The Big Cheese Question

Is cheese safe during pregnancy? Many pregnant women ask this question all of the time, and the reason for it is that some are safe and some are not.  So how do you know?

The issue is whether or not the cheese has been pasteurized. During pregnancy you must make sure all the cheese you are consuming is pasteurized, this will ensure that all bacteria is killed so you are not exposed to the dangerous listeria.  The same goes for other dairy products (so don’t drink raw milk or yogurt!).

Most books and publications will tell you to avoid all the soft cheeses: brie, camembert, gorgonzola, blue cheeses, feta, goat, and the soft mexican cheese.  However, my experience shows that this is not really accurate.

So how do you know if the cheese you are eating is pasteurized?  Here are some tips:

When Food Shopping:

Most mainstream domestic cheeses are pasteurized, when you are shopping at your supermarket make sure to read the label, the ingredient list will say “pasteurized milk.”  If it does not say pasteurized on the label skip it!

If you go to a cheese shop where the cheeses are not packaged, make sure you trust the people behind the counter because they will be the ones to tell you which ones are and which ones aren’t.  From my experience, living in NYC, most cheeses are pasteurized.  At Whole Foods the cheese guy could only show me a handful that were unpasteurized (and they weren’t the bries, fetas or goats), and the other hundreds of cheeses were all pasteurized.  If the person helping you isn’t sure – then I would skip it and buy the prepackaged cheese just so you know 100%.

My dad is a huge cheese lover, and often buys his cheeses from Murray’s Cheese Shop; he’s been nice about keeping the labels for me or having them print out information about the cheese so that I know if he’ll be serving them when I’m over.  Basically, every cheese he has brought home has been unpasteurized!  But then again, my dad is buying some of the very obscure not mainstream types.  So again – you never know.

When Dining Out:

Ask, ask, and ask again.  Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve only encountered three dining experiences that have had unpasteurized cheeses on the menu (and we dine out quite often!).    These were our special occasion dinners: Jean Georges, Eleven Madison Park, and Convivio (where they told me every cheese they serve is unpasteurized!).  All of which were fantastic dinners, but the waiter had to modify some menu items for me.

I have been shocked to find that every goat cheese (one of my favorites) I have asked about has been pasteurized!  This was a huge shock to me because I was expecting to give up goat cheese during my pregnancy.  My first experience was at a restaurant in Denver for FNCE (nutrition conference).  There was a beet and goat cheese salad (pictured above) on the menu that sounded fantastic, so I asked the waitress if it was pasteurized and she said that all of their cheeses were pasteurized.  For some reason I didn’t believe her so I asked several more people and they all confirmed that it was indeed pasteurized.  From then on I realized that I could probably eat more cheese than I originally though.

Most run of the mill Italian restaurants use nothing but pasteurized cheeses, however I still ask.  I have also had feta cheese in my omelets, and I always ask to confirm.  For me, I believe it’s better to be safe than sorry.  But I do love cheese and if it’s safe I’m in!

At Parties

This is one circumstance that you have to be very careful around.  If there is a cheese platter, you really have no clue if it’s pasteurized or not.  If you are close with the hosts, you can ask if they know or have saved any wrappers.  If not, you probably want to steer clear.

For me, if I don’t know I stay away.  But that’s my personal opinion.  If it’s a party there are probably lots of other food options and you won’t go hungry.

What has been your experience with unpasteurized cheeses?

White Bean & Sweet Potato Risotto

I wanted to share with you a delicious recipe I recently made.  Risotto is typically a heavier dish made with butter and lots of cheese.  However, it’s possible to make this delicious creamy rice dish without all the fat.  Risotto is such a comforting winter dish to me.

This recipe is sweet from the sweet onions and sweet potatoes and incredibly creamy from the risotto method, white beans and parmesan cheese.  Let me know what you think!

