To eat or not to eat? Tummy matters for you precious Caribbean preggos
So baby’s in your belly and an exciting new chapter of your life has begun. If you’re over that vomiting-your-insides-out period, the cravings now might be coming on hard and fast. You’re probably on the prowl for whatever food tickles your fancy; raiding the refrigerator for Crix at ridiculous hours, pestering the partner to get you insane requests like chicken foot souse at 4am, and causing mini-traffic jams in grocery lines while piling on up those Hilo “smart” shopper points.
In our culture where intense taste permeates each culinary dish, every expectant mother should know about proper diet. Throughout my years as a mama-to-be, I’ve fanatically compiled a list of food information from international sources, local obstetricians, dietary consultants and veteran moms. Here’s putting it to you, the semi-local way.
WHAT NOT TO EAT
Brace yourself; these dietary rules are a ginormous pain, but remember your first priority now as a lady with child is to keep yourself and your baby/babies safe. Ultimately it’s worth the sacrifice for the long-term benefit of your and baby’s good health.
Meats and sea food:
Fish matters–Tuna, white fish, shark or any fish that contains high levels of mercury can cause developmental delay and brain damage, and other fatty (very white and red fish) need to be left at sea. Avoid canned tuna, herring and mackerel as it could also poison you and baby. Boycott those delicious local cocktail oysters and pepper/curried shrimp as these seafood contain high levels of toxins (they are bottom-feeders after all) and are highly dangerous in the preggerlicious state. Some folks crave the raw delicacy of sushi, but keep away if you want to keep up a risk-free diet.
All meats must be cooked thoroughly, so those ladies who like their beef and poultry undercooked, please adjust to avoid contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella. Preserved deli meats such as salami, processed turkey, ham, pepperoni, sausage and bacon, contain small to moderate amounts of sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite which create cancer-causing agents and have high fat and sodium content. Cold cuts also should be avoided unless they are thoroughly re-cooked before eating. Runny or sunny-side up eggs are definite no-nos, and yolks must be thoroughly cooked to avoid the risk of salmonella. Additionally, be wary of mayonnaise and other salad dressings as they usually contain raw eggs.
Fruits, vegetables and legumes:
Avoid the four P’s— pepper, pineapple, paw paw and plantain. An indispensable sidekick for almost every Trinbagonian, peppers (or pepper sauce) intensifies acid reflux and too much spicy food can give your baby discomfort or cause them to get minor skin irritations in utero. Some studies indicate that pineapple, paw paw and plantain contain enzymes that endanger baby by possibly breaking down baby’s tissue, and though this probability is small, it is still plausible and is best avoided.
There aren’t many available published studies about the effect of those rarer local fruits on pregnant women, so it’s up to your own discretion. In true Trini form, most ladies love anything foreign and the “exotic” imported fruits are no exception. However strawberry can cause allergic tendencies with baby, so girls, avoid those popular romantic chocolate-covered ones—they are truly sinful for your deliciously curvaceous state.
On the topic of vegetables, acidic veggies such as tomatoes and onions, as well as cabbage and broccoli, are highly nutritious noshes but must be consumed in caution. These vegetables and legumes like red beans and split peas (a.k.a. dhal) may give you acid reflux and lots more gas (as if you didn’t have enough already!) On another personal note, this was heart-breaking news in my pregnant days as I’m a tomato-chokaholic; thankfully I survived the choka- celibacy, and now binge on it as desired.
Keep in mind that it is essential that you wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly to avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis from the soil or unwanted remnant chemical fertilisers, pesticides or fungicides.
De-caffeinate your life—Coffee, black tea, chocolate drinks, and “black” carbonated beverages such as Coca Cola and Pepsi contain high to moderate levels of caffeine. Caffeine passes on to the foetus in small doses and this could actually increase hyperactivity in babies; a phenomenon not good for your sanity. Other carbonated beverages and highly citric juices are popular substitute drinks, but beware of the high sugary content and acid reflux aftereffects.
