Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pregnant women CAN drink alcohol and coffee, claims controversial new book that aims to dispel 'motherhood myths'

Pregnant women can drink alcohol and coffee and dye their hair – but should avoid gardening, according to an expert who  aims to dispel ‘motherhood myths’.  Economist and author Emily Oster contradicts conventional wisdom and advocates a much more relaxed approach to pregnancy.

In her book, Expecting Better, she claims a glass of wine a day is fine, plenty of coffee won’t harm the baby and gaining too little weight while pregnant is far more worrying than gaining too much.

The Harvard-educated associate professor of economics at the University of Chicago used her data skills to rewrite the rules of pregnancy.

Last night she told the Daily Mail that food restrictions were ‘overblown’ and that alcohol consumption does not affect the IQ or behaviour of the child.

She said her book – which found the best studies often painted a different picture from official guidelines – was ‘simply to show women the evidence and let them decide for themselves’.

Miss Oster said: ‘Actually getting the numbers led me to a more relaxed place: a glass of wine every now and then, plenty of coffee, exercise when I wanted it.’

Miss Oster’s quest began when she became pregnant three years ago and was advised to give up her four cups of coffee a day.

Unwilling to do so and frustrated by ‘one long list of rules’, she investigated and found that research linking coffee consumption to higher rates of miscarriage was flawed.

She wrote in one article: ‘I ultimately decided that the weight of evidence didn’t support limiting my consumption very much. I decided to continue.’

Her next port of call was alcohol. She looked at a study in the journal Pediatrics, which had concluded that just one drink a day was enough to put unborn children at risk of behavioural problems.

But the research did not reflect that 18 per cent of the women studied didn’t drink at all and 45 per cent of those who enjoyed a daily drink also took cocaine.

She concluded that women should feel comfortable with one or two drinks a week during the first three months and up to one a day after that.

Her research found that dyeing hair was fine and there was little evidence that exercise, while not unsafe, had any benefits. But she found gardening could raise the risks of exposure to a toxoplasmosis parasite living in the soil.  Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite and is acquired from contact with cats and their faeces. A woman contracting it just before or while pregnant can transmit it to her baby.

Miss Oster said: ‘There is some risk to increase birth defects if you do a lot of outdoor gardening when you are pregnant. That can increase rates of toxoplasmosis.’

She discovered sushi was fine and sardines and herring were good for a child’s IQ, but advised against raw milk cheese.

Sceptics were less convinced. A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Drinking during pregnancy can be associated with miscarriage, foetal alcohol syndrome and low birth weight.’  ‘Our advice remains that women who are trying to conceive or who are pregnant should avoid alcohol.’

Netmums website founder, Siobhan Freegard, said: ‘Official guidelines may seem stringent but they are there to err on the side of absolute safety.’


British health police trying to ban rare steaks

The prospect of a rare steak could become even rarer in British restaurants, an influential British chef has warned.  Food guru and critic Prue Leith blames local council officials for trying to enforce rules designed for factories and fast-food chains, which demand meat is cooked through, on small restaurants.

She said: ‘I can see a day when you have to go to France to get a rare steak.  'The same for pink duck breasts, liver or kidneys.’

Miss Leith, a judge on the BBC’s hit cooking series ‘Great British Menu’, added: ‘If you have a really good chef, or course he is going to be good about making sure he is not poisoning anybody.  'Of course, he will be highly aware of hygiene and how bugs grow.

'Almost always when there is a food poisoning scandal, the reason is simple hygiene rules.  'People have left food sitting in a warm kitchen for four hours or have used the same knife - simple stuff.’

Her comments come as top chefs admit they are defying pressures from health inspectors to prevent them from serving rare meat to customers.

Officials are instructing restaurants they should no longer serve duck breast or liver pink and that beef burgers and kidneys must not be bloody, to prevent food poisoning.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) states that poultry, as well as liver and other offal, should not be served pink or rare but be cooked thoroughly, and served steaming hot all the way through to kill off any bacteria.

This advice is only guidance, as restaurateurs are required only to ensure their food is safe by law.  But the guidelines are increasingly being raised by environmental health officers during restaurant inspections, putting pressure on chefs to comply.

But chefs argue they are better qualified to judge when meat is safe and are continuing to serve the dishes to their diners’ request, despite the risk of prosecution.

Alex Jackson, head chef at the Dock Kitchen, in Ladbroke Grove, west London, said he had ignored advice from council officers to stop serving chicken livers pink.

He said: ‘It is a difficult issue. But you would have uproar if people were stopped from eating rare meat for the sake of a few dodgy restaurants.  ‘It is frustrating to be told what you can and can’t cook. We tend to ignore it. You often find that you know more than the people who are telling you not to.’

Chef Michael Caines, of two Michelin star restaurant Gidleigh Park, on Dartmoor, said: ‘It is ridiculous, to be quite frank.  'We are in a Draconian state where we are being told by everybody what to do because people don’t understand what it is we’re doing.

‘If you’ve got a nice piece of fresh liver, it is handled correctly and you are cooking it on the outside, if it is served medium rare I don’t see whey that would be a risk to anyone. Equally the customer has the right to choose.’

Richard Turner, head chef of Hawksmoor, the specialist steak restaurants in central London, said he was prepared to go to court to defend the right to serve steak rare.

He said: ‘Westminster Council has told us we can no longer serve our burgers rare, which is possibly right.  'But for meats that aren’t being played around with, as long as it is from a good source, it is ridiculous to say you cannot eat it rare.  'To say we could not cook duck medium rare would be ridiculous - we have been doing it for 20 years now.

'If they tried to tell us we could not serve steak rare we would probably have to go to court - we would lose our business.’

Last night the FSA defended its guidelines saying it was important to cook poultry, pork and minced meat thoroughly to prevent food poisoning.

An FSA spokesman said: ‘It’s safe to eat rare beef and lamb steak because searing the outside surface of a piece of steak will kill any bugs that might have contaminated the outside.

‘However, the same doesn’t go for minced products like burgers.   'This is because any bugs that may have been on the surface of the raw meat will be spread throughout the burger when the meat is minced, so any pink meat may still contain harmful bacteria, whether raw or in a burger that’s cooked on the outside.’

Andrew Wadge, chief scientist at the FSA, added: ‘While I love eating out and enjoy a rare steak as much as the next person, I also accept that there is a serious risk from eating some undercooked foods.

‘We don’t make up cooking times to frustrate creativity in the kitchen. They’re there for an important reason and are the result of careful consideration.  ‘I think the FSA and local authorities to get the balance right between letting chefs do their jobs and protecting public health.


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