe to eat, including fresh fish, like salmon and trout. You can also eat deep sea fish, like tuna, sea bass or halibut – but only in moderation. While all fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids – which are great for you and your baby – larger fish are also high in mercury, which isn’t safe for your baby’s brain development.

According to Dr. Patil, the most important thing for your diet is to keep it real! This means saying no to all things artificial, including sweeteners, dyes and flavorings. In general, Dr. Patil says that pregnant women should also stay away from foods that are over-processed and high in salt and sugar. “There’s no specific harm this will cause, but it’s not recommended for your baby’s growth,” he adds. “You can increase your risk for gestational diabetes and high blood pressure just by eating these foods.”

Try to follow a high protein, low carbohydrate diet, and focus on complex carbohydrates, like the ones found in fruits and vegetables.

Here’s to Happy Hydrating

Just like foods, there are a few things you need to know to hydrate healthfully. Though most fluids are safe during pregnancy, make sure water is your drink of choice, and avoid anything that’s unpasteurized – including milk and juice.

But there’s one drink every pregnant woman wants to know about – and that’s coffee. If coffee is part of your daily routine, you’re in luck: Most doctors – including Dr. Patil – say coffee is safe, in moderation. “As long as you keep your caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams a day, you’re okay,” says Dr. Patil. “That’s about a 12-ounce cup of coffee.”

A little bit of coffee might be safe, but the same isn’t true for alcohol, which is the leading cause of birth defects in the United States and should be avoided altogether.

So, What’s for Lunch?  

The rules around what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy are easy to follow. Just be sure you’re eating healthily and regularly and that you practice moderation. “You don’t have to be overly cautious,” says Dr. Patil. “It’s okay to have a good and varied diet. You can have cookies and cake, but they shouldn’t be major parts of your diet.”

Before you eat or drink something, ask yourself one question: Would I feed this to my baby? “That’s what you’re doing when you’re eating it,” says Dr. Patil. “When you’re going to pick up an energy drink, ask yourself if you would give that to your newborn in their baby bottle. You wouldn’t, so you shouldn’t be drinking it, either.”

If you realize mid-meal that your burger is undercooked or that your juice is unpasteurized, don’t panic – but do keep track of your symptoms. And to stay informed on the latest listeria contaminations, Dr. Patil suggests checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for products that have been recalled. If you think you’ve eaten a contaminated item – or if you have a fever, chills, upset stomach, nausea or vomiting – call your doctor right away. While the chance you’ll encounter listeria is small, it’s not a risk worth taking.


Like this article? Want to see more like it? Get a free copy of Atrium Health’s “Your Guide to Pregnancy & Motherhood”!