Any woman who is either currently pregnant or who has been pregnant in the past knows that pregnancy comes with a LOT of information, advice, and “rules” about what you should and should not be eating and doing. While these guidelines mean well, they have the potential to lead to becoming overly obsessive about food and how you treat your body, and may cause unhealthy habits. Health certainly matters a LOT during pregnancy (& beyond), but the rules associated with food and nutrition during pregnancy likely don’t need to be as strict as the media makes them out to be.
Ultimately, the goal is to become mindful of your health, but not obsessive. This post will help bust some common misconceptions associated with health & pregnancy and clarify what is actually best for your health during this important and exciting time.
5 Myths about Pregnancy & your Health (& what to do instead!)
- Myth #1- I need to avoid all seafood while pregnant
While it is true that seafood can be a source of mercury in the diet, which can cause potentially serious harm to both you and your baby, not ALL seafood is off limits. The seafood that is highest in mercury and is most important to avoid include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. However, it is completely fine and even encouraged to eat between 8 to 12 ounces a week of fish that is low in mercury, which includes shrimp, salmon, pollock, tilapia, catfish and canned light tuna. Fish like halibut and mahi mahi are safe to eat about once per week in a 4oz serving. Many of these fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients that are crucial for yours and baby’s health. So don’t skip the seafood! Just be sure it is well cooked when you do enjoy it.
- Myth #2- Satisfying my cravings means overloading on fat & sugar
It’s no secret that pregnancy can lead to all sorts of food cravings, and this is okay! Scientists don’t really know what causes these intense cravings, though it likely has something to do with hormonal changes.
Pregnancy cravings are often associated with less healthy foods like chips, cookies, ice cream, chocolate, and french fries. Yet this doesn’t mean you’re doomed to sabotage your health by only indulging in these foods. There are many healthier ways to satisfy cravings. Here are some ideas:
- Ice cream: Nightfood ice cream has been recommended as the Official Ice Cream of the American Pregnancy Association thanks to its impressive nutritional profile. Nightfood is significantly lower in calories, fat, & sugar, and has more fiber, protein, and important vitamins and minerals that are key to a healthy pregnancy (& good sleep!). It contains no artificial sweeteners and comes in many delicious flavors. The best part is that you can try it for free!
- Salty foods. You’ve probably heard that a diet too high in salt can lead to high blood pressure and a potentially dangerous condition called preeclampsia in pregnancy. Instead of loading up on chips, french fries, or adding loads of salt to your food, try first flavoring foods with other things like garlic, cinnamon, black pepper, lemon juice, etc. Instead of french fries, try roasted carrot or other veggie “fries”, or lightly salted nuts. Instead of always reaching for classic chips, try lightly salted air popped popcorn.
- Other sugary desserts. While you may feel like you always want pastries, cookies, and chocolate, too much of these foods may contribute to excess weight gain and increase your risk of Gestational Diabetes. The more sugar we eat, the more often we crave it, so try cutting back gradually. For chocolate, choose 70% or greater dark chocolate which will have much less sugar and more minerals than milk or white chocolate. Next, try sticking to natural sugar sources like honey and maple syrup which also have a better nutritional profile compared to white sugar. Fruit is another great way to naturally satisfy a sweet tooth.
Ultimately, the goal is to experiment with other, potentially healthier, ways to satisfy your cravings before just reaching for what you’re used to or what first comes to mind. Also, be sure that you’re eating regular balanced meals to help prevent sudden onsets of extreme hunger or blood sugar crashes, which can make cravings worse.
- Myth #3- I should be weighing myself every day to make sure I am not gaining too much or too little
Weight is a hot and very personal topic during pregnancy. It is true that there are weight gain guidelines based on your pre-pregnancy weight, but keep in mind that these are just guidelines. The most important thing is that you are eating a varied and well balanced diet that contains enough calories to meet yours and your baby’s needs. Weighing yourself daily is not recommended and is likely to lead to obsessive behaviors that aren’t healthy in the long run. Instead, communicate with your doctor about what a healthy weight gain amount for you looks like and let your body do what it naturally wants to do.
- Myth #4- Caffeine is completely off limits.
Good news: you don’t have to completely say goodbye to your cup of coffee! Experts have stated that moderate levels of caffeine have not been found to have a negative effect on pregnancy. The current recommendation is to limit it to about 200mg or less per day, which is the amount in one 12 oz cup of regular coffee. 8 oz of tea on the other hand, contains between 25-50mg of caffeine, so you have more wiggle room there. Keep in mind, though, that less is still believed to be better, so try swapping out decaf and cutting back whenever possible.
- Myth #5- “Eating for two” means consuming twice as many calories as I normally would
While it IS true that a pregnant body requires more energy and nutrients, it isn’t the equivalent of double what you currently take in. According to the American Pregnancy Association, women need about 300 extra calories per day during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters on average, with no extra calories being needed during the first trimester. This amounts to a small to medium sized snack, or a slightly larger serving at dinner, for example. Ideally, these extra calories should be coming from nutrient dense foods, but it’s always good to be flexible with your eating and allow yourself the occasional treat or indulgence (see the tips for managing your cravings section!). Calorie counting is definitely not recommended during pregnancy since this, too, can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors and cause unnecessary mental stress as well.
How you treat your body matters a ton during pregnancy for both yours and your developing baby’s health. Yet rather than become obsessive or have an “all or nothing” sort of mindset, try practicing more moderation and making slight modifications to your habits rather than going cold turkey. This allows you to have more freedom with your food choices and sets you up for better long-term success. Here’s to a healthy pregnancy, birth, and baby!