For the last 5 years or so, whenever I invite a group of friends over to mine for dinner, more often than not at least one of them is pregnant.
Most of my friends don't like to make a fuss, so will happily go hungry rather than tell me what to feed them when they're pregnant. But now that I am a few years into this, I am pretty clued up as to what NOT to offer a pregnant friend, and also, I know what usually goes down well with everyone, so we can all eat the same meal and no one ends up feeling sorry for themselves, or going home still hungry.
There's often quite a bit of confusion about what pregnant women can and can't eat, so I thought I would break down the list into some key questions:
All meat is ok, but it has to be cooked really well. That means no rare steaks, or smoked / cured meats.
Tip: stick to casseroles or dishes like lasagne, where you know any meat has had a chance to really cook. These are also so much easier to cook (and can be done in advance), so you can spend more time with your friends!
Meat can contain the listeria bacterium. This is dangerous because it can cause a serious infection called listeriosis.
Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than the average healthy adult. Babies can be born with Listeria if the mother eats contaminated food during pregnancy. The death rate among newborns with Listeria is 25 to 50 percent.
There's also the risk that raw meat or poultry might contain toxoplasma gondii parasite, which can lead to food poisoning.
So, yeah, let's just cook that meat really well!
Yes. Exactly the same rules apply for fish and shellfish as meat. You should avoid smoked or cured fish and make sure you cook everything really well.
Tip: Fish pie or chowder will ensure your fish is properly cooked through. They're actually pretty easy to make, and like the stews or casseroles above you can make it all in advance!
Oily fish might contain pollutants, so if in doubt, I'd probably avoid those too. However, all the vitamins found in oily fish (such as vitamin D, protein, some B vitamins and selenium) as well as omega-3 fatty acids, are really good for our health, so small amounts of oily fish is OK. Great sources include salmon, tuna and mackerel.
Most fish contain some mercury. While a high dose of mercury can cause foetal damage, small amounts found in fish should be OK, so long as you don't eat it too often.
The risk is low, but if in doubt, check with your friend what they are happy to eat, as they might want to avoid it altogether.
Unpasteurised dairy can contain listeria, just like raw meat and fish. Almost all milk products you buy these days will be pasteurised but it helps to double check.
Tip: Watch out for soft cheeses, though, as these are often not pasteurised, and no one likes having to say no to a cheeseboard - especially when they're eating for two!
As anyone old enough to have heard of Edwina Curry will know, raw or undercooked eggs can be a source of salmonella bacteria. Although the risks are relatively low, most pregnant women won't want to eat soft egg yolks.
Tip: Avoid any foods that contain raw eggs, such as mousse or homemade mayonnaise. Cakes, quiche, souffle (if you're a very confident cook!) and other cooked egg dishes are totally fine.
Most of the other food and drink tips for pregnancy are pretty straight forward and common sense.
Fruit and vegetables must be washed carefully, as they may have pesticides, listeria or toxoplasma gondii parasites from the soil.
Your friend might also be limiting their sugar intake, as gestational diabetes can be a risk too, so maybe think twice about that unicorn cake you were planning.
Tip: rather than making a low sugar cake or pudding, what about fresh fruit - strawberries and cream, for example, are perfect as we move into summer months!
I think avoiding alcohol and caffeine goes without saying. While small amounts might be OK, it's probably best just to avoid making that sherry trifle or tiramisu (not least if there are raw eggs in there too!).
One last thing to consider - if offering herbal tea as an alternative to coffee, keep an eye out for herbs that pregnant ladies should avoid. These include cohosh, pennyroyal, mugwort and ephedra.
Tip: Rather than buying a special box of tea for your friend, I'd stick a few fresh mint leaves in a pot and cover with boiling water - great if they're still feeling a little queasy too!
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