Pregnancy diet

Throughout my pregnancy, whenever I am confronted with a diet “don’t” I always try* to find the reason why because that kernel of truth is the true recommendation. Most rules you hear of these days are watered down for society and mangled through the grapevine like a truly disastrous (or hilarious?) round of Telephone.

For instance, one “rule” (and I’m going to use that word in quotation marks a lot because I can’t stand how much misinformation is picked up by people skimming or not understanding a response) for pregnant women is no soft cheeses. But why? Apparently, this got twisted from the original recommendation of no unpasteurized cheese. Soft cheeses (like brie) are more commonly unpasteurized than your average hard cheese like cheddar. It makes sense that a pregnant woman, with a taxed immune system, should probably avoid unpasteurized dairy products. So why not just say that? Why say soft cheeses? Because I am so tired of reading the thread where a woman is considering a serving of feta cheese her I-shouldn’t-be-eating-this-but-I-still-do-teehee! food. It is exceedingly challenging to find unpasteurized cheese here in the states. In fact, I’d applaud you if you just happened to stumble upon unpasteurized cheese.

Anyway, the loss of the reason behind the recommendation leads to some very interesting situations and speaks volumes about society in general.

For instance, I’ve routinely heard from others that deli meat is bad and I shouldn’t be eating it cold. I’ve also heard a lot about alcohol ranging from the low end (a glass or two a month shouldn’t hurt!) to the high (a friend’s doctor told her that she could either have a serving of caffeine or a serving of alcohol a day, so here take this over-sized glass of wine).

Now, for the first: Cold deli meat is not recommended because of the risk of transmitting listeria, a bacteria that thrives in the cold. True, listeria is potentially very harmful to a developing fetus and the mother if it is contracted. A couple of things to keep in mind though: 1. Listeria is a food-borne illness, which means that most reputable producers have safety standards and quality control. Obviously mistakes happen and contamination occurs, but what I’m getting at here is that it’s rare. 2. Deli meat gets an unfair rep here at being the big, bad, scary carrier of listeria, but it’s not the only thing that could transmit the bacteria. You can also contract listeria from improperly handled fruits, raw vegetables, and even the cold leftovers in your fridge. (I don’t say this to scare you, by the way, merely to show how many ways you could potentially be exposed. And keep some perspective! How many times in your life have you contracted food poisoning from eating an apple or your leftovers? I’m willing to bet it’s never.)

So! We boil down “no deli meat” to get to “no listeria” which really just means HANDLE YOUR FOOD PROPERLY AND DON’T EAT IT IF YOU AREN’T SURE ABOUT IT. Which, hmmm, isn’t that pretty common sense advice for anyone? Yeah. It is.

Moving along to the second: Alcohol? Yes. No. Maybe.

Now alcohol is tricky. According to research, scientists have been unable to find the threshold where a woman crosses from safe into fetal alcohol syndrome territory. They aren’t sure, but that magical threshold appears to vary from woman to woman, and even from pregnancy to pregnancy. Meaning that Woman A drank five servings of alcohol a week and her baby is fine, and Woman B drank three servings of alcohol a week and her baby exhibits signs of FAS. This is why the recommendation is that complete abstinence is the safest, but small amounts are probably ok.

So. We boil down the alcohol question to find that the answer is truly unknown, especially unknown for you specifically. This means, that every glass serving (because a glass doesn’t always mean a serving) is truly a gamble. Sure the first one may be fine, but what about that second you have a week later? Or the four servings you had last month? You won’t know where your line is until it’s too late.

To me, personally, deli meat poses almost zero risk, especially if it’s from a reputable producer. Alcohol, however, is a giant question mark of a risk and one that I’m uncomfortable taking. Thus, I’ve had numerous sandwiches with salami (gasp!) and prosciuttini (double gasp!) and I’ve also turned down countless offers for a glass or even just a sip of alcohol.

Everyone has an acceptable risk threshold and you should be allowed to make your own decisions. I would not judge you for having a glass or two or three of alcohol, it’s just not something I want to do. What I can’t stand are the people who will judge you (and me) or, and this is almost worse, give advice to you (or me) and not understand the facts.

*I put an asterisk here because I know that when/if Luffy reads this, he’s going to want full credit for being the person who makes me go research the reasons. When I first got pregnant I was all no deli meat, no allergy meds, no soft cheese – OH MY! He promptly called bullshit and went off to do his own research which led me to most of these conclusions… He advocates doing your homework before blindly following what others say.