6 Holiday Food Rules To Follow When Pregnant
The holidays definitely tend to center around food for most people, but there are things to keep in mind before bringing your bump up to that buffet.
Watch the temp
Follow this basic rule: If a dish is generally eaten hot, be sure you're eating it hot. And if it should be served cold, eat it cold. Steer clear of anything that's been sitting out long enough to waver toward room temperature, says Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN, owner of RMW Nutrition in New York. For hot foods, that means anything that’s been out for more than an hour; for dishes that are supposed to be served cold, anything that’s been sitting for more than two hours. “The truth is your odds of contracting a food-borne illness are fairly low, but the possible repercussions during pregnancy are more serious, so it’s best to be on the safe side,” says Meltzer Warren. To prevent any problems, stick any cold foods in the fridge after guests make their rounds at the buffet. If you feel the urge to dig into hot foods that have cooled, just pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes to zap any bacteria that may be hanging around.
Cut back on the caffeine
What to do when the coffeepot starts making its rounds? Consider decaf. There are conflicting views when it comes to caffeine consumption during pregnancy, but Meltzer Warren says it’s best to err on the side of caution. “I recommend keeping it to no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day, around the amount in one 12-ounce coffee,” she says, pointing out that you might be consuming caffeine from other sources as well, like chocolate and tea. So be mindful of what you’re taking in throughout the day. And don’t forget that those fun holiday coffee drinks, like peppermint ice blended frappes or gingerbread lattes, are packed with caffeine too (not to mention sugar), so drink sparingly.
Be cautious with tea
If you choose to drink tea, it’s important to know what you’re getting, says Meltzer Warren, who drank a small cup of black tea throughout her pregnancy. Non-herbal teas, like black, green, white, oolong and mate, all contain caffeine, so you’ll want to limit your dose and avoid going over that 200 mg mark. Though many herbal teas are decaffeinated, they’re generally not regulated in the same way food is. “In fact, certain herbs can actually be unsafe depending on the stage of pregnancy you’re at,” she cautions. Black cohosh, for example, is a uterine stimulant, which you’d want to avoid for most of pregnancy (though some doctors and midwives will recommend it to help induce contractions when a woman is at term). But some herbal teas, like Wild Berry Zinger and others from Celestial Seasonings, are safe and can help you get through the hectic holiday season when you’re craving a cup of something warm. If you’re unsure about a particular brand or type of tea, check with your OB before brewing.
Lose the booze
We know the holidays just aren’t quite the same without a hot toddy or a celebratory glass of champagne in hand, but due to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, Meltzer Warren suggests putting alcohol on hold this year if you’re pregnant (or trying for baby). That said, don't freak out if you discover the concoction you've been sipping is laced with a little liquor. Always try to ask about the ingredients beforehand, but if you’re surprised mid-drink, just keep your cool and switch to something that isn't spiked.
Avoid raw or undercooked food
Sushi, steak tartare, raw oysters—these are all no-nos that might turn up at a holiday party. As for more traditional fare, try to keep an eye out for undercooked meats. “The best way to know if poultry or meat is cooked enough is, of course, to test it with a thermometer, but since that’s usually not an option, there are some visual and tactile cues you can use,” says Meltzer Warren. “Chicken should feel firm with juices that run clear, not pink, while fish is done when it turns opaque.” Don't trust your own judgment? Meltzer Warren suggests picking an outside slice—they're always the most well done. “In general, you’d rather have your meat a bit dry and overdone than risk it being not cooked enough.” Also steer clear of homemade eggnog (spiked or not), since it usually contains raw eggs.
Stick with sugar over sweetener
If you're the one baking for the holidays, choose real sugar over artificial sweeteners. Just keep in mind that sugar is sugar, so you want to enjoy it in moderation. “Brown sugar or organic sugar is no healthier for you than white sugar,” says Meltzer Warren, who adds that honey and maple syrup may provide some healthy antioxidants but are equivalent to sugar in terms of calories. So is agave, which may be worse because of its high fructose levels. She suggests looking for recipes that take advantage of the natural sweetness of fruit (banana bread, apple crumble) so you can get away with using less added sugar. If you’re a guest at someone else’s table, try to find out if anything is made with artificial sweeteners—but don’t get too crazy if you unintentionally down a slice of Splenda-sweetened cake, she says. “The FDA says it’s safe for pregnant women, and there’s no reason to assume a little bit will cause any harm.”
—Erin van Vuuren and Lauren A. Greene