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Eating for two, safely

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From Correspondent Pat Etheridge

(CNN) -- Watching what you eat is a simple, time-honored piece of advice. But it becomes more complicated for women who are eating for two.

"As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I cut out all the NutraSweet and saccharin and caffeine and alcohol, so I'm not fun anymore," said Tammy Pearson.

Experts often advise women to guard against birth defects and err on the side of caution by changing their diet during pregnancy.

"Your fetus is a captive diner, eating in a uterine cafe that you're catering," said Heidi Murkoff, co-author of "What To Eat When You're Expecting."

Alcohol is usually the first thing to go. Too much is bad for a fetus, but experts are unsure how much is safe, so many women eliminate it all together.

"It's better to avoid it," said midwife Elaine Moore.

Caffeine is usually next on the list.

"There's been at least one study that's shown an increased risk of miscarriage in women who drink moderate amounts of caffeine, and that's only 1 1/2 to 2 cups a day," Murkoff said.

Pregnancy suppresses a woman's immune system, making her more susceptible to diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Those illnesses could cause a miscarriage.

Experts advise pregnant women to wash all produce thoroughly to remove all contaminants and to avoid imported produce because other countries still use insecticides that have been banned by the United States.

"Choose organic produce whenever you possibly can and if you can afford it," Murkoff said.

Other foods to avoid include unpasteurized milk and imported soft cheese, because both can contain bacteria that cause miscarriage and illnesses in newborns.

Pregnant women also should only eat cooked meat, eggs and seafood but should avoid smoked or cured meat and fish, because they include chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

When buying seafood, Murkoff urges women to choose farm-raised fish.

"Ocean fish is in general OK, with the possible exception of swordfish, which may contain high levels of mercury," she said.

Also avoid herbal teas unless they contain ingredients found in your normal diet. Some teas contain herbs that cause diarrhea or uterine contractions.

Food containing the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, also should be avoided, because it has been linked to brain damage in infant animals.

If you are worried that your tap water could harbor contaminants, have it tested.

But experts temper their warnings by saying pregnant women shouldn't worry if they didn't eat right or had a few drinks early on in their pregnancy or before they found out they were pregnant.

Stress, especially toward the end of pregnancy, can trigger premature labor.

 
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