Red-flag the raspberry tea! Studies show that this causes early contractions which could end up in miscarriages and it is only recommended for ladies who are overdue (always check with your oby-gyn before use). Other teas such as chamomile, sage, parsley, aloe, coltsfoot, juniper berries, comfrey, and senna, lead to high blood pressure, increase the risk of miscarriage and affect your baby’s development.
Alcoholic drinks, and alcohol in even the smallest doses (yes, including Angostura Bitters, Shandy, LLB and Black Forest or fruit cake) are extremely harmful to the development of baby. And ladies, if you aren’t aware that alcohol (no matter how incredibly tempting!) is injurious to the baby, you seriously need to get your read on…
Other food stuff:
Calcium-enriched cheese (such as locally sold cheddar) is good for your diet, but soft cheeses (the fancier imported types such as Brie, Feta, Gorgonzola and some varieties of Mexican) may contain listeria, which can cause miscarriages through infection or blood poisoning. Unpasteurized milk may also carry the bacteria, so stay on the safe side and drink only pasteurized milk.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) can badly damage you and baby and has shown carcinogenic links, so evade and carefully watch your ramen intake and Chinese takeout. This extends to sodium benzoate or any other foods that contain harmful preservatives (sadly this usually includes salt prunes and red mango; popular craves and stomach-settlers for most pregnant women).
De-spice and de-sweeten– Like pepper, curry can cause severe acid reflux, and can interfere with your already delicate digestive system. Hold the honey honey, as this wholesome natural sweetener can increase allergic tendencies in baby. Too much sugary foods can cause weight gain, tooth decay, gum disease, rapid fluctuations in blood sugar reduced immunity, displaced minerals, elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain for both you and baby.
Chocolate contain small amounts of caffeine and has euphoric properties. However, if excessively eaten, it can lead to substantial weight gain, and ladies with gestational diabetes should avoid it altogether.
WHAT TO EAT
So by this time, you’re probably holding your belly and bawling, wondering if there’s anything left to eat. No worries, here’s your list of tasty options.
Meat and sea food:
Other types of fish besides the very white and red fish are excellent as a source of Omega-3 which helps with baby’s brain development. Fresh tilapia and sardines are safe, and salmon is especially noted for its goodness as it is low in fat and calories and can give you a naturally happy high. Though a fatty meat, crab is okay, and squid is also in moderation.
As for chicken, try to get “home-grown” types like yard fowl which are chemical free. Turkey, duck and other gamey poultry are also usually green-lighted by the experts, and when consuming eggs make sure that they are well-cooked.
Red meats such as beef, lamb and goat are acceptable eats but they might constipate you, which believe me is a common and really uncomfortable thing when with child. Pork is fatty so choose leaner pork that are low in nitrates, and make sure the meat is cooked properly to avoid foodborne illness. Pork is rightly labelled an “unclean” meat (if undercooked pork it can carry salmonella, listeriosis and infection by some types of worms) so feel free to avoid… good luck with resisting Christmas ham though; I failed miserably in my time!
Fruits and vegetables and legumes:
Imported fruits, such as apples, pear, plums, kiwi, and cherries are good sources of nutrition.
Grapes (even in the dehydrated form of raisins) as well as citrus fruits like oranges, portugal and grape-fruit contain lots of Vitamin C, but has to be consumed in moderation because too much Vitamin C prevents essential folic acid from being absorbed. Banana is also good for you but the consumption of too many is unadvisable as high levels of potassium may lead to gastrointestinal, kidney or cardiac problems. Guava, watermelon and mangoes are refreshing yummies that are wonderfully rich in pre-biotic dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds.
