My most memorable craving during pregnancy is ice. I could not get enough ice. I have really sensitive teeth, so it was quite the challenge but all I wanted to eat was ice. Big cubes, small cubes, crushed. Just give me ice!
There are of course the classic cravings, pickles dipped in peanut butter immediately comes to mind. Grilled cheese and hot sauce. MacDonald’s at 3pm anyone?
But, what if all you want is some salty beef jerky?
While beef jerky may be one of your everyday go to snacks of choice, you have got to be mindful in pregnancy of the dos and don’ts when it comes to the foods you can eat and what you should be avoiding during the gestation period.
As well as all of the internal shifting while your body morphs itself into an incubator, your lungs up your throat, your intestines up to your eyeballs and all of the other joys of having zero control over your own body anymore, pregnancy can wreak havoc on the immune system.
Lots of foods that we eat everyday carry risks of illnesses caused by bacteria. Your immune system can usually handle itself if you get a bug. You may have experienced food poisoning before.
Maybe you have eaten at a less than hygienic street food stall or had a late-night kebob from the greasy junk food place down the street.
I’m no stranger to the wows of the foodborne illness.
While travelling in Thailand on my honeymoon I ate some questionable Pad Thai on our very first evening in Bangkok. I have not been able to stomach it since.
Oh the sweats and toilet hugging in 100 degree heat. I can never look at a peanut ever again.
I got over it fairly quick though. A few hours of distress, tears, curse words and a whole lot of toilet paper later (too much information?), but when you are pregnant your body is not capable of fighting the bacteria causing food poisoning like it once could.
Not only can your body struggle to fight it off, but if you are already in the throws of morning sickness, back ache, fatigue and any number of the seemingly never-ending list of symptoms of pregnancy, the last thing you want to do is risk your health. You need your body functioning at maximum optimization in order to grow that little human in your belly.
At the top of your list of things you can do to keep your body operating at maximum efficiency is being mindful of what you are putting into it. Think about your food choices and how what you eat effects the life living inside you.
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What foods should I avoid in pregnancy?
Although anyone can get sick with foodborne illness, your chances of suffering from food poisoning when pregnant are higher because of your compromised immune system. This includes bacteria that causes illnesses such as toxoplasma which can also affect your baby.
The act of cooking meat helps to kill bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Meats such as salami, parma ham, pepperoni, chorizo and beef jerky are what is known as cured.
While it is true that jerky is not raw, it is also not cooked in the traditional sense. Cured meats are not cooked and therefore parasites are more likely to be present.
They are marinated in a curing solution and then dried out. That is not to say that you should avoid having your favorite pepperoni pizza slice, pizza is cooked and so the pepperoni has been heated to a temperature that will have killed off any active bacteria.
Other foods it is important to avoid during pregnancy are as follows:
Liver – liver and liver products such as liver pate and liver sausage are high in vitamin A. It is fine to eat foods containing small amounts of vitamin A, such as carrots, but too much vitamin A can be harmful to your baby.
Excessive amounts of vitamin A, such as those found in liver products, can lead to congenital malformations involving the central nervous and cardiovascular systems and spontaneous abortion. So best avoid the liver.
Pate – even vegetarian. Pate may contain listeria. Listeria can cause a bacterial infection called listeriosis which can harm the baby during pregnancy and cause severe illness in a newborn.
Unpasteurized dairy products – milk must be heated to kill off harmful bacteria. Foods such as blue cheese, goat cheese, sheep cheese, cream and yogurt may be made from unpasteurized milk and so should be avoided.
Cheese is possibly the greatest food in the world so this is a very sad loss, but remember, once the baby is no longer living inside of you, you can once again stuff your face with all of the delicious dairy goodness.
Unwashed salad, vegetables and fruit – just wash it all, regardless of weather or not it is packaged or loose. You don’t know what chemicals it’s been sprayed with or who may have touched it in the store for that matter.
It does not bare thinking about. You also need to be careful with unwashed pre-packed salad in particular as if it is left out at room temperature for too long bacteria can start to grow very quickly.
Raw eggs – this is sometimes said to be fine and other times the guidance is it avoid. Just avoid it. Raw eggs might contain salmonella.
Avoid making your own mayonnaise or mousse and step away from the raw cookie dough immediately.
Certain fish – oily fish helps your baby’s nervous system to develop, however, you should not eat more than two portions of oily fish in a week as they may contain pollutants. Also be wary of tuna as it has more mercury than other fish which – you guessed it, can be harmful to your baby.
Shellfish – cooked shellfish is fine, but raw shellfish should be avoided in pregnancy.
What is toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is a common infection. It is not a serious health concern for the majority of people.
In fact, it is possible to contract toxoplasmosis and for it to clear up by itself without the host even noticing. However, in pregnancy, toxoplasmosis can be harmful to both you and your unborn baby.
In extreme cases toxoplasmosis can lead to birth defects. Therefore, it is of vital importance that you do what you can to avoid toxoplasmosis during pregnancy.
Essentially wash everything! wash fruit and vegetables before eating. Even pre-packed fruit and vegetables can feature harmful bacteria and pesticides.
Wash your hands after handling under-cooked meat, and yes, avoiding beef jerky and other cured meats that are not cooked while you are pregnant. The risk of a foodborne illness is not the only reason to avoid beef jerky in pregnancy. Beef jerky is very high in salt. Excessive salt can wreak havoc with your blood pressure.
Toxoplasmosis is not only present in uncooked meat. It can also be present in undercooked meat as well so avoid that rare steak or a burger with a pink center.
Toxoplasmosis is also present in cat poop. So, if you are already a parent to an adorable fur baby, it is your partners’ turn to change the litter box for the next nine months.
Let’s face it, there have to be some perks to pregnancy.
Why specifically should I avoid beef jerky in pregnancy?
A lot of salt is present in beef jerky, which can raise blood pressure.
At each pre-natal visit with your medical professional, they will need to take your blood pressure. This is because high blood pressure during pregnancy poses various risks.
The risks of high blood pressure in pregnancy include decreased blood flow to the placenta. If the placenta does not get enough blood, your unborn baby might be subject to less oxygen and fewer vital nutrients to help them in their development.
This can lead to slow growth, low birth weight, preeclampsia, and premature birth.
Therefore, you need to avoid high salt foods during pregnancy.
What can I eat?
So, what if that beef jerky craving just will not pass? Well, one option is steak.
Sadly it has to be well done, which means leaving it on the heat until it hits 165°F. Well-done meat can be flavorsome, it just takes a bit of work.
Take a sniff in your spice cupboard and season with anything that catches your attention!
Alternatively get yourself plant-based or vegetarian jerky made from different ingredients like eggplant, jackfruit, tofu, and even mushrooms. It’s not the same, but you may be able to trick your brain into satisfying the craving.
Just be careful that you avoid high salt options and don’t eat to much of it.
There are plenty of other foods you can enjoy during pregnancy: lean meats, washed vegetables and fruit plus a healthy balance of junk – we all deserve a packet of chips or a little chocolate from time to time after all.
Just be mindful of what you are putting into your body and how it might affect your growing baby, and remember, you’ve got this mama.