It is always important to eat nutritious and balanced meals, and it is even more essential to eat the right food when you are trying to conceive (TTC) or pregnant. You and your baby require essential nutrients, protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to ensure a healthier pregnancy.
Most foods are safe, however, there are some foods that you should avoid during pregnancy which may potentially be infectious (listeria, hepatitis B, Toxoplasma), and food that contains too much mercury or other harmful agents. (When cooking at home, follow the 4 simple steps of food preparation: clean, separate, cook, and chill.) There are 3 major foodborne risks to pregnant women: listeria, toxoplasmosis, and methylmercury.
When a pregnant woman is infected with listeriosis, she may have a miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, or her newborn baby may become seriously ill and may die.
Prevent Listeria Infection:
- Do not eat soft cheese, such as Feta, Brie, Camembert, "blue-veined cheeses," "queso blanco," "queso fresco," and Panela — unless it's labeled as made with pasteurized milk.
- Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads.
- Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood — unless it's in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. (Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel, is most often labeled as "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky." These types of fish are found in the refrigerator section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delis.)
- Do not eat homemade salami or sausages that are not cooked well enough.
- Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk. Even ice cream has been implicated as being responsible for Listeria infections.
- Do not eat without first washing your hands after you have gardened or worked with soil.
Prevent Toxoplasmosis Infection
- Wear gloves when gardening or handling sand in a sandbox.
- Do not eat undercooked meat, especially lamb.
- Do not get a new cat while pregnant and let someone else clean the cat litter.
Decrease Methylmercury Exposure
- Do not eat shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish. These fish can contain high levels of methylmercury.
- It's okay to eat other cooked seafood as long as a variety of other kinds are selected during pregnancy or while trying to become pregnant.
- You can eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
- Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you can eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Toxoplasmosis is an infection that is caused by contact with a microscopic parasitic organism called Toxoplasma gondii. When contracted during pregnancy, it can pose a serious risk to the unborn baby. You can get infected with Toxoplasma by eating fruits and vegetables if they are not washed or peeled correctly.
The third trimester is the period when your immune system weakens which increases your risk of being afflicted by Listeriosis. If you are eating cold cuts, make sure that you reheat them until steaming (which you can do by grilling). Eating foods rich in Vitamin C along with cold cuts helps prevent the conversion of nitrates to carcinogens. Deli meats purchased from the deli counter have less fat and salt than packaged lunch meats. However, to be on the safe side it is recommended that you avoid lunch meats and cold cuts altogether during pregnancy for your baby's sake.
There are several concerns surrounding eating products made from liver in pregnancy. First and foremost, liver products such as pate have been associated with an increased risk of infection such as listeria which can lead to miscarriages or stillbirths in pregnancy. In addition, liver has a high amount of vitamin A which has been associated with birth defects. Even though it has not been proven that eating liver can cause birth defects, the safest approach is to minimize your consumption of liver. Liver is the only food that contains very high amounts of vitamin A. The amount of vitamin A found in liver varies, as a 3-ounce serving of beef liver may contain 27,000 IU and chicken liver may contain 12,000 IU.
Raw or undercooked eggs can carry harmful organisms such as E.Coli and Salmonella. If infected during pregnancy, it can lead to an intestinal infection.
You should eat fish regularly, but not fish which are high in methylmercury such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. If you regularly eat types of fish that are high in methylmercury, it can accumulate in your bloodstream over time. Methylmercury is removed from the body naturally, but it may take over a year for the levels to drop significantly. Thus, it may be present in a woman even before she becomes pregnant, which is the reason why women who are trying to become pregnant should also avoid eating these certain types of fish.
Food poisoning during pregnancy is not much different from when you are not pregnant. You are not more likely to get sick during pregnancy, just as pregnancy is unlikely to make you sicker if you become infected. However, now there is a baby in the mix, so extra precaution is needed.
The safest option for smoked fish and seafood that can be consumed during pregnancy are canned products. However, the consumption of smoked seafood that is not canned is not recommended during pregnancy because it can carry listeria.
It is recommended for pregnant women to eat at least 12 oz. of fish each week, but just to be sure to avoid fish with increased mercury levels. Nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury, but for most people, it's not a health concern. Yet, some fish and shellfish contain high levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or a young child's developing nervous system.