Go green—Green and leafy veggies are excellent and give you folic acid which is good for baby’s brain development. An added perk of this iron-packed food is that it increases the chances of baby being born with hair; cases in point, my two boys were birthed with mini-‘fros. Lettuces are also sources of goodness, but go local and use the smaller home-grown versions since the popular leafy Iceburg lettuce contains just a smidgeon of these nutrients. Veggies like beet, corn, carrot and cauliflower are also excellent eats packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals for healthy growth and immune systems. Ochro/ okra are highly nutritious, and some doulas and doctors swear by it claiming that its slimy properties aid with easier childbirth.
Nuts such as pistachios and almonds are excellent for your heart and peanuts though high in cholesterol are good energy and metabolic boosters. However, if you or your partner have any allergic tendencies, peanuts should be avoided in utero and while breast-feeding as it can increase the chances of allergic tendencies in baby.
White flour used in bread, roti and pasta, can increase your glucose levels, and so to optimise nutrition, substitute with the healthier whole wheat or whole-grain options. These are loaded with the additional benefit of Vitamin B, manganese, selenium, iron and fibre (which is essential for a healthy colon). Brown rice is also part of the whole grain family and can aid with your weight management. Oatmeal and other whole grain cereals contain these same stress-reducing B vitamins and soluble fiber, and are the perfect choice for an energy boost.
Ground provisions (such as yam and cassava) and potatoes are healthy choices, and the latter is scientifically proven to help put you to sleep; a handy antidote for that insomnia that comes especially with later trimesters.
Beverages and related:
Milk it— You need to drink milk to help baby’s bone development but make sure that it is pasteurised. Avoid too much full cream as it can make you put on unwanted weight, and dodge skimmed milk which is less nutritious. My advice is to get the Nestle Omega pack milk which is low fat and has omega-3 which helps with baby brain development. Go moderate because studies show that too much milk can add to lactose intolerance later in children. When the pure milky stuff becomes overbearing, dress it up as smoothies, but make sure no pineapple or strawberry is pureed in it. Seamoss, beetroot, carrot and linseed punches are also healthy energy power drinks, but be careful with the consumption of peanut punches. Yogurt is higher in calcium, protein and Vitamin D than milk, and aids with digestion. What makes it even better is the wonderful variety offered in supermarkets; try our fresh local sources such as the high-grade and world acclaimed Pax Yogurt, also available in local fruit flavours.
Smalta, Malta and other malt stuff are really good for you and baby as it is enriched with Vitamin B and other good stuff. Not-so-acidic fruit juices as well as freshly squeezed juices are refreshing, healthy, and ward off infection and disease.
Go co-co for coconuts— Coconut water soothes tummy problems while balancing your body’s chemistry, and works against infections by increasing your body’s immunity. It also helps lactation, and increases bone and brain development for baby.
Hydrate away— Drink lots of water as it helps prevent some common pregnancy problems such as constipation, haemorrhoids, bladder infections, and dehydration (which can trigger earlier labour). Interestingly, the more fluids you drink during pregnancy, the less your body retains and drinking water helps keep your feet and ankles less swollen.
MORE IMPORTANT TIDBITS
Consult with your ob-gyn and local nutritionist for more information about your dietary needs. In addition to a proper diet, many doctors may recommend pre-natal vitamins like Materna, and folic acid to supplement your food intake. Avoid using too many Vitamin C supplements and be sure to double check all medications with your doctor before use.
There are very few Caribbean magazines (sadly Caribbean Parenting has been disbanded) dedicated to child-rearing, far-less to pregnancy only, but you can check out the monthly Bajan publication “Peanuts” (http://peanutsmagazine.com/), as well as social sites such as “Trini moms” (http://www.trini-moms.com), “ParentingTT” (https://www.facebook.com/parentingtt?fref=ts), or my brainchild “The Parenthood” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/The.Parenthood.Support/). Though most of the information is not specifically tailored to Caribbean needs, other online resources are still beneficial to subscribe to useful and free websites such as parenting.com, babycenter.com, zertothree.org, and parents.com. Another good investment is in the pregnancy-Bible What to expect when you’re expecting, available at local bookstores.
Be encouraged to read away and get more informed about your precious state!