Bean Curd for Baby: Soy Safety in Pregnancy

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Like mayo, blue cheese and black licorice, tofu tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it food. Of course, pregnancy does strange things to the taste buds, so even a diehard carnivore might find herself craving this silky soy product. For women who are already tofu true believers, it may be the perfect pregnancy food. Its mild flavor and nutritional benefits are a win-win combination. Tofu is generally safe to eat during pregnancy, but like everything else during this tumultuous time, only in moderation.

Tofu Talk

From a nutritional standpoint, tofu packs a wallop. It's made from soy milk, so the two have a similar nutritional makeup. Exact values vary by brand and type, but a 3-ounce serving of tofu usually contains close to 10 grams of protein, 15 to 20 percent of your daily recommended serving of calcium and fewer than 100 calories. Tofu also has a small amount of fiber and nutrients, including iron, folate and vitamin B12. All of those elements are necessary for a baby's normal development. And most brands are also free of gluten and any animal products, so tofu is appropriate for women with a variety of dietary restrictions.

Eating tofu three meals a day, however, isn't a great idea during pregnancy. Soy and products made from it can slightly lower your cholesterol. Normally, that's a good thing, but adequate cholesterol levels are essential during pregnancy for your body to make certain hormones and to support your baby's development. And some prepared products made with tofu are highly processed and contain unhealthy additives, negating those nutritional benefits.

Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, feel free to enjoy tofu in moderation. Buy the plain, minimally processed stuff, and doctor it yourself at home so you know exactly what you're ingesting.

How to Eat Tofu

The lovely thing about tofu is that you don't have to taste it if you don't want to. Disguise its flavor by putting chunks into a blender with yogurt and juice to make a protein-packed smoothie, or toss tofu crumbles with taco seasoning and saute it it a pan for a few minutes to make a vegan taco filling.

Your cravings and/or aversions will play a big role in the types of cuisine you want to eat during this period, but if you're up for Asian flavors, tofu works perfectly in stir-fries and noodle bowls. It's also makes a surprisingly good vehicle for your favorite dipping sauces. Press slices with paper towels to remove the extra water; brush them with a little oil, and bake or toast them until they're light brown. Dunk the cooled pieces in peanut sauce, yogurt sauce or hummus.

Foods to Avoid

It's a bummer if one of your favorite foods is on the list of things that aren't safe to eat during pregnancy, but savoring a chunk of feta just isn't worth risking listeria. Soft cheeses or any other products made with unpasteurized milk are off-limits, as are types of seafood high in mercury. King mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish are some of the biggest offenders.

Avoid any foods that contain raw fish or shellfish, raw eggs or raw sprouts while pregnant. Only eat meat, seafood and eggs that have been well cooked. Sure, you may miss raw steak and runny egg yolks for a bit, but you can reunite with these tasty favorites once your baby arrives.