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foods to avoid when pregnant

It’s not hard to get confused about what you should and shouldn’t eat during pregnancy. Certain foods can cause harm to you or your unborn baby when you are pregnant. Here is a list of the top foods to avoid when pregnant.

Foods to avoid when pregnant:

Raw Shellfish – any undercooked shellfish can cause food poisoning. Ensure any shellfish is cooked thoroughly – such as prawns, oysters, scallops, mussels, clams, crayfish, shrimps and winkles. Food poisoning can in undercooked shellfish can be caused by bacteria, viruses or toxins.

Seafood High in Mercury – avoid fish with the highest levels of mercury, which can cause damage to your baby’s nervous system – avoid king mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, shark to reduce the risk of mercury poisoning.

You should also restrict (but not necessarily a food to avoid when pregnant) fish with medium levels of mercury – stick to 2 or fewer meals a week and no more than 4 medium cans (140g when drained) per week. Medium levels of mercury are in tuna, halibut, marlin, orange roughby, grouper, Spanish mackerel, Chilean seabass, lobster, bluefish, weakfish, sablefish and striped bass.

Sushi – raw fish may contain small parasitic worms that can make you ill when pregnant. Foods to avoid when pregnant include sushi that has not been frozen. Freezing raw fish kills the parasitic worms and makes it safe to eat. Shop bought sushi has usually been frozen but if in doubt, best to avoid it. Restaurant sushi is often made on the premises and therefore the raw fish has not been frozen. You can still enjoy types of sushi that do not contain raw fish – such as cooked eel and shrimp sushi, avocado roles and other vegetarian sushi.

Undercooked Meats – ensure any meat and poultry are fully cooked to kill off dangerous bugs that could harm you or your baby. There should be no red, pink or even slightly pink traces of color in any meat. Rare meats are definitely foods to avoid when pregnant, including prepared chilled meats. Undercooked meats can lead to toxoplasmosis and even meats fully cooked on the outside, but rare in the middle should be avoided to reduce the risk. Toxoplasmosis can lead to miscarriage and health problems. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat and poultry. Toxoplasmosis is also why you should avoid cat faeces, cat litter trays and soil when pregnant, in addition to avoiding contact with sheep and newborn lambs in lambing season.

Untreated Water – as well as foods to avoid when pregnant, untreated water should be avoided to prevent the risk of toxoplasmosis infection.

Cold Cured Meats – some countries advise to avoid cold cured meats when pregnant due to the risk of listeria and toxoplasmosis. This includes salami, parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni.

Undercooked Eggs – no runny egg whites or runny yolks, cook them thoroughly to prevent salmonella and ensure you only eat pasteurized eggs. Also avoid foods when pregnant that contain raw or partially cooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise, salad dressings, ice cream, hollandaise or béarnaise sauce, icing, tiramisu, mousse. If buying these products double check they are pasteurized.

Soft Mold Cheeses – as soft cheeses contain more moisture, they can harbor and breed bacteria such as listeria (although rare, listeria infection in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and severe illness in your newborn). Cheeses to watch out for as foods to avoid when pregnant include brie, camembert and pasteurized goat cheese.

Soft Blue Veined Cheeses – the same applies to blue-veined cheeses. Avoid Danish blue and Gorgonzola.

Unpasteurized Milk, Eggs and Cheese – avoid any unpasteurized dairy products. Unpasteurized hard cheeses are safe to eat due to the very low moisture levels. Any other soft cheeses (such as feta, mozzarella, cream cheese, ricotta, halloumi), milk and eggs should be pasteurized.

Less obvious foods to avoid when pregnant:

Vitamins and Supplements – Vitamin A is one vitamin to be avoided during pregnancy. Stop taking Vitamin A supplements when pregnant, as you should get enough Vitamin A from your diet. Too much Vitamin A can cause birth defects. Fish oil supplements contain Vitamin A and should also be avoided when pregnant. There are two sources vitamin A – (1) retinol derived from animals, such as liver and (2) beta-carotene from plants. Only vitamin A from retinol is harmful in excess, beta-carotene does not carry the same risk.

Liver Based Foods – too much Vitamin A in pregnancy can be harmful. Avoid liver based products, including liver, liver pâté and liver sausages to reduce levels of vitamin A.

Pâté – pâté can contain listeria, as with soft mold cheeses above, avoid pate when pregnant to remove the risk of listeria.

Peanuts – latest research and pregnancy guidelines have shown that there is no evidence to link eating peanuts when pregnant with a peanut allergy. Peanuts are no longer one of the foods to avoid when pregnant (previously it was advised to reduce consumption if there were allergies in the family history).

Caffeine – caffeine can cause lower birth weights, increased breathing and heart rates in newborns just after birth and can increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth so try to avoid both foods and drinks with caffeine when pregnant . Pregnancy guidelines restrict caffeine to less than 200mg per day (that’s around 2 8oz cups of instant coffee). A 50g bar of dark chocolate contains about 50mg of caffeine and a 50g bar of milk chocolate contains about 25mg. If you’re enjoying coffee, tea or some fizzy drinks (Coke, Sprite, Energy drinks) as well as chocolate based products, be cautious of the amount of caffeine you are having.

Sources and recommended reading:

Eating for Pregnancy: The Essential Nutrition Guide and Cookbook for Today’s Mothers-to-Be

Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy: From Doctors Who Are Parents, Too!

 

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