You should not eat certain soft cheeses such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, and Mexican-style cheese during pregnancy because of a risk of becoming infected with listeria.
Regardless of whether seafood is raw or cooked, you should choose low mercury seafood (eg, salmon and shrimp) over higher mercury varieties (eg, fresh tuna). Pregnant women should ensure that their food is obtained from reputable establishments, stored, handled, and cooked properly, and consumed within a couple of days of purchasing.
Unpasteurized milk (and products made from it), as well as fresh juices from unwashed vegetables can cause a form of food poisoning called listeriosis. Listeriosis is caused by a bacterium (Listeria monocytogenes) and is especially dangerous during pregnancy.
Diet soda and pregnancy is an issue that still has not been completely decided. The main issue here is the artificial sweetener saccharin and caffeine. Different types of diet sodas use different artificial sweeteners. While one sweetener may be considered safe during pregnancy, another may not, which makes it important to know which sweetener is used in which diet sodas.
Even if you feel a craving for hot dogs during pregnancy, it is better to avoid them, especially if they are not completely heated above 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it is said that they can be eaten by expectant mothers when heated to 160-170 degree Fahrenheit for two minutes, you may want to avoid hot dogs as they may still carry the Listeria bacteria.
Most studies have shown that it’s safe to have coffee during pregnancy as long as it’s less than 3 cups or the equivalent of 300 mg of caffeine a day. Unfortunately, many people often don’t know that sometimes even one cup of coffee may contain more than 300 mg of caffeine.
The main health issue for pregnant women who use artificial sweeteners is that they may be missing out on more nutritious foods and beverages. If you drink a lot of diet soda, for instance, you may not be getting enough water, milk, or juice, all of which are beneficial to your developing baby.
Fast food should be avoided during pregnancy, if possible. These food choices contain loads of salt, sugar and sometimes even chemicals that can harm both the mother and the unborn child. They are also extremely greasy, fatty and full of cholesterol. Fast foods are also linked to faster weight gain during pregnancy and obesity in the general population. Obesity during pregnancy can lead to gestational diabetes.
Raw sprouts should not be consumed by pregnant women because of the potential health hazards they pose. We all know raw sprouts are full of nutrients. Raw sprouts are great to munch on and they are also loaded with nutrients, but they also carry harmful bacteria, so concerns about their ill effects on pregnancy health have arisen.
Cantaloupes appear to be a healthy fruit, however, they have been associated with potentially deadly salmonella and listeria outbreaks. Listeria is especially deadly during pregnancy, and can potentially lead to a miscarriage or stillbirth. Over the last few years, cantaloupes have been associated with deadly listeria as well as salmonella outbreak.
Women who smoke during pregnancy double their own risks of dying from future heart disease or from any cause. In addition, smoking during pregnancy causes many complications to the pregnancy such as increased risks of miscarriages, small babies, and prematurity. Women who quit smoking before or during pregnancy reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
The official recommendation in the United States starting with the surgeon general and continuing with medical organizations is that you should not have any alcohol during pregnancy. Women who are pregnant, those planning a pregnancy, or women at risk for pregnancy are advised to not drink any alcohol.
Pregnant women are more susceptible to food poisoning. Canned foods if not closed or jarred properly can become accessible for bacteria, and lead to botulism and other bacterial diseases. Canned foods are heated to an extreme temperature to process them and kill micro-organisms before canning. This destroys most enzymes and nutrients in them, so they are almost like junk foods.
The original recipe for Caesar salad dressing contains among other ingredients raw egg, and similar to other raw food there is a potential risk, though very small of becoming infected with a bacterium called Salmonella if you eat raw eggs. Salmonella is bacterial organisms that infect many animals and humans.
Too much salt intake is believed to be a health risk for anyone. However, recent studies have drawn attention to the role of the intrauterine environment. Not enough salt during pregnancy can have an adverse effect on the fetus and newborn baby. Salt is one of the integral components for normal growth of fetuses and there has been an increasing number of studies suggesting that salt restriction during pregnancy has a critical influence on the intrauterine growth and development of organs.
The growing popularity of medicinal herbs may increase the deliberate or inadvertent use of medicinal herbs during pregnancy, raising the possibility of adverse fetal or neonatal effects.