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How to Safely Eat Your Favorite Off-Limit Pregnancy Foods

For many pregnant ladies, dealing with alcohol and caffeine cravings aren’t the hard part of following their safe pregnancy diet. Instead, it’s saying sayonara to their favorite foods. Spicy tuna rolls, Brie and crackers, and even a plain ol’ deli turkey and Swiss are banned by doctor’s orders. The major threats are listeriosis (from some refrigerated ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized dairy products), salmonella (from unpasteurized egg products and undercooked or mishandled meats), methylmercury poisoning (from certain fish like shark, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish) and toxoplasmosis (from undercooked meats or unwashed produce, as well as litter boxes).

“Pregnant women are more at risk because the mom’s immune system is weakened so that her body won’t reject the developing fetus,” says Lisa Yale University nutritionist Lisa T. Kimmel, MS, RD, CSSD.

It’s cruel, don’t you think? You’re trying to settle your morning-sick stomach, you’re ravenous, but you can’t eat what you crave. Hang on though; there’s hope. Here are the safe swaps you can make until you gave birth:

- Instead of swordfish and other mercury-filled fish, try lower mercury fish like wild salmon, canned light tuna, pollock, or shrimp. But, stick to a maximum of 12 ounces (two portions) or less per week, says Kimmel. Mercury poisoning can severely damage the central nervous system of the fetus, so avoid the “bad” fish altogether.  “Pass on uncooked oysters, clams and mussels as well,” says Kimmel. For more information on eating fish while pregnant, check out these EPA guidelines.

- “Deli meats and hot dogs are safe if cooked until they are steaming hot. Or, as an alternative, throw on a lean burger for an extra dose of iron,” says Kimmel, adding that you should never top sandwiches with raw sprouts, which can also breed bacteria.

- Instead of unpasteurized soft cheeses like Brie, feta or queso blanco, try hard pasteurized cheeses like cheddar. If you’re craving a creamy treat, try cottage cheese mixed with flavorful herbs like chives.

- Instead of canned veggies or soups, use fresh or frozen veggies and soups from cartons.

- Instead of fresh-squeezed juice from the juice bar, buy pasteurized juices and make smoothies. “Try blending 100% pasteurized orange juice with low fat vanilla yogurt and ice for a treat loaded with calcium, folic acid, potassium and vitamin C!” says Kimmel.

- Instead of raw or undercooked eggs in dishes like eggnog or Caesar salad, eat eggs that are cooked until firm. Egg beaters, which are pasteurized, are also a safer option, says Kimmel.

- Instead of refrigerated smoked salmon or pate, eat lox in a cooked dish or top your bagel with a shelf-stable version (again, from a pouch is better than from a can). But remember that this will be one of your fish servings for the week.

Finally, be on the lookout for any flu-like symptoms including chills, fever, stiff neck, headache or upset stomach, which can be signs of listeriosis or toxoplasmosis. The first can cause major issues like miscarriage or premature delivery and the second can cause serious birth defects. Both can be treated with antibiotics to help you and your baby, or prevent transmission from you to your child.

Remember to cook with care and common sense. Heating your meals to the proper temperature and using separate boards to cut raw meat and veggies can help you have a healthy pregnancy and get your baby off to a great start. Bon appetite to you both!

–Amy Levin-Epstein

For more safe food swaps with recipes check out Pregnant? Don’t eat that, eat this! 8 simple food swaps

And for a full list of foods to avoid while pregnant, read these healthy pregnancy eating tips

photo: iStockphoto.com/vasiliki

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