White Bean & Sweet Potato Risotto

Ingredients

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 medium cooked sweet potato, diced, skin removed
  • 1 can white beans, drained
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Heat dutch oven over medium heat, add oil.  Once hot add in onions and saute until transluscent, then add garlic cloves and stir until fragrant (do not let them burn).
  2. Add risotto, and mix so that each piece of rice is covered in oil and becomes slightly transluscent around the edges.
  3. Add white wine to pan and let all the liquid evaporate (if you don’t have wine on hand you can use all broth).
  4. Once liquid is evaporated, add 1/2 cup of broth mixing until evaporated.  Continue adding broth until rice reaches desired consistency.
  5. Add in cooked diced sweet potato (skinless), white beans, thyme and parmesan cheese to heat through.  Season with salt & pepper.

Nutrition Information (Serves 4): Each serving – 387 calories, 6 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 69 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams fiber, 14 grams protein

Sorry for the delay in posting this week…it’s been insane around here!

Are you Really Eating for Two?

During pregnancy people usually say you’re “Eating for Two”- but that doesn’t give the green light to double your calories.

First Trimester

  • Weeks 1-13
  • You don’t need any extra calories (unless you are carrying multiples)!
  • Normal weight gain is up to 5 pounds during this time

Second & Third Trimester

  • 2nd Trimester (weeks 14-26) you need an additional 330 calories daily.
  • 3rd Trimester (weeks 27-40) you need an additional 450 calories daily.
  • Healthy weight gain is approximately 1 pound/week or 4 pounds/month.  If you started off overweight you should gain approximately 3 pounds/month and if you were underweight pre-pregnancy then you should gain closer to 5 pounds/month

What is the Recommended Weight Gain?

  • Pre-pregnancy BMI <19.8: 28-40 pounds
  • Pre-pregnancy BMI 19.8-26.0: 25-35 pounds
  • Pre-pregnancy BMI 26.1-29.0: 15-25 pounds
  • Pre-pregnancy BMI >29.0: at least 15 pounds
  • Twin pregnancy, any BMI: 35-45 pounds

Where does the Weight Go?

  • Baby: 7-8 pounds
  • Placenta: 1-2 pounds
  • Amniotic Fluid: 2 pounds
  • Breasts: 1 pound
  • Uterus: 2 pounds
  • Increased blood volume: 3 pounds
  • Body fat: 5 pounds or more
  • Increased muscle tissue and fluid: 4-7 pounds

I believe that the best way to keep track of whether you are getting adequate calories is to listen to your body and monitor your weight gain.  It’s not necessary to track every calorie.  If you eat nutritious foods when you are hungry and stop when you are full and you are gaining the appropriate weight then you’re right on track!

If you find that you’re gaining at too quick a rate, then evaluate if some of your meals have been higher in calories than necessary or if you’ve been giving in to too many cravings.  However, it is normal to gain a few pounds one week and less the next.  So listen to your doctor at your monthly weigh ins to see if you’re on track.

If you’re not gaining enough weight, then you’ll want to increase your caloric intake.  Think about making your snacks more calorie dense (nuts, dried fruit, granola), and increase your portions slightly.  Remember, it doesn’t give you free reign to junk food.

For me, I haven’t counted calories at all.  I have found that I’m much hungrier on certain days and less hungry on some.  If I’m ravenous (which happens quite often!) I add in a couple snacks or make my lunch bigger (usually when I’m hungriest).  I have found snacking consistently throughout the day works best for me to maintain my energy levels and keep my hunger at bay.  My snacks always consist of some sort of high fiber carb (fruit, veggies, cereal, whole wheat bread) with a protein (nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, lattes, low fat cheese).

Lowering your Cholesterol

Yesterday I spoke about what Cholesterol is and why our body needs it.  Today I will tell you ways to lower it.

Here are the numbers that you’re aiming for when you get your blood taken:

  • Total Cholesterol: <200 mg/dL
  • HDL: >60 mg/dL
  • LDL: <100 mg/dL
  • TG: <150 mg/dL

Your doctor will tell you if he/she is concerned about your blood levels.

