You ever wondered why doctors are particular about the kind of food you eat during pregnancy? Not sure about what you can and cannot eat? We have made an exhaustive guide to explain the sort of food to avoid during pregnancy, why you shouldn’t eat these foods, and healthier alternatives to our “foods to avoid” list.
Group A: Undercooked & raw food that may otherwise be healthy
Before pregnancy, you could eat your eggs in some fancy French style with a soft, warm yolk waiting to drip over as your fork hits the tip. Now though, you definitely shouldn’t. Pregnancy adds a lot of burden to the immune system (the system of your body that fights off infection), leaving your body more susceptible to infections that are potentially life-threatening to your baby. Salmonella, which is native in raw eggs and Poultry is one of such benign-but-deadly-in-pregnancy bacteria. So as much as you can, do not eat raw or undercooked eggs.
Remember to avoid food that may be prepared with raw eggs such as;
- Homemade ice cream
- Cake batter
Well-cooked eggs. Boiled, poached, fried, baked or however you like to eat your eggs, just make sure they cook properly. If you are making a casserole or other dish containing eggs, make sure the dish is cooked to a temperature of 160°F. Salmonella is easily destroyed by heat so you have nothing to worry about if you cook your eggs properly.
Undercooked Meat & Poultry
For mostly the same reasons as eggs above, avoid eating undercooked Meat and Poultry. These include Medium-rare beef/pork steaks, Deli meat, and raw sausages. In addition to having Salmonella, undercooked meat & poultry may contain Listeria and Toxoplasma which may affect a baby despite the mother feeling well.
Well-done beef/pork steak should suffice. When you cook meat, use a food thermometer to ensure that all parts of the meat reach the required minimum safe temperatures recommended by the CDC. Generally, aim for 160°F as a safe threshold for most beef/pork/poultry product.
Additionally, the CDC recommends that you;
- Freeze meat for several days at sub-zero (below 0° F) temperatures before cooking to greatly reduce the chance of infection. *Freezing does not reliably kill other parasites that may be found in meat (like certain species of Trichinella) or harmful bacteria. Cooking meat to USDA recommended internal temperatures is the safest method to destroy all parasites and other pathogens.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, counters, utensils, and hands with soapy water after contact with raw meat and poultry.
Unpasteurized milk and milk products
Pasteurization a mouthful word that simply means boiling to kill the harmful organisms in food like milk. Raw milk that is directly taken from goat, cow, etc is not safe for consumption in pregnancy.
Unpasteurized milk and milk products typically made with unpasteurized milk (Soft cheese such as Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Feta, Gorgonzola, Queso Blanco, and Queso Fresco) may contain large quantities of bacteria such as listeria, Salmonella, E.coli, and Mycobacterium.
Use only milk labeled as “Pasteurized”. Also, when you go to buy soft cheese products, make sure they are clearly labeled to be “made with pasteurized milk”, otherwise, you may be better off buying hard cheese like Cheddar, Swiss, or Parmesan.
Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables
Sometimes, you may be in a hurry that you forget to wash that apple or pear from the supermarket – moreover, it came in a sealed plastic wrap! Do not fall into this trap.
Vegetables are very healthy for pregnant women, but most soil where they grow contain Toxoplasma which can be transmitted by eating unwashed vegetables.
Also, avoid buying 100% organic or freshly squeezed fruit juices from the market as it may be difficult to know the hygienic conditions of the fruits used. And if you make fruit juice at home, do not refrigerate for long and consume within 24 hours.
Regarding seafood, you should generally avoid eating raw seafood like shellfish and tuna, fish that contain significant amounts of mercury, Smoked seafood that has not been cooked into a dish.
Raw shellfish (Oysters, mussels, and clams) are common causes of food-borne illness and should be altogether avoided in pregnancy. Mercury, usually found in ocean fish, is a potent neurotoxin for the developing baby that can cause delays in a child’s development and even brain damage.
