If you’re pregnant and have a craving for something, you may be wondering what food to avoid during pregnancy.
One of the first things people learn when they’re pregnant is what they can’t eat. So it can be a real bummer if you’re a big sushi, coffee, or rare steak fan.
Thankfully, there’s more you can eat than what you can’t.
You have to learn how to navigate the waters (the low mercury waters, that is). You’ll want to pay close attention to what you eat and drink to stay healthy.
Certain foods should only be consumed rarely, while others should be avoided altogether.
Some foods and drinks may increase the risk of harm to you and your baby during pregnancy.
It can feel overwhelming when there are many things to avoid, but there are still many things that you can eat if you are pregnant.
Some foods may need to be cooked or prepared a certain way, and others are best to avoid altogether.
Here is some information to help you understand how to have a safe diet during pregnancy.
Foods To Eat During Pregnancy
For a healthy pregnancy, the mother’s diet needs to be balanced and nutritious – this involves the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and consuming a wide variety of plants like vegetables and fruits.
Some women’s diets may be impacted by ethical beliefs, religious requirements, or health conditions, so checking with a doctor is integral to planning a pregnancy diet.
As mentioned above, the mother should follow a varied, balanced, and nutritious diet, and it must include:
Fruit And Vegetables
Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. They may be in the form of juice, dried, canned, frozen, or fresh.
Fresh and frozen (if frozen soon after picking) produce usually have higher vitamins and other nutrients.
Experts stress that eating fruit is usually better for you than just drinking the juice, as natural sugar levels in a fluid are very high.
Consider vegetable juices like carrot or wheatgrass for dense nutrition.
Starchy Carbohydrate-rich Foods
Starchy carbohydrate-rich foods include potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread. Carbohydrates are high in energy and are therefore an essential component of a good pregnancy diet.
Healthful, animal-sourced proteins include fish, lean meat, and chicken, as well as eggs. All pregnant women and especially vegans should consider the following foods as good sources of protein:
- Quinoa – known as a “complete protein,” it includes all the essential amino acids.
- Tofu and soy products.
- Beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, and nut butter are good sources of protein and iron.
Researchers reported that pregnant women who ate seafood had lower anxiety levels than those who did not.
The authors wrote that pregnant mothers who never consumed seafood had a 53 per cent greater risk of suffering from high levels of anxiety.
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Fats should not make up more than 30 per cent of a pregnant woman’s diet.
Researchers from the University of Illinois reported that a high-fat diet might genetically program the baby for future diabetes.
There are other risks to pregnancy with an overly high-fat diet, so a balance is needed and monounsaturated and omega-3’s or “healthy fats” should be the primary fat choices.
In the journal Endocrinology, a team from Oregon Health & Science University explained that the blood flows from the mother to the placenta are reduced.
Examples of foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, canola oil, avocados, many nuts and seeds.
Whole-grain foods, such as wholemeal bread, wild rice, whole grain pasta, pulses like beans and lentils, fruit, and vegetables, are rich in fibre.
Women have a higher risk of developing constipation during pregnancy; eating plenty of fibre effectively minimises that risk. In addition, studies have shown that eating plenty of fibre during pregnancy reduces the risk or severity of hemorrhoids, which also become more common as the fetus grows.
It is vital to have a healthy daily intake of calcium. Dairy foods, such as cheese, milk, and yogurt, are rich in calcium.
If the mother is vegan, she should consider the following calcium-rich foods; calcium-fortified soymilk and other plant bowls of milk and juices, calcium-set tofu, soybeans, bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, okra, mustard greens, beans, kale, and soy nuts.
Zinc is a vital trace element. It plays a significant role in average growth and development, cellular integrity, and several biological functions, including nucleic acid metabolism and protein synthesis.
Since all these functions are involved in growth and cell division, zinc is essential for the development of the fetus.
The best sources of zinc are chicken, turkey, ham, shrimp, crab, oysters, meat, fish, dairy products, beans, peanut butter, nuts, sunflower seeds, ginger, onions, bran, wheat germ, rice, pasta, cereals, eggs, lentils, and tofu.
Foods To Avoid
The following foods are best avoided during pregnancy:
Raw Or Undercooked Meat
Avoid undercooked meat, especially poultry, pork, sausages and burgers. Any meat you eat should be cooked thoroughly, should not be pink or have any blood coming out of it.
Be careful to cook sausages and minced meat thoroughly. This is because there is a risk of toxoplasmosis, a tiny parasite that can live in raw meat, harmful to you and your baby.
It is safe to eat cold, pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef.
Although the risk is low, you may prefer to avoid raw cured meat, such as parma ham, chorizo, pepperoni and salami.
