Pregnancy is the happiest time of a woman’s life. However, at the same time, it is also one of the most crucial and delicate time periods in a woman’s life. The expecting mother has to not just take care of herself, but also of the baby that is developing inside of her. This is why eating a healthy diet for yourself and your baby is extremely crucial. A healthy diet during pregnancy does not only mean that you eat healthily, but it also means that you have to pay extra attention to what you are eating and what you are drinking. You have to make sure that you avoid consuming any foods and beverages that may prove to be harmful to your baby. Doctors and experts suggest that there are certain foods and beverages that should not be consumed during pregnancy or that can only be consumed rarely.
10 Foods & Beverages Which Pregnant Women Should Avoid
During pregnancy, certain foods and beverages are not advisable to be consumed as they may cause an adverse reaction in the body or may be unhealthy for the baby. Let us take a look at what foods and beverages need to be avoided while being pregnant.
Fish Containing High Levels Of Mercury
Mercury is a very toxic element that is found in polluted waters and thus affects the fish in these waters as well. There is no known safe level of mercury exposure and if consumed in high amounts, it ends up being toxic to the nervous system, kidneys, and also the immune system. Fish such as king mackerel, tilefish, shark, swordfish, and tuna are known to have very high levels of mercury and therefore need to be avoided while you are pregnant. Once mercury enters the body, it gets converted into methylmercury, which is a neurotoxin. In babies, it has been linked to brain damage and developmental delays. So when pregnant one needs to be cautious when eating fish. If you want to have fish, then opt for fishes such as catfish, cod, salmon, or canned light tuna. These fishes are known to be low in mercury levels and hence considered safe to have during pregnancy. Having fish that are low in mercury levels and rich in omega 3-fatty acids are particularly recommended during pregnancy as these nutrients contribute to the baby’s heart and brain development, along with aiding overall growth as well. If you are in doubt about which fish you can consume safely, then consulting your doctor will be the best bet.
Smoked or Refrigerated Seafood
If you are pregnant, then you should avoid seafood that is smoked and refrigerated. These may be labeled as jerky, nova style, lox, or/and kippered. The reason why these have to be avoided is that they contain bacteria known as Listeria monocytogenes. This bacterium is known to cause listeriosis, a condition that causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Being infected with these bacteria during pregnancy is not safe your child and it could cause illness in the newborn and even lead to a stillbirth or miscarriage. Furthermore, processed seafood is known to contain very high levels of salt (sodium), which is also not advisable during pregnancy as it can cause a flare-up in your blood pressure and also cause swelling in some body parts, particularly the feet. So avoid smoked or refrigerated seafood when pregnant. Instead of smoked or refrigerated seafood, you can include canned smoked seafood, which is known to be a safer option.
Raw or Undercooked Fish
There is a popular trend of consuming raw fish, particularly shellfish. However, if you are pregnant, then you should never ever consume any raw or undercooked fish/food because it can lead to many infections. Certain infections you can get from eating raw or undercooked fish include Vibrio, Salmonella, norovirus, Listeria, and even several parasites. There is a possibility that raw fish can become contaminated during processing, such as drying or smoking. While some infections only affect the mother, there are others that may get passed on to the developing fetus, having serious, even fatal, results. Even if only the mother becomes infected, it may still affect the unborn child as the mother will become dehydrated and weak. This also includes sushi. Pregnant women should avoid raw seafood or any other type of raw foods at any cost.
Undercooked or Raw Eggs
Similar to undercooked and raw fish, it is not advisable that you consume raw and/or undercooked eggs when pregnant. Even soft-boiled eggs may contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella that may lead to food poisoning during pregnancy. Some signs and symptoms of food poisoning may include: diarrhea, headache, abdominal pain, severe vomiting and high fever. While these symptoms are unlikely to cause any harm to the developing fetus, it will make the mother’s immune system weak, which might have an effect on the child’s development.
This advisory is also applicable to foods that contain raw egg and these include: Ice creams, Mayonnaise, Hollandaise sauce, Caesar dressings, particularly homemade ones, Aioli sauce, Desserts such as tiramisu, mousse, and meringue, Custards and Béarnaise sauce.
Instead of having raw/undercooked eggs or soft-boiled eggs as well as products that have raw eggs in them, pregnant women can opt for buying pasteurized egg products. There are many ice creams, eggnog, mousse, and salad dressings that are egg-free. You should also have hard boiled eggs instead of soft-boiled ones. Raw and undercooked eggs are to be completely avoided when pregnant.
Having raw/undercooked meat is also going to increase the pregnant mother’s chances of catching an infection as many types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites are present in these food items. Some of the common ones include Salmonella, E.coli, Listeria, and Toxoplasma. Bacteria can pose a big threat to the health of your developing baby. These include severe neurological conditions such as epilepsy, blindness, mental retardation, and even stillbirth in severe cases. There is a common misconception that bacteria are only found on the surface of the meat and it can be washed off with water. However, this is far from the truth. Some bacteria can also be found inside the muscle fibers of these whole pieces of meat. It is strongly advisable to avoid having meat that is undercooked or raw when pregnant.
Even hot dogs, deli meat, and lunch meat are a cause for concern as during processing or storage, these meats may get infected and cause harm to the unborn baby.
If you want to have meat, it is recommended that you only have well-cooked and hot poultry and meat. Whenever possible, try to eat home-cooked varieties.
Caffeine is the most common ‘go-to’ drink to start your mornings with. Found in coffee, soft drinks, cocoa, and even in tea, most pregnant women will not be too happy to see caffeine on the list of beverages to avoid when pregnant. However, pregnant women are recommended to at least limit their intake of caffeine to not more than 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day. This is because caffeine gets absorbed very quickly and can pass quickly into the fetus and placenta. This can be harmful to the developing baby because unborn babies or their placentas do not have the required enzyme that metabolizes caffeine. This can cause the caffeine to build up and cause serious side effects, such as restricted fetal growth, low birth weight at delivery, and also increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes in adulthood. So, caffeinated beverages are best avoided when pregnant.
You should not be consuming raw or unpasteurized milk when you are pregnant. It is a myth that there are more nutrients in unpasteurized milk. Truth is that unpasteurized milk has zero nutritional advantages. In fact, raw and unpasteurized milk actually accounts for the major proportion of all foodborne diseases. This is because harmful bacteria such as listeria, E.coli, salmonella, and even cryptosporidium, are often present in these products and these can harm you and your unborn baby both. Pregnant women should avoid drinking unpasteurized milk.
Chances are high that raw sprouts of mung bean, radish, clover, or even alfalfa, could be contaminated with Salmonella. While these bacteria do not get into most vegetables, they are known to get into sprouts and are nearly impossible to wash off. This is why during pregnancy; women are advised to avoid having raw sprouts. Sprouts can be safe to consume if they have been cooked properly.
Unwashed Vegetables and Fruits
You should not have unwashed fruits and vegetables even if you are not pregnant. This is because, in an unwashed condition, these fruits and vegetables are known to carry the Toxoplasma parasite. Toxoplasma is found in the soil where these fruits and vegetables are grown, and if you are not washing them before eating, you may end up ingesting the parasite, which can harm the developing fetus. Always remember to wash all fruits and vegetables properly under running water and also peel off or scrub their surfaces. If there is any bruised area visible on the fruit or