Pregnancy is a time when your diet needs more attention than ever! Here is a list of foods to avoid during pregnancy to ensure good health for Mom & baby.
For many women, one of the first signs of pregnancy is a change in eating habits – even before the line turns blue on the pregnancy kit! Some Moms start eating more, some can’t eat at all and some find that their tastes have changed drastically.
While this is a great time for some guilt-free indulgence, it’s also a time to be extra watchful of what you eat. Because whatever goes inside your body is what goes in your baby’s developing body too. Here is a list of foods that you should stay away from throughout the course of your pregnancy, to ensure that both you and your unborn baby are always in the pink of health.
13 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
1. Raw Eggs
Pregnant women are advised to avoid eating raw or lightly cooked eggs due to the risk of salmonella, a bacterium that causes food poisoning. Salmonella poisoning won’t hurt the baby directly, but it might cause severe vomiting and diarrhea in pregnant ladies which would indirectly harm the baby.
Safer substitute: Use only fully cooked or pasteurized eggs. When choosing foods like mayonnaise or salad dressings, go for vegetarian options. Avoid homemade ice cream that uses eggs and choose eggless variants or store bought versions made with pasteurized ingredients.
2. High-Mercury Fish
Fish like King mackerel, marlin, shark, swordfish, tile fish, and tuna (big eye) contain high levels of methyl mercury which can be harmful to the baby. Consuming mercury rich foods during pregnancy may cause developmental delays and brain damage in babies.
Safer substitute: Pregnant mothers can safely eat up to 12 ounces of low mercury seafood (catfish, salmon, cod, and canned light tuna) in a week. Albacore (white) tuna, can be taken 6 ounces per week. Check with the doctor before taking fish oil or any other supplements while pregnant.
3. Under cooked, Raw and Processed Fish and Meat
Under cooked or raw fish and meat in dishes like sushi pose the risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, salmonella and listeria, all of which can cause food poisoning, miscarriage and other life threatening illnesses for both mother and baby. Processed meats also contain high levels of sodium and several chemical preservatives that can harm the unborn child.
Safer substitute: Consume fish and meat only after cooking it well. Cook fish to 145° F, poultry to 165° F. (If stuffed, cook the stuffing to 165° F separately), beef, veal, and lamb steaks and roasts to 145° F, pork to 160° F and cook all ground meats to 160° F.
4. Fresh Juice that’s not Homemade
Freshly-squeezed, raw and unpasteurized juices in restaurants or juice bars can have harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. Such places often use unfiltered or contaminated water, leading to water borne disease that can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
Safer substitute: Whole fruits are always the best to consume. However, juices can also be taken when prepared under safe and hygienic conditions. Drink only pasteurized juices in moderate amount. Wash fruits well to remove dirt, microorganisms and any surface pesticides. Hold the fruit under running water or clean by dipping it into a bowl of vinegar and water solution. Do not use chemical products for cleaning fruit.
Too much caffeine intake during the first trimester can increase the risk of miscarriage and can also cause heartburn and nausea in pregnant women. Besides coffee and tea, chocolate, soft drinks and energy drinks also contain caffeine, so the consumption of these should also be limited.
Safer substitute: One small cup of coffee a day is perfectly fine, as long as it’s under 200 to 300 milligrams in a day. Limit your intake to maximum 2 cups of coffee per day or 4 cups of tea or 1 cup of coffee and 2 cups of tea. If you wish to swap to herbal teas, check with the doctor and then proceed.
6. Raw Sprouts
Raw or under cooked sprouts such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, radish etc. may contain E. coli or Salmonella. These bacteria can get into the seeds even before sprouting and thus cannot be washed away. This can prove to be very dangerous, as the bacterium can be transmitted to the baby in the womb and cause fever, meningitis and diarrhea.
Safer substitute: Cook sprouts thoroughly before consuming them. Avoid sprouts altogether if your immune system is weak, as it increases the risk of food-borne diseases during pregnancy.
7. Soft Cheeses with White Rinds
Soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk might contain E. coli or Listeria. It’s best to avoid brie, Camembert, feta, blue cheese, queso blanco, queso fresco, and panela, unless the label clearly mentions that it’s pasteurized. There are also reports which state that E. coli infection in pregnant ladies can cause low birth weight in babies.
Safer substitute: Eat hard cheeses, such as cheddar or Swiss, or check the label to make sure that the cheese is made from pasteurized milk.
8. Raw Cookie Dough or Cake Batter
Most cookie and cake recipes call for the use of raw eggs, which may be contaminated with salmonella. Salmonella bacteria can infect the amniotic fluid that surrounds the baby during pregnancy. These infections are not common but they can be dangerous when they occur, even causing miscarriage.
Safer substitute: Never taste raw cookie dough or cake batter, even if it’s just a spoon. The cooked product can be consumed safely.
Alcohol significantly increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and birth defects in the baby, like heart defects, facial deformities and impaired intellect. Even a small amount can prove dangerous and can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is why experts advise a complete ban on alcohol in pregnancy.
Safer substitute: Stick to water or homemade fresh juices, although occasionally.
10. Unpasteurized Milk
Unpasteurized milk or anything made with unpasteurized milk can carry disease-causing microbes. Infection caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes can cause headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea and vomiting. If the infection spreads to the nervous system it can cause stiff neck, disorientation, or convulsions in pregnant ladies.
Safer substitute: Buy milk, cheese, or dairy products from a trusted source, and only if the label says “pasteurized”.
11. Processed Foods
Processed foods are basically junk foods and contain unnecessary calories with little nutritional value. Besides, most processed foods are laden with chemical preservatives that can harm the mother and baby. They’re also high in sugar, which increases the risk of gestational diabetes, or pregnancy diabetes.
Safer substitute: Stick to home cooked food throughout pregnancy. If buying packaged products, read the ingredient list carefully and go for organic or 100% natural options.
12. Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables
It can be tempting to bite into a fruit that’s been freshly picked or try a grape at the supermarket to know if it’s sweet, but these acts can cause contamination with Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, which are transmitted from the soil. Toxoplasma is particularly dangerous, causing blindness, or serious brain damage in newborns.
Safer substitute: Always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming. It’s better to have cooked food rather than raw salads, particularly if you’re not sure about how they’ve been prepared.
13. Organ Meat
Organ meat like liver contains many nutrients, but an overdose of these can be dangerous in pregnancy. It can result in abnormally high copper levels as well as Vitamin A toxicity, which can cause serious birth defects and liver illnesses.
Safer substitute: Stick to safer cuts of meat, like the breast, thigh or wings. In general, it’s better to limit the consumption of meat during pregnancy, but a few times a week is considered ideal for enough protein and iron intake.
Besides these, it’s important to make sure that the food you eat is fresh and not lying out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If it’s hot, it’s best to eat food within 1 hour of cooking. Extra care should be taken at parties or weddings, where the food may have been lying out for hours. Practice good hand hygiene and always keep food covered, even in the fridge. With a few extra precautions, it’s possible to eat healthy without depriving yourself of your favorite foods during this special period.