For most of you who have just found out you are pregnant, especially newly mums-to-be, you must have a lot of questions including:
- What foods should I avoid?
- What foods should I eat to enhance the growth and wellbeing of my baby?
Furthermore, you may already have advice from friends and families on what you should and shouldn’t be eating.
This is because your baby will start absorbing the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that you eat which are essential for development.
Also, as pregnancy affects your immune system, you and your unborn baby are more susceptible to food borne illness such as Listeria, Toxoplasmosis and Salmonella which can infect your baby and cause serious health issues and even miscarriages. (Although listeriosis, caused by listeria, is a very rare infection, it is essential to avoid certain types of food that may contain listeria as even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can have serious effect on a newborn baby, or even causing miscarriage or stillbirth.)
In general, most foods are safe to consume during pregnancy. However, there are some foods that should be avoided during pregnancy as it can be detrimental to the unborn baby’s health.
Due to the risk of contamination with parasites and bacteria such as toxoplasmosis and salmonella, undercooked or raw seafood, beef or poultry should be avoided.
Unfortunately, this includes sushi and sashimi as well. For all of mummies-to-be who has sushi cravings, the safest way to enjoy sushi is to opt for the vegetable or fully cooked seafood options such as fully cooked eel (unagi) or shrimp (ebi).
Fish is nutritious as it’s packed full of omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B and also a good source of lean protein. However, certain fish (commonly the large fishes) such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish can be contaminated with high levels of mercury which has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage in the newborn.
Most other type of fish has generally lower amount of mercury, but should still be eaten in moderation during pregnancy.
Undercooked or raw shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels should be avoided during pregnancy. Although cooking helps prevent certain types of infection, it does not prevent the algae –related infections that are linked to red tides which can cause an individual who consume shellfish containing red tide toxins to become very ill with neurotoxin shellfish poisoning. Hence, it is generally advisable not to eat raw shellfish, regardless of whether you are pregnant.
Refrigerated smoked seafood such as salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, whitefish, cod and also deli meat such as ham, turkey, salami and hot dogs should be avoided as it could be contaminated with listeria, which can be harmful to the unborn baby leading to infection and even miscarriage.
These are safe for consumption if they are cook as part of a meal, like a casserole or heated until it is steaming hot before consuming. In addition, smoked seafood contains high level of salt which could be harmful to both mother and baby during pregnancy. Only canned smoked fish or seafood is safe to eat during pregnancy.
All types of refrigerated pate including vegetable pate should be avoided as they may contain listeria. Another reason to avoid eating meat pate is it usually contains liver which has high levels of vitamin A and is not recommended during pregnancy.
Homemade sauces such as Caesar dressings, mayonnaise, hollandaise sauces and homemade desserts such as homemade ice cream or custards should be avoided as they are usually made with raw eggs which could contain Salmonella.
Commercially manufactured ice cream and sauces are made with pasteurized eggs which do not increase the risk of salmonella. Eggs should be cooked well until the egg whites and yolks are firm before consuming.
Cheese is a great source of calcium and most types of cheese are safe to eat during pregnancy. There are a few types of cheese which are not safe to eat as they are more prone to being contaminated with listeria which can be harmful to your unborn baby. The types of cheese that are not recommended during pregnancy include:
- Soft, mould ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert, cambozola and chevre
- Blue-veined cheeses such as Danish blue, Roquefort, bergader, blue wensleydale, Shropshire blue, dolcelatte, gorgonzola and tomme.
- Soft, unpasteurised cheese such as goat’s and sheep’s cheeses.
Soft, mould –ripened or blue veined cheeses are not safe to eat during pregnancy as they are more likely to be tainted with listeria as these types of cheese are moister and less acidic than other types of cheeses. They can only be eaten if they are cooked thoroughly, such as in an oven until they are piping hot throughout. All hard cheeses, and soft processed cheeses made with pasteurised milk are safe for consumption during pregnancy.
Unpasteurized milk may contain listeria so stick to pasteurized or ultra-heated treated (UHT) milk. If only unpasteurized milk is available, boil it before consuming. Do not consume any types of food made from unpasteurized milk.
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient and has several important functions such as helping cells to replicate, essential for good vision and also plays an important role in growth, reproduction and immunity during pregnancy.
However, high levels of vitamin A intake during pregnancy have been linked to multiple birth defects in the newborn.
It is advisable not to eat liver or liver containing products such as liver pate, liver or haggis as they contain high levels of vitamin A. Another reason why pregnant women or those who are trying to conceive should avoid the acne drug, isotretinoin, also known as ‘accutane’, including the topical tretinoin, due to its high content of vitamin A.
Make sure you wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating. Doing so will eliminate any harmful bacteria or toxoplasmosis which may be found in the soil where your fruits and veggies were grown.
Caffeine can be found in many common drinks and foods including coffee, tea, chocolates, soft drinks, energy drinks and even some over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as headache, flu and allergy remedies.
In general, the amount of caffeine intake during pregnancy is still controversial but it is advisable not to consume more than 200mg of caffeine per day as there are studies that show that consuming 200mg or more of caffeine a day increases the risk of miscarriages and stillbirth.
Also caffeine is a stimulant so it can increase your heart rate, makes you feel jittery and also causes insomnia. Caffeine can also contribute to heartburn and also increase the need to urinate due to its diuretic properties.
Another reason to cut down on coffee and tea is because it contains compounds called phenols which can make it harder for your body to absorb iron which is important in pregnancy as many pregnant women already have low iron levels.
If you have coffee or tea, it is better to have it between meals so it has less effect on iron absorption.
On average, 1 mug of instant coffee contents 100mg of caffeine, 1 mug of filter coffee contents 140mg of caffeine, 1 mug of black tea contents 75mg of caffeine, 1 can of coke contents 40mg of caffeine and 1 bar of 50mg chocolate contents 50mg of caffeine. So, if you were to have 2 mugs of instant coffee in a day, you would have reached your daily limit. If possible, substitute caffeinated drinks with milk, fruit juice and water.
It is advisable not to drink alcohol during pregnancy as there is no known safe amount of alcohol intake during pregnancy. It is safer to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy as alcohol intake during pregnancy may lead to miscarriages, stillbirth, long term medical problems and birth defects in the newborn. Heavy intake of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to a group of defects in the baby known as foetal alcohol syndrome which is a lifelong condition and includes behaviour and attention problems, heart defects, abnormal facial features, developmental delays, low birth weight and poor growth.
When you are pregnant, you want what’s best for your unborn baby and what you eat and drink will be absorb by your baby and have an effect on your baby’s health, possibly forever. This is when you should pay most attention to what you eat especially what to avoid as some food may present as a danger to your unborn baby.
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