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Pregnancy is a joyful and wondrous time for most women; but it’s also a time when women will often be told what they shouldn’t do or eat as certain foods may be harmful to their unborn child.

And while the intentions may be good, let’s face it, such comments may cause annoyance to mothers-to-be.

We asked registered dietitian Monique Piderit to give advice on what foods to eat and what to chuck away.

“The mother’s diet is extremely important, as it will provide key nutrients to promote foetal growth, red blood cell production, bone development and brain development,” Piderit said.

A healthy diet also helps contribute to a healthy pregnancy outcome by supporting a healthy pre-pregnancy weight, appropriate weight gain and physical activity during pregnancy.

What are the top five foods women have historically been told to avoid during pregnancy, and the reasoning behind this?

That motherly instinct kicks in as soon as a woman finds out she is pregnant. Part of this is a mother’s active undertaking to cut out all foods and substances potentially harmful to her unborn child.

Alcohol

For obvious reasons, women should abstain from alcohol throughout their pregnancy (and illicit drugs, too).

Drinking in early pregnancy may lead to behavioural and neurological defects in the baby and affect the child’s cognitive function and intelligence.

Excessive alcohol intake during pregnancy causes foetal alcohol syndrome, which is an irreversible condition in the baby.

No safe level for alcohol has been established. New evidence also shows a relationship between alcohol intake of the father and the size of a baby at birth.

Fish

Many women are concerned about eating fish during pregnancy. This is in part because of the potential contaminants in fish like mercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls.

These contaminants may cause seizures, developmental problems, organ damage, and brain and neurological effects.

To avoid fish contaminants, limit fish like shark, king mackerel, blue fin tuna, swordfish and tile fish, bluefish, spotted sea trout, blue marlin, and farmed or Atlantic salmon. Fortunately, these fish are not commonly eaten in South Africa anyway.

As a way to help keep toxin intake low, you can also remove all skin and visible fat from fish before cooking. Try to avoid frying fish as that tends to seal in contaminants.

Remember that the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the possible risks. Fish is rich in protein for the optimal growth of the baby, and some fish are high in omega 3s for healthy brain and eye development.

Eggs

Pregnant woman are 20 times more susceptible to becoming infected by listeria, a soil-borne organism.

Foods at risk are raw milk, raw egg, smoked foods, * âté, soft cheese, uncooked meats and fish (sushi), and uncooked desserts like custard.

For this reason, women tend to avoid foods like egg completely. However, if these foods are well cooked it shouldn’t pose a great risk.

Eat a hard-boiled egg as opposed to soft scrambled eggs, and always buy pasteurised milk.

Avoiding eggs could mean the pregnant mommy restricts her nutrient intake unnecessarily, as eggs are a great source of protein.

Nuts

Another important food that is avoided is nuts, as moms are concerned about allergies in the baby. In fact, we now know that this concern does more harm than good.

The exclusion of allergens like nuts in the pregnancy diet has been implicated as a potential cause of soaring rates of food allergies around the world, as in utero babies are not exposed to the food allergen, plus the allergens are avoided for a long time when mom introduces solids to her baby.

If baby is not exposed to the allergen, then this could worsen it.

If mom is not allergic to nuts, she can continue to eat them through her pregnancy.

We’ve been socialised to accept that a pregnant woman is “eating for two” - can you give advice on what women should be aware of regarding their diet in pregnancy?

This is definitely not necessary. Additional energy is required during pregnancy to support the increased metabolic demands of the growth and development of the baby.

During pregnancy, the women’s metabolism may increase up to 15%, but it does vary by trimester:

During the first trimester, no additional energy is needed. Eat as normal to maintain good health.

During the second trimester, an additional 1470kJ is needed. This is the same as adding to your daily diet a low fat yoghurt, five nuts and a piece of fruit.

In the third trimester, an additional 470kJ is needed. This is the same as adding to your diet a tin of tuna each day.

The risk in eating for two is that you overeat, and this can lead to greater than intended weight gain in pregnancy.

What’s more, it can increase the pregnant woman’s risk of developing gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy), pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy), backache, and difficulties during childbirth.