This is a follow-up to Giving Up the Java (While Pregnant)
One of the other things I quickly noticed about pregnancy is that everyone has an opinion on what you should or should not do. “You shouldn’t run on concrete,” someone told me. “You can jostle the baby loose.” Or “You’re not planning to remain a vegetarian during pregnancy, are you? You know babies need protein to grow, right?”
I actually don’t mind hearing people’s opinions and factoids because sometimes, it’s something important that I have never know before (like the issue of eating too much Vitamin A – who knew?). But many of these old wives’ tales, upon a little research and discussion with my OB/GYN, don’t seem to be rooted in fact.
Lately, people have questioned me about two things: eating goat cheese and eating sprouts. I wanted to explain my reasoning behind occasionally eating these foods, but I wanted to preface my explanation with reminding everyone that I am not a doctor, this is just my opinion, and you should always discuss Food Rules with your doctor and defer to your doctor’s advice. I’m just sharing my thoughts on the subject because I want you guys to know that I’m at least thinking about these issues and not just bumbling through pregnancy like a bull in a china shop, eating unpasteurized this and E. Coli-laced that without a care. I love my little fetus baby already and would never intentionally harm the baby (goes without saying!).
WHAT EVERYONE SAYS: “You can’t eat soft cheese in pregnancy.”
Reasoning: Soft cheese puts you at an increased risk for a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes, which results in Listeriosis. The CDC says that Listeriosis is very rare, affecting 1,600 people in the America a year, but pregnant women – who have a suppressed immune system – are “particularly susceptible, and the infection can be devastating and even deadly for unborn babies.” (Source)
My Reality: This ‘Food Rule’ is an example of a blanketing statement. The REAL rule is that you should not eat any unpasteurized cheese or juice drinks. Unpasteurized cheese is very rare in America. You’re more likely to find unpasteurized cheese at a farmer’s market or a very high-end restaurant, not on a supermarket shelf. Thus, if you’re buying cheese at the grocery store, you really don’t need to worry about avoiding soft cheese (although, of course, you can check the label).
WHAT EVERYONE SAYS: “You can’t eat raw sprouts in pregnancy.”
Reasoning: Raw sprouts harbor bacteria, especially E. Coli, which can cause food poisoning and complications during pregnancy. Cooked sprouts are safe to eat. (Source).
My Reality: The first time I heard this Food Rule, my immediate reaction was, “Wait – there is E. Coli on everything.” What about raw spinach? Or other vegetables? What about eggs? What about dirty bathrooms? What about unclean restaurants? So I decided to do some online investigating to see if sprouts were this super-common source of E. Coli outbreaks.
Now – it’s important to note that E. Coli outbreaks only account for 10% of all E. Coli infections; however, I couldn’t find any data online that provided a percentage breakdown of individual causes of E. Coli infection (probably because most people who get it don’t know for sure where they got it from). But I’m going to assume it breaks down pretty similarly to the outbreak percentages. 42% of recent E. Coli outbreak infections comes from beef. And 41% come from leafy vegetables. Sprouts only account for 2% of outbreaks. You CERTAINLY do not read on pregnancy websites that women should avoid beef or cook all of their lettuce while pregnant. I find this very interesting, indeed.
However, since sprouts are a viable source of E. Coli and something that I don’t NEED to eat for the next 7 months, I’ve decided to try to greatly limit my sprout intake. It’s an easy thing to give up, and who knows – maybe it will make a difference.
CONCLUSION: I can totally understand why people want Food Rules during pregnancy. Pregnancy feels, for the most part, like something that is happening TO YOU, and it can be very scary. What if something goes wrong? What if I do the wrong thing? What if I hurt my baby? I understand the need for control and the desire to minimize risk.
Yeah – of course – I’m not being stupid during pregnancy. I’m not shooting up crack or taking tequila shots. I’m eating tons of veggies; avoiding processed foods; taking my prenatal vitamin religiously; exercising regularly; and getting 8 – 9 hours of sleep on most nights. I’m destressing with deep breathing. I’m turning down work projects so I have less to do. I’m using all-natural cleaning products. And if I got E. Coli during pregnancy, I would be absolutely devastated. But the reality is… I can’t eliminate all risks. I just can’t. There’s no way to eat and live in a bubble for 9 months. And I think it’s important to examine the facts and relative risks before jumping on Food Rules bandwagons.
Another side note… I find it extremely interesting that people freak out over things like the occasional soft cheese and sprouts (the risks of which are, relatively speaking, are pretty low) while eating conventional, pesticide-laced produce and hormone- and antibiotic-tainted conventional meat and dairy every single day. EVERY SINGLE MEAL. I have yet to read on a baby website or hear from a practitioner that pregnant women should aim for a diet that includes, at the very least, a significant percentage of organic meats, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. (Edited to clarify: I do not eat all organic and eat conventional produce relatively often. My reasoning for adding this statement is that I feel like we, as a society, tend to focus on small, worst-case scenarios but overlook potentially more common and bigger issues.) But, my friends, that topic is definitely another post for another day!
So – I’d love to hear your thoughts! I really learn so much from the comments (and I know other readers love to check them out, too). What are your take on Food Rules (and other advice) during pregnancy?