Babny Food

This food critic made cheesy pastas at Mezzaluna in Pacific Grove a go-to menu option during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is an interesting time, including – especially for a food writer – the list of what you’re suddenly not allowed to eat. The guidelines go well beyond “no booze.”

At the top of every list are the same big offenders: raw meat and seafood, high-mercury fish and anything unpasteurized, from dairy to juice.

One of the first things my obstetrician, Peter Chandler, tells patients is to avoid all seafood in general: “It’s just not worth the mercury risk.”

Willing to forgo everything from tuna sandwiches to smoked salmon, I was still dying to feed my little one a heap of sardines. I’ve done my mercury research: These are some of the safest fish, and also incredibly healthy, full of omega-3s. Unfortunately, for the first few months I couldn’t even fathom getting down most foods, let alone oily, fishy ones. Jeninni Kitchen serves crowd-pleasing broiled sardines with cherry tomatoes and fennel, yet all I could consider that first trimester were carbs, often with cheese. The solution? Grana padano and Gruyère mac and cheese, Jeninni’s sophisticated take on a kid dish.

When it comes to cheese, some say to avoid all things blue, but really they mean anything that could be unpasteurized. Still, that blue cheese aroma can just be way too strong for morning (correction: all-day) sickness, even when I’d usually make it a salad go-to. Carmel’s From Scratch offers salads big, like the chicken cobb with blue cheese. But forget about the blue, I couldn’t even stomach lettuce. Instead, I opted for, yes, carbs, in the form of their blueberry pancakes – a good way to sneak in some antioxidants, too.

Speaking of salad, I am a huge fan of Caesar. I found myself at the Whaling Station one night, watching the tableside show woefully. I couldn’t eat the dressing, as I watched the server crack in an egg. Raw eggs are a no-no but at least by this later point in my pregnancy I was trying to prevent anemia by regularly eating red meat, so I was in the right place for a juicy steak.

Pasta became my go-to, yet it’s another arena where the prospect of raw eggs comes up. If you like carbonara you’ll have to pass, which I found hard to do at Mezzaluna, where it’s made with duck egg yolk and house-cured pancetta.

Another reason to avoid carbonara? Cold meats. This one was something I never would’ve guessed, but listeria is a looming issue even with fancy charcuterie, and something adults can handle way better than a fetus. At Compagno’s I opted for hot sandwiches (chicken parm or meatball), or the towering veggie sub – just minus the sprouts, another bacterial risk.

Almost all pregnancy food risks are related to bacteria, and at the top of the list might be sushi. In Japan, sushi actually comes recommended while pregnant, and England’s National Health Service gives raw fish an OK. But most U.S. doctors are cautious about prenatal foodborne illnesses. If you find yourself at a sushi restaurant and want to play it safe, Crystal Fish offers some mean veggie rolls like the Tropical Mango with avocado, macadamia nuts and apple, or the Eggplant Veggita with cucumber, avocado, asparagus, ginger and eggplant.

At the end of the day (or nine months), what you do eat may be more important than what you don’t eat. I have a friend who lived on deli turkey sandwiches during her pregnancies. “As long as it’s plant-based whole food,” Chandler advises, “eat as much as you want.” That’s probably the best advice: Instead of stressing, just eat your veggies.

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(1) comment

Mark Brigham

The obstetrician's advice seems harsh. Readers may be interested in the joint FDA/EPA guidance at: https://www.epa.gov/fish-tech/epa-fda-advice-about-eating-fish-and-shellfish ; or California's guidance at: https://oehha.ca.gov/fish/advisories .

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