In order to improve your cholesterol there are many things you can do:

  • Keep your total fat intake to 25-35% of your total daily calories
  • Keep your saturated fat intake to no more than 7% of your total daily calories
  • Keep your intake of trans fat to no more than 1% of your total daily calories
  • Eat a heart healthy diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat and fat free dairy) which consists of at least 25-30 grams of fiber each day
  • Consume omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols
  • Move for at least 30 minutes each day
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight if necessary

If all of these fail, your doctor may want to put you on medication.  Remember that genetics do play a large role in the production of your body’s cholesterol.

The Good and Bad of Cholesterol

Cholesterol is one of those words you hear a lot…you get a cholesterol number from your doctor you read cholesterol on the food label.  But what is it and is it bad or good?

What is Cholesterol? Cholesterol is a type of lipid called a sterol that is found in the body naturally.  Your liver & intestines make cholesterol so you don’t need to consume it in your diet.

What does Cholesterol do? It is a part of every cell membrane and helps make important compounds such as sex hormones, bile acids, adrenal hormones & vitamin D

What foods contain Cholesterol? It is found in the fatty part of animal products: butter, egg yolks, whole milk, meats and poultry.  Plant foods do not contain any cholesterol.  Low fat or fat free animal products have less cholesterol but still some.

How much Cholesterol should I have? It is recommended to consume less than 300 mg each day from your diet.

What Makes up my Blood Cholesterol Number? The number you get from your doctor is a combination of how much cholesterol your body makes naturally (some people genetically produce more than others) in addition to your diet and exercise.   Research shows that saturated and trans fat have the greatest impact on your cholesterol levels.  However, cholesterol from food plays a roll as well.

For more information about cholesterol visit The American Heart Association’s Website.

Up Tomorrow: What you can do to Lower your Cholesterol

A Naturally Low Fat Treat

You’ve probably noticed at this point that I enjoy my sweet treats.  Sometimes I think it’s worth it to give into your cravings and have the real deal (whole fat ice cream, large bakery cookie, etc) but if you can find lower calorie and fat substitutions that satisfy your craving – why not?!

Source

One of my favorite naturally low-fat cookies is the meringue.  Made from egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar, there’s nothing artificial in these.  I grew up eating these, because my mom was always baking them for our family.  She usually added chocolate chips for a little something extra.

However, I am not really the baker and prefer to spend my kitchen time on meals.  So I turn to the supermarket brand: Miss Meringue to satisfy my craving.  You can have 4 cookies for 110-120 calories!  I find them incredibly satisfying when you’re looking for a light sweet treat.

Do you like Meringues?

Planning Meals in the Big Apple

I’ve mentioned it many times, but one of the main secrets to success is Planning!  And the key is to use your free time to do so.  Yesterday, I took the time to sit down and plan out what I would cook for dinner Monday through Thursday night and what I would want for lunch to take to work.  I knew that I would have a very busy week with no time to head to the supermarket and I didn’t want to be left ordering in takeout or getting expensive lunches from midtown.

My solution: Fresh Direct.  I usually love going to the supermarket, choosing my produce, and looking for new products, but sometimes the convenience factor wins! And in NYC we are lucky to have an amazing food delivery service (they are not paying me to write this).

What’s great about Fresh Direct is not only the high quality of the products, but they have the nutrition facts for everything they sell! And you can even sort by various nutrition parameters.  For example if you’re looking at bread – you can sort by fiber and it will arrange all the breads starting with the highest fiber content.

I also think Fresh Direct’s 4 minutes meals are fabulous.  These are fresh (not frozen) meals that come in a special microwave container that you literally cook in your microwave (ie the chicken is raw).  There are so many options including ones under 500 calories and meals from Eating Well magazine.  Many of my clients love these meals – and find it’s nice to have a hot lunch during the day that’s portion controlled, nutritious and meets the standards of their on-site RD.

Have you ever used Fresh Direct?  If you live outside of NYC do you have on-line supermarkets?