Fish is highly recommended during pregnancy as long as it’s low in mercury, well-cooked, and does not include shellfish. Try buying some salmon, cod, catfish, tilapia, or packaged fish that has been approved as “safe for pregnancy” by the FDA.
Group B: Unhealthy food
Picture McDonalds, Subway, Domino’s, etc. Sure you can indulge your cravings every once in a while, but be careful, especially because fast food (in addition to having poor caloric value in pregnancy) has been shown to increase the incidence of Diabetes and Hypertension in Pregnancy.
Try Home cooked meals. You may be surprised at how good your home-made Burger or Pizza tastes. In addition, you get the advantage of substituting low-quality ingredients for higher quality ones. You may also have a fun cook-in day with your partner while you’re at it.
Many products that we love such as chocolates, coffee, tea, breakfast cereals, frozen yogurts, etc contain caffeine. We know it’s a bummer to include caffeine in foods to avoid list, but you’ve already come this far!
Caffeine is a diuretic that makes one urinate excessively, leading to water and electrolytes loss that can affect the baby and may even lead to a miscarriage. Many guides recommend that you don’t take more than 200mg per day, but it is really difficult to estimate the quantity you consume, so it’s generally safer to avoid it altogether.
Unlike caffeine, there is no quantity of alcohol that is acceptable during pregnancy. So it is best to completely avoid alcohol during your pregnancy.
Alcohol consumption in prenatal periods can affect babies in different ways that are often unpleasant and irreversible. A well-known effect of alcohol is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders which includes a list of disorders ranging from Organ malformations to permanent mental retardation. In fact, Alcohol is the only 100% preventable cause of mental retardation in infants.
Also, alcohol can be absorbed in your breast milk and is still not safe as long as you’re exclusively breastfeeding your baby.
Uhmmm, water! You could also make interesting flavors of water with citrus infusions every now and then. Be very selective with fruit juices though.
Herbal Products – Teas, Sprouts, and roots
While they may not be downright unhealthy, we don’t know enough about herbal products to know if they’re safe to use during pregnancy. So it’s best not to use them while you’re pregnant.
You may take some tea made from regular and well-researched ingredients like mint, chamomile, cinnamon, and hibiscus.
Group C: Eat only in Moderation
Foods rich in acid are usually not a problem in pregnancy until late second and third-trimester pregnancy. Pregnant women suffer more from acid reflux mainly due to pregnancy hormones reducing stomach motility and large size of the womb compressing and pushing the stomach up.
One easy way to reduce the symptoms of heartburn is to simply cut down on such food that increases the acidity in the stomach, especially during the later stages of pregnancy.
Acid-rich food to cut down on include (in no particular order);
- Most citrus fruits – Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Tangerines, etc
- Other fruits – Apples, Grapes, Pineapples, Peaches, etc
- Fresh Vegetables – Tomatoes, Carrots, Beets, Cabbage, etc.
- Carbonated Drinks & Soda – CocaCola, Mr. Pepper, etc
- Wheat and Processed grains like pasta, and noodles.
Soy, Gluten, and Peanut Products
It is well known that soy, gluten, and peanut products are some of the top products that cause allergies. It is also interesting to note that about 1.8% of pregnant women report new-onset allergies during pregnancy, with reactions ranging from mild itching, wheals, and diarrhea to full-blown anaphylaxis.
This may not be your case, but it is better to eat some of these known allergens in moderation and visit your doctor if you notice any kind of reaction that was not there before.
To summarize our guide on foods to avoid during pregnancy, avoid raw or undercooked food that’s likely to contain harmful organisms like Salmonella and Listeria, don’t eat vegetables and fruits that you haven’t washed, avoid fast food, herbs and teas whose effect on pregnancy haven’t been verified, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other carbonated drinks.
Be sure to check the label of the milk you purchase and confirm that it’s pasteurized, and contact your doctor if you discover any new reactions to food, or have any food poisonings.
See this chart below from US Food Safety and CDC to help you navigate your pregnancy dietary needs safely and confidently.