First of all, let’s get one thing straight: sushi is fucking delicious.
It’s also full of protein, which I am struggling to add enough of to my diet, and full of omega-3 fatty acids, which are also important for my little guy’s brain development. One night I was craving the shit out of it, so we went to a sushi bar in Seal Beach, and it was one of the best meals I have had since I was pregnant.
But for many people, watching a woman with a baby bump shovel in raw sashimi is a capital offense and a sure sign that she is unfit to be a mother. But why? What is it about sushi, deli meats, soft cheeses, and coffee that are so dangerous for pregnant women that strangers clutch their pearls if they see a pregnant woman in a Starbucks or Subway?
I had to look into this, not because I wanted to justify eating sushi, but because I like to have all of the facts, even the unpleasant ones, so that I can make an informed decision. If you’re like me, there’s an interesting book called Expecting Better that you might enjoy. I don’t agree with her all of the time, but I appreciate her overall approach.
So why is it conventional wisdom that sushi is off-limits for pregnant women? My guess is that it dates back to when sushi was an exotic and weird treat– raw fish???— and the fears of food poisoning from eating raw foods was enough to scare people. This is a little bit legit: food poisoning is no joke, and raw foods can become contaminated with bacteria. Why put yourself at risk of food poisoning?
Well no, not quite.
The thing is, in my opinion, and I stress, in my opinion, food poisoning from quality fish at a reputable restaurant almost never happens. What has happened recently is that Chipotle restaurants, bagged lettuce, and raw cashews have made people very sick. Is that to say that pregnant women should not be allowed to eat salads or burritos? Of course not. It means pay attention and take proper precautions (like washing your lettuce before eating it and paying attention to food recalls). When it comes to raw fish, to me proper precaution means eating at a clean and reputable sushi restaurant. Of course I’m not about to grab some week-old tuna rolls from 7-11. I think pregnant women are smart enough to know the difference between the two.
Sushi isn’t my only sin though. I eat soft cheeses. Gasp! But here’s the thing: I buy cheeses made from pasteurized milk, and even the most alarmist of websites mention that pasteurized cheeses are okay. Where do I buy such magical, pasteurized cheeses? From just about any store that sells cheese. This is fucking America; of course most of the cheese sold is pasteurized. It will say so right on the label; you usually don’t even have to read the ingredients. Now, am I going into that new-agey artisan cheese shop in Silverlake where the hipster employee is offering me a sample of their fresh bleu cheese? Probably not. But that cheese from Trader Joe’s? The one that says “Pasteurized” right in the middle of the label? Hells yes!
I want to pause a moment and remind you that I am (obviously) not a doctor, and that these are just my personal opinions. Every pregnant woman needs to make her own decisions carefully in consultation with her physician. And no, the person selling you essential oils does not count. Don’t be afraid to ask your physician about the rationale behind pregnancy guidelines so that you understand what is at stake.
What may be surprising after all of that is that on some dietary decisions, I can be a little bit conservative. For instance, my doctor told me that he doesn’t care how much caffeine I drink. However, my blood pressure is a major concern right now, and so most days I do limit myself to one cup of coffee a day. That has honestly been the hardest part of pregnancy for me, going through life under-caffeinated. I take it as a guideline though, and remember that guidelines are flexible. Right now I am drinking my second cup of the day because it is Sunday, I’m relaxing, and this is my little treat to myself. Since there have been no conclusive studies that show negative or positive results of caffeine in humans in pregnancy, I’m going to enjoy that second cup today and not feel guilty.
Now, it seems like these days everyone knows someone who confesses to having a glass of wine here and there during pregnancy. I know plenty of women who did and have healthy, smart babies. It’s just not for me though. If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I love me some wine. However, since I became pregnant, it just doesn’t smell good to me. All wine, even good wine, smells like it’s oxidized now. Weird, right? But even when a glass across the room looks appetizing on first glance, on second glance it looks to me like heart burn in a glass. During the holidays I was constantly teased with glasses of champagne, and while I know that one small glass would be okay, I’m honest enough to admit that I don’t want one glass. I want three. And that’s too much. But for women with more self-control than me who want a glass of wine after work: I ain’t judging. Enjoy it.
And that leads me to my last and most important point: quit judging pregnant women for what they put in their mouths, assholes. I’m going to be the etiquette police here for a second and say that it’s never okay to approach a stranger and tell her that she should not be eating something. Unless you witnessed someone tamper with her food and she is about to unknowingly ingest something, it’s none of your business. If (for some reason) you truly feel compelled to say something, be armed with citations of respected medical studies. Sorry, but homeopathic blogs do not count. Pregnant women have enough that is unpleasant to deal with, and public condemnation from uninformed, self-righteous jerks need not be one of them. Enjoy that sashimi or rare steak, girl. You deserve it.