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Moms-to-Be: Top Holiday Foods to Avoid

Check out our inside scoop on what holiday foods to stay away from this year.

The holidays definitely tend to center around food for most people, but if you're pregnant, some dishes may not be so safe. For the inside scoop on what holiday foods to pass up, here are a few tips from dietitian and nutritionist Mary D. Brown, owner and founder of Budding Baby in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Watch the temp
According to Brown, the basic rule is that if a dish is generally eaten hot, be sure you're eating it hot. And if it should be served cold, eat it cold. Steer clear of anything that's been sitting out long enough to waver toward room temperature. The truth is that your odds of food-borne illness are fairly low, but pregnancy isn't the time to take chances. Brown recommends sticking any cold foods in the fridge after guests make their rounds at the buffet. If you feel the urge to dig into hot foods that have cooled, just pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes to zap any bacteria that may be hanging around. (Brown's tip for dips and cheese-based goodies: If it gets hot enough to bubble and you eat it while it's still warm, you're fine—soft cheeses included.)

Easy on the teas
“I recommend that people really stay away from hot tea, unless they’re sure it’s from safe sources,” Brown says. Most non-herbal teas are chock-full of caffeine (we'll get to that next), and the tough thing with herbal teas is that for the most part, they aren't FDA-regulated—meaning you don't truly know what's in there. On one hand, midwives encourage certain steamy brews, like red raspberry leaf, during late pregnancy, but other ingredients, like ginseng, have been shown to increase your risk of particular complications, such as gestational diabetes. Black cohosh is even thought to induce uterine contractions. Opinions do vary, so talk to your doc or midwife about what brands she trusts (Celestial Seasonings claims to be great about their sourcing and regulation), and what herbs she thinks are no-nos.

Cut the caffeine
What's a girl to do when the coffeepot starts making its rounds? Consider going for decaf. There are conflicting views when it comes to caffeine consumption during pregnancy, but Brown thinks it’s best to err on the side of caution. “I say keep it to around 200mg,” she says, pointing out that you might be consuming caffeine from other sources as well, like chocolate goodies, soft drinks and tea. (Even some coffee-flavored ice creams have as much caffeine as half a cup of instant coffee.)

Lose the booze
Due to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, Brown suggests holding off on alcohol if you’re pregnant (or trying to get that way). However, don't freak if you find out the concoction you've been sipping is laced with a little liquor. Always try to ask about the ingredients first, but if you’re surprised mid-drink, just keep your cool and switch to something that isn't spiked. There is no real evidence that an accidental ounce or two of booze will do anything to harm your baby.

Keep it cooked
If your holidays are ultra-chic, politely refuse the sushi and steak tartare. (Hey, you never know.) As for more traditional fare, try to keep an eye out for undercooked meats. “Watch out for color and texture,” Brown says. “Turkey should be pretty dry and fall apart a bit. Pork should shred fairly easily with a fork.” Don't trust your own judgment? Brown suggests picking an outside slice—they're always the most well-done. Also steer clear of homemade eggnog (spiked or not). It usually contains raw eggs.

Stick with sugar
When it comes to dessert, Brown recommends keeping your distance from artificial sweeteners. (“I recommend staying away from artificial anything,” she clarifies.) When you're baking a dessert, go ahead and toss in real sugar (yum!). But what about other people's sweets? “A lot of people are on diets. They're trying to watch their sugar intake,” Brown says, admitting that it might be impolite to grill every cousin and pal on the ingredients of their cupcakes. Don't worry—a spoonful of Equal isn't going to give baby two heads. As with everything, just do your best and practice moderation.

-- Erin van Vuuren

See More: 2nd Trimester , Is it safe , 3rd Trimester