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Pregnancy and nutrition myths

posted May 25, 2009, 5:37 AM by Matteo Risoldi
When we found out Majka was pregnant, and until we had the occasion to talk to a doctor about it, we spent a few days wondering whether each food item was actually doing well or not to her and the baby.
We asked around friends who had kids, and others who did not, and each of them had their personal beliefs about what should be eaten, and what should be avoided. Some said she should avoid parsley. Other said no mint. Some said no herbs at all. Almost everyone was agreeing about no raw foods, but they actually could not explain why. A friend said she was happily eating sushi during pregnancy because she was sure about the fish was fresh. Alcohol seems a no-no, but then again we heard that a little beer can be actually good for the foeuts.
You get the picture: this is like talking about natural medicine: a lot of overheard 'rules', but in the end nobody knows exactly how things stand.

Being a happy materialist, I am convinced that the human body and its health are more predictable than most of the people think. So we just asked the doctor. And that was illuminating.

There are two sides when looking at food and pregnancy.
One is that it is important to have a healthy diet because your food is what is being used to 'build' the baby. This means that (just like in life in general) it is important to eat enough of everything - proteins, vitamins, fat, sugar, fiber, water, minerals - while respecting the guide of the food pyramid.
The second aspect is that there are some items that actually can harm the mother and child, but the rules are quite simpler than it generally seems.

There are two things that can harm the baby: parasites and poisons.

Parasites are something than can be ingested as eggs. A couple of very common ones are Listeria and Toxoplasma. These parasites come from live animals or their feces, and can thus be found on raw meat, raw eggs or on unwashed vegetables or fruit. Two rules of thumb to avoid this problem when it comes to food: cook you food thoroughly (parasites are destroyed by heat) and wash your vegetables very well under running water. This implies that all meat which is noot cooked (raw ham, salami, cured sausages) should be avoided as well, as curing is not enough to kill these parasites. Also, not every single piece of meat is infested: you should not be overly worried about having eaten a small piece of ham before knowing you were pregnant. Just don't indulge in it.

Then there are things which can be poisonous to the baby. But here also we have to actually be careful. The story about herbs being bad is only partially true: a little bit of parsley in your soup will not do anything at all. A large amount on a regular basis on the other hand can increase the odds of a miscarriage (but again, this is not automatic, it is a question of odds). Besides, even a normal, not pregnant adult can get somehow intoxicated with large quantities of aromatic herbs. Alcohol on the other hand should actually be avoided in the first three months because it only has negative effects. After that, a little (LITTLE!) amount of beer can be beneficial because of the vitamins it contains, but then again the alcohol in it has no actual benefit, so better stick to alcohol-free beer (or just eat some more vegetables). Coffee should not be taken in huge amounts; however a morning coffee and maybe a lunch one will not hurt.

The rule of thumb the doctor (and most of the books we read) gave us is: while avoiding raw meat/fish/eggs and unwashed vegetables, try to eat normally and in a normal amount. Listen to you nausea for the things you must avoid, and unless you are throwing up too often you will stay healty. Balance your sugars because pregnancy might bring an unhealty craving which can result in several health problems (like diabetes).

For us, this was actually quite easy to achieve. Majka does not really like raw meat, fish or eggs anyway. Her nausea kept her very far from alcohol, sweets and coffee from the very beginning. For all the rest she is doing a very good job at trying to eat everything.

I found a site giving away a few myths about pregnancy and nutrition, have a look.