Cured meats are not cooked, so that they may have parasites in them that cause toxoplasmosis.
If you want to eat cured meat, you can freeze it for four days at home before defrosting and eating. You can also eat cured meat that has been cooked, for example, on a pizza.
Avoid game meats such as goose, partridge or pheasant as these may contain lead shot.
Liver And Other Foods Containing Vitamin A
Avoid liver and liver products, such as liver pâté and liver sausage. Liver products have lots of vitamin A in them.
This can be harmful to an unborn baby. In addition, it is not safe to take multivitamins containing vitamin A or fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil.
It is OK to eat low levels of vitamin A found naturally in foods like carrots. But it is essential to avoid any foods with vitamin A added (they may say ‘fortified with vitamin A’).
It is OK to use cosmetic products, like face cream, that contains vitamin A.
Pâté (Including Fish And Vegetable Pâté)
Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâté. This is because they may contain Listeria.
These are bacteria that can cause an infection called listeriosis. Listeriosis can harm a baby during pregnancy or cause severe illness in a newborn.
Unpasteurised Milk And Dairy Products
Most milk sold in shops, supermarkets and restaurants in the UK is pasteurised and acceptable to drink.
The milk is heat-treated to kill off harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning from toxoplasmosis, listeriosis and Campylobacter.
You should avoid unpasteurised (raw) milk and products made from it, sold in some farm and health food shops.
These products can include cream, yoghurt, goat’s and sheep’s milk or dairy products. If you only have access to unpasteurised milk, boil it before using it.
It is safe to eat:
- all hard cheeses such as cheddar, stilton and parmesan
- soft pasteurised cheeses such as cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta and halloumi
- goats’ cheese without a white coating on the outside (rind)
- processed cheese spreads.
You can eat these cheeses if they are cooked to steaming hot:
- soft, unpasteurised cheeses
- soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside
- soft blue cheeses.
You should avoid certain types of cheese because they can cause an infection called listeriosis, which can be harmful to your baby. It is best to avoid:
- mould-ripened soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside, such as brie, camembert and chevre (unless cooked until steaming hot) – these cheeses have more moisture, which can make it easier for bacteria to grow
- soft blue cheeses such as danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort (unless cooked until steaming hot)
- Soft goats’ cheese (unless cooked until steaming hot).
Undercooked Ready Meals
It is essential to follow the cooking instructions on the pack of any ready meals you eat.
Also, check that the meal is steaming hot all the way through before you eat it. This is especially important for meals containing poultry like chicken or turkey.
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Unwashed, Packaged Salad
It is OK to eat pre-prepared, pre-washed salad if you keep it in the fridge and eat before the use-by date.
Check the ingredients in any packaged salads you buy to ensure they do not contain other foods you should avoid.
If the salad has been left out at room temperature for a long time, it is best not to eat it as bacteria can proliferate.
If you buy a pre-prepared salad that has not been pre-washed, it will say ‘wash before use’ on the pack.
In this case, as with all vegetables and fruits that have not been pre-washed, you should wash the salad thoroughly.
Raw Eggs Or Undercooked Eggs
Raw or undercooked eggs are most likely to have Salmonella in them, which can cause food poisoning.
If you eat eggs or that are not hens’ eggs, make sure they are cooked thoroughly.
Using eggs in cooked recipes is safe. However, avoid foods that have raw eggs in them, such as homemade mayonnaise or mousse, unless you have made them with British Lion eggs.
Certain Kinds Of Fish
Fish is a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Therefore, if fish is part of your diet, you should aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week.
It would help if you also aimed to eat one portion of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel or herring.
Oily fish helps your baby’s nervous system to develop. However, you should not eat more than two portions of oily fish a week as they may contain pollutants that can harm your baby.
You should also limit how much tuna you eat because it has more mercury than other fish.
If you overeat mercury, it can be harmful to your unborn baby. Therefore, you should eat no more than two tuna steaks (about 140g cooked or 170g raw) or four medium-size cans of tuna (about 140g when drained) per week.
There are some other types of fish you should limit. Don’t eat more than two portions a week of:
- dogfish (rock salmon)
- sea bass
- sea bream
You do not need to limit or avoid other types of white and non-oily fish.
Avoid sharks, swordfish and marlin as they have high levels of mercury, which could affect your baby’s nervous system.
High Mercury Fish
Mercury is a highly toxic element. It has no known safe level of exposure and is most commonly found in polluted water.
In higher amounts, it can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys.
It may also cause severe developmental problems in children, with adverse effects even in lower amounts.
Since it’s found in polluted seas, large marine fish can accumulate high amounts of mercury. Therefore, it’s best to avoid high mercury fish while pregnant and breastfeeding.
High-mercury fish you want to avoid include:
- king mackerel
- tuna (especially bigeye tuna)
- tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
- orange roughy
However, it’s important to note that not all fish are mercury — just certain types.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), consuming low mercury fish during pregnancy is very healthy, and these fish can be eaten up to three times per week, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Low mercury fish are plentiful and include:
- trout (freshwater)
Fatty fish like salmon and anchovies are excellent options, as they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for your baby.
Undercooked Or Raw Fish
This one will be tough for you sushi fans, but it’s an important one. Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections.
These can be viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, such as norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella, and Listeria.
Some of these infections may only affect you, causing dehydration and weakness.
Other infections may be passed on to your baby with severe, or even fatal, consequences.
Pregnant women are especially susceptible to listeria infections.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are up to 10 times more likely to get infected by Listeria than the general population.
Pregnant Hispanic women are 24 times more at risk. This bacteria can be found in soil and contaminated water or plants. In addition, raw fish can become infected during processing, including smoking or drying.
Listeria bacteria can be passed to your baby through the placenta, even if you’re not showing any signs of illness.
According to the CDC, this can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth, and other serious health problems.
It’s advised to avoid raw fish and shellfish, including many sushi dishes. But don’t worry, you’ll enjoy it that much more after the baby is born, and it’s safer to eat again.
You may be one of the millions of folks who love their daily cups of coffee, tea, soft drinks, or cocoa. You’re not alone when it comes to our love of caffeine.
Pregnant people are generally advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams (mg) per day.
Caffeine is absorbed very quickly and passes easily into the placenta. Because babies and their placentas don’t have the primary enzyme needed to metabolise caffeine, high levels can build up.
High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal g
growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.
Low birth weight — defined as less than 5 lbs., 8 oz. (or 2.5 kg) — is associated with an increased risk of infant death and a higher risk of chronic diseases in adulthood.
So keep an eye on your daily cup of joe or soda to ensure the baby doesn’t have exposure to too much caffeine.
Your healthy salad choice may not be free from rogue ingredients, either. For example, raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean, may be contaminated with Salmonella.
The humid environment required by seeds to start sprouting is ideal for these kinds of bacteria, and they’re almost impossible to wash off.
For this reason, you’re advised to avoid raw sprouts altogether. However, projections are safe to consume after they have been cooked, according to the FDA.
The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria and parasites.
These include Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, acquired from the soil or through handling.
Contamination can occur during production, harvest, processing, storage, transportation, or retail.
One dangerous parasite that may linger on fruits and vegetables is called Toxoplasma.
Most people who get toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, while others may feel like they have the flu for a month or more.
Most infants infected with the Toxoplasma bacteria while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth.
However, symptoms such as blindness or intellectual disabilities may develop later in life. What’s more, a small percentage of infected newborns have severe eye or brain damage at birth.
While you’re pregnant, it’s essential to minimise the risk of infection by thoroughly washing with water, peeling, or cooking fruits and vegetables. Keep it up as a good habit after the baby arrives, too.
It’s advised to altogether avoid drinking alcohol when pregnant, as it increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
Even a small amount can negatively impact your baby’s brain development.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which involves facial deformities, heart defects and intellectual disability.
Since no alcohol level has been proven to be safe during pregnancy, it’s recommended to avoid it altogether.
Processed Junk Foods
There’s no better time than pregnancy to start eating nutrient-dense foods to help both you and your growing little one.
You’ll need increased amounts of many essential nutrients, including protein, folate, choline, and iron.
It’s also a myth that you’re “eating for two.” You can eat as you usually do during the first semester, then increase by about 350 calories per day in your second trimester and about 450 calories per day in your third trimester.
An optimal pregnancy eating plan should mainly consist of whole foods with plenty of nutrients to fulfil your baby’s needs.
Processed junk food is generally low in nutrients and high in calories, sugar, and added fats.
While weight gain is necessary during pregnancy, excess weight gain has been linked to many complications and diseases.
These include an increased risk of gestational diabetes, as well as pregnancy or birth complications.
Stick to meals and snacks that focus on protein, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, and fibre-rich carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and starchy vegetables.
Don’t worry; there are lots of ways to sneak veggies into your meals without sacrificing taste.
When you’re pregnant, it’s essential to avoid foods and beverages that may put you and your baby at risk.
Although most foods and beverages are perfectly safe to enjoy, some should be avoided, like raw fish, unpasteurised dairy, alcohol, and high mercury fish.
Plus, some foods and beverages like coffee and foods high in added sugar should be limited to promote a healthy pregnancy.
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