Foods You Shouldn’t Be Eating While Pregnant


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Nutrition is an essential part of any healthy pregnancy, and making sure you are getting the right amounts of all the essential ingredients you and your baby need should be one of your top priorities. Equally important however, is avoiding foods which are known to have potentially harmful effects on both your health and that of your unborn child. Remember that ultimately whatever you eat or drink is also exposed to your unborn child.

What kind of foods should I be avoiding?

The NHS provides a list of foods on their website which you should avoid if pregnant. Similarly you can expect to receive information about your diet from your midwife or doctor during your initial appointments with the antenatal care team. A general list of foods you should be avoiding while pregnant is below:

  • Raw shellfish, meat, or eggs
  • Unpasteurised milk
  • Sushi (which contains raw fish)
  • Vitamin A Supplements
  • Pate
  • Liver
  • Cold Meats
  • Peanuts
  • Undercooked or partially cooked eggs or meat products.
  • Some kinds of fish and certain types of cheese.

These are discussed in more detail in the articles below.

Cheeses you should avoid while pregnant

A number of popular soft cheeses like camembert and brie are formed by means of a process called mould-ripening. These mould ripened products contain traces of mould and a type of bacteria called listeria, both of which can be detrimental to a pregnancy causing miscarriages and stillbirths in the worst of cases. Similarly you should avoid soft cheeses with blue veins like Danish Blue Cheese.

Hard cheeses are fine to eat though, and provide a healthy source of calcium and other important nutrients. You should be fine to eat cheddar cheese, stilton, and parmesan.

Pate

Liver Pate and other forms of Pate should be avoided during pregnancy as Pate can contain the bacteria listeria, which can be dangerous during pregnancy as discussed above.

Raw and undercooked meat and egg products

It is never advisable to eat partially cooked meat, but when you are pregnant it is a particularly bad idea. Any meat, whether poultry, red meat, or pork, should be consumed only when fully cooked and hot as in this state the chances of any infection by way of bacteria harboured by meat products is minimised. There should be no signs of blood or pinkness, particularly with pork, poultry, and beef mince.

While rare meat is normally fine to eat in health terms, The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food has recommended that pregnant women avoid any and all rare food because of the risk of toxoplasmosis. This is a condition caused by a particularly nasty parasite found in uncooked meat, as well as other sources like untreated water and some animal faeces. While rare, the risk of toxoplasmosis is still there, and as the infection can cause serious damage to a developing foetus, it is no surprise that most authorities suggest you avoid taking the chance completely.

Remember that avoiding raw and undercooked meat means more than just making sure your food is properly cooked. You should be careful to wash any and all kitchen utensils and surfaces that have come in direct contact with uncooked meat as that alone is enough for infection bearing parasites and bacteria to be transmitted.

Partially cooked or raw eggs carry with them a risk of salmonella infection, which is why health authorities would recommend you ensure that any and all eggs you eat are cooked until solid.

Vitamin A and Liver

If pregnant you should avoid consuming vitamin A supplements and liver, which is a rich source of this particular vitamin. This substance is normally good for you in small quantities, and you will get all the vitamin A your body needs from a regular diet. Overdosing on vitamin A however, can have particularly detrimental consequences on both your health and that of your unborn child, potentially causing liver damage and birth defects.

If you are supplementing your diet through multi-vitamins, you should take care to ensure that the multi-vitamins you are using do not contain vitamin A as some do. Prenatal vitamins usually do not as they are specially formulated for pregnant women, and will be particularly rich in the vitamins you do need in abundance like vitamin Ds and Bs.

Fish you should avoid

There are some types of fish which you should only eat in very small quantities if you are pregnant, and others you should avoid completely. You should not eat swordfish, marlin, or shark because they are very rich in mercury, a substance which can have a dramatic effect on an unborn child’s developing nervous system. Most fish contain some mercury, but these particular types are exceptionally rich in it, making them potentially toxic if consumed during a pregnancy.

You should also limit how much tuna you eat, and limit yourself to only two portions of other oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout a week. It is recommended that you eat about 140g of cooked tuna steak a week at most, and four normal sized cans of tinned tuna.

Raw shellfish are particularly rich in a number of nasty viruses and bacteria that can cause unpleasant illness to both you and your child during a pregnancy.

Unpasteurised milk

Most commercial milk is specially treated by one of two processes, pasteurisation or ultra-heat treatment, both of which are designed to remove any harmful bacteria that can cause sickness. Unpasteurised milk however has received no such treatment, and as such can potentially bear unwanted pathogens (disease causing organisms).

Caffeine

Caffeine is a major part of many modern diets, but is also a source of some confusion when it comes to whether or not it is a safe substance to consume during a pregnancy. The general consensus amongst the medical community at the moment is that small amounts of caffeine, less than 200mg a day, won’t have any negative effects on your health or that of your unborn child.

To put that in context that’s about two mugs of instant coffee (which usually have about 100mg of caffeine each), 2 and a half cups of tea (at 75mg caffeine each), or 4 bars of dark chocolate (about 50mg each).

This article touches on the major foods you should avoid if pregnant. There are other food products that you should avoid, and some around which there is considerable controversy as to whether or not they should be eaten, but at the end of the day if you are unsure you do have the support of your antenatal care team to provide you with confirmation or further information.


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