When you find out you’re pregnant, life automatically changes. You are no longer making everyday lifestyle choices for yourself, but also for your baby-to-be.

Though it’s easy to become a little too obsessed with the idea of doing everything “right.” Revamping your lifestyle during pregnancy can actually be quite confusing and frustrating. One source says one thing, while another says something completely contradictory. So what should you believe?

When it comes to nutrition, the foundational piece of wisdom I give to my patients is to commit to a whole food-based diet. This means cutting down or eliminating as many processed foods as possible, and concentrating on nourishing yourself (and your baby) with foods that are grown or raised naturally, without unnecessary additives, hormones, antibiotics, pesticides or preservatives.

Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about food intake during pregnancy.

1. Is caffeine OK?

According to medical studies, a limited intake appears to be safe. I suggest no more than 200 mg per day. The risk: drinking too much caffeine might increase the risk of miscarriage or induce early labor. To put things in perspective, an 8 oz cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine, an Espresso has 65 mg and a cup of regular tea has about 50 mg.

2. What about one glass of wine every now and again?

This is a tough one. In some European countries, pregnant women will often have a little vino with dinner. However, the Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink, especially considering the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome. Some obstetricians say an occasional half glass of wine poses little risk after your first trimester, but not to overdo it — ever.

3. Can I eat fish?

In the US, women are routinely told to not eat fish or sushi when pregnant. But there’s a little bit of wiggle room, considering Japanese women certainly don’t seem to restrict it during their pregnancies. Granted, there are justifiable concerns about eating mercury in some fish such as tuna, mackerel, swordfish and blue marlin (in general, the larger the fish, the more mercury it contains).

There’s also a concern for bacteria and parasites in sushi that are actually incorrect. Most fish used for sushi in the US, per FDA guidelines, have been flash frozen when caught. This kills the bacteria and parasites present in them.

4. Can I eat as much as I want?

One of the most common questions regarding nutrition and pregnancy is, How much weight should I gain during pregnancy? It is important to remember that a pregnant woman will lose about 25 pounds after the body has readjusted from the birth. Consequently, if you have a normal pre-pregnancy weight, the recommendation is for you to gain a total of 25 to 35 pounds.

On the other hand, if you are underweight before getting pregnant, you should gain 28 to 40 pounds, and if you are overweight, you only need to gain 15 to 25 pounds. A good rule of thumb is to exercise regularly and eat healthy; in most cases this will ensure optimal weight gain.

Back to some nutrition specifics, before I conclude. Other foods that should be limited during pregnancy include refined sugars, nonorganic dairy and meats and artificial sweeteners. Foods that should be avoided all together during pregnancy include non-pasteurized dairy products, soft cheese, undercooked or processed meats and poultry, undercooked eggs and some herbal teas such as chamomile, lemongrass and anise.

In large part, these food precautions are so important because they are effective strategies for avoiding potentially harmful bacteria, thus helping to prevent disease such as Listeria infections. Listeria is rare, but can cause miscarriages and stillbirths. While bacteria can be killed with cooking and pasteurization, there are some other important precautions to follow. To conclude, here are a few of the most essential tips to follow.

  • Thoroughly cook meat.
  • Avoid raw, unpasteurized milk or foods made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses unless they have labels that clearly state they are made from pasteurized milk.
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly.
  • Wash hands, knives, and cutting boards after handling uncooked foods.

Above all, the most important piece of advice is to keep it clean, whole and fresh. Be aware of any allergies or sensitivities you have before engaging in any kind of new eating strategy, but for the general population, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, “clean” meats, yogurt, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts, purified water and seeds should be the mainstay of a pregnancy diet. These foods provide the highest nutritional value for you, and for your baby.

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