What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

February 20, 2015

Being pregnant can be very confusing especially as a first time mother. Lots of “can I” questions. Such as can I exercise during pregnancy? How much weight should I gain? Can I sleep on my back? Can I go to the zoo? Can I have sex during pregnancy? And of course a million food related questions regarding sushi, raw meats, cheeses, and many more.

Well, today we’ve got the what foods to avoid during pregnancy covered for you.

I will start with a few major, probably obvious things.

Can I smoke during pregnancy?

Smoking harms you and the baby and should be avoided completely during pregnancy.

Alcohol abstinence is recommended by all major health organizations including the U.S Surgeon General

Can I drink coffee during pregnancy?

Caffeine is not exactly on the avoid list. You are simply recommended to avoid drinking more than an average of 200 mg per day. Which is around a maximum of 2 nescafe mugs  or 4 small turkish coffee.

I would say drink your 1 cup of coffee in the morning, and leave some caffeine space for hidden caffeine sources such as tea, chocolate, and others.

How about having raw meats when pregnancy, salads, sushi, cheese, deli meats? Are they okay?

Probably not, but why not?

Why does sushi or raw food need to be avoided all of a sudden during pregnancy?

Raw foods such as sushi, meat tartare, and unpasteurized cheeses carry risks of infection even for the general population (pregnant or not). Why? Because raw foods are not cooked, the bacteria is not killed through the cooking process. An excess amount of bacteria can cause bacterial contamination and food borne illnesses for the whole population. This happens more often than you think. Each year in the U.S alone there are 48 million  cases of food borne illnesses according to CDC. 3000 of these cases lead to death.

So, how come the average person can eat raw foods then? If you give the average non-pregnant person fresh sushi that is handled well, the amount of bacteria in it is unlikely to cause infection. Why? Because the regular person’s immunity is able to fight it off. However, if you give this same food to a pregnant woman, her body is not able to fight it off. Why? Because her immunity or ability to fight bacterial infection is lowered during pregnancy. If this bacteria passes over to the baby, the baby ofcourse does not have the proper immunity to fight the bacteria and therefor this can cause severe bacterial infection even leading to death.

Of more specific concern during pregnancy are 2 bacteria: toxoplasma gondii and listeria monocytogens.

Yes toxoplasma is the one your doctor checked for you. Your doctor probably checked if you are immune to it or not. If you’re like me, then you were not immune and had to be careful to avoid toxoplosmosis. What’s the big fuss over toxoplosmosis? Well, even though it might show mild symptoms for the mother it could caus hearing loss, mental retardation, and blindness in their children. This is the main reason pregnant women are asked to avoid raw foods especially raw seafood and meats as toxoplasma gondii is found in those foods.

Take home point to avoid toxoplosmosis: cook foods thoroughly

What if I have the immunity to toxoplasma gondii, does it mean I can eat whatever I want during pregnancy?

Sorry, but no. Why? Just because you are immune to toxplasma gondii does not mean you are immune to other bacteria caused by different groups of food. Especially listeria monocytogens. Listeriosis which is caused by listeria monocytogens hits around 1300 non-pregnant people every year in America alone and causes several deaths. However the risk of listeriosis is higher during pregnancy and the consequences are detrimental such as miscarriage, premature delivery, serious sickness, or the death of a newborn.

The specific problem with listeria monocytogens is that unlike other bacteria, it thrives in fridge temperatures. Meaning that even though you wouldn’t be worried about toxoplasmosis risk for foods stored in the fridge, there would be a risk of listeriosis. What are the foods most often stored in the fridge? Perishables such as fruits and vegetables, dairy, luncheon meats.. Which is why most doctors will ask mothers not to eat salads. So what can we do?

What foods to avoid during pregnancy

The above image is part of an infographic from foodsafety.gov  from http://www.foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant/

Should pregnant women avoid salads during pregnancy?

No. Ofcourse pregnant women should not avoid salads during pregnancy. Why? Because fruits and vegetables are of the highest importance during pregnancy because they contain essential vitamins and minerals, and because they also contain fibers that the mother needs for that darn constipation. The mother should avoid salads whose washing and storage is not trusted in order to avoid any risk of bacterial contamination especially listeria monocytogenes. So, eating home would probably be the safest best as the mother would be confident in the washing, cooking, and storage procedures discussed below.

What to do to avoid bacterial infection during pregnancy?

  1. Wash hands, utensils, and fruits and vegetables thoroughly (ask everyone in the house to do so). This is a good habit to keep when the baby is around.
  2. Separate cutting boards and utensils. Meats alone, fish alone, and fruits and vegetables alone.
  3. Cook meats thoroughly. Even lunchean meats such as smokey turkey.
  4. Cook eggs well.
  5. Avoid unpasteurized milk or cheeses.
  6. Cooked food should not be left outside the fridge for longer than 2 hours
  7. Refrigerators should be well maintained.
    1. Cleaned properly
    2. Clean up of spills
    3. Avoid keeping foods past their expiry dates
    4. Avoid eating cooked food that has been in the fridge for more than 3-4 days.
How to avoid food borne illnesses

Cook, wash, clean, chill can help keep illnesses at bay. There are lots of amazing online resources for parents, The above image is from CDC and their website has a ton of information found on http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/groups/consumers.html

What else? Can I eat fish during pregnancy?

Ofcourse you can and you should. As fish contains essential fatty acids that are very important for the mother and baby. The mother should feel free to eat cooked fish such as salmon, hamour, cod, shrimps, clams, crab and pollock. So why are mothers often advised against eating fish? Because there is a concern over the mother receiving high amounts of mercury found in fish. However, high amounts of mercury are not found in any of the above mentioned types of fish. The only fish high in mercury are actually types of fish that are not very popular to eat to begin with such as shark, tilefish, swordfish, and king mackarel, and albacore tuna.

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy

Just pick the right fish and enjoy. The above image is part of an infographic from foodsafety.gov

Summary of what foods to avoid during pregnancy

So just a recap, wash well, cook well, store well, and enjoy.

Below are two super cool info graphic about what foods to avoid during pregnancy, it includes all the above mentioned points.

Foods to avoid during pregnancy and why by USDA and foodsafety.gov

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy and why

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy and why

Checklist of foods to avoid during pregnancy by Foodsafety.gov

Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Graphs.net.

References:

Food Safety.gov: What to avoid during pregnancy?

Food Safety.gov: Storage times for foods 

CDC: Food Safe and Pregnant: Tips for the Holidays and Beyond

FDA: While you are pregnant

FDA: What pregnant women and parents should know 

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Mirna Sabbagh Muslmani

Nutritionist and Breastfeeding Specialist at myPediaclinic
Mirna is a nutritionist and breastfeeding specialist at myPediaclinic in Dubai and consultant at Healthy Happy Us in Beirut. She is also a lecturer and writer. Aside from blogging on her website Nutricycle about nutrition and parenting topics, she writes for magazines all over the world including SheKnows Media, Sayidaty, Mom Magazine, Mamalode and more. Most importantly, she is the mother of a 2.5 year old toddler, Karim, who drives her crazy and owns her heart. He is the reason behind every word she writes to help mothers. If you'd like guidance beyond the articles on the website, email Mirna at mirna@mypediaclinic.com to find out about consultations and workshops or check the Services section to book an online consultation with Mirna from anywhere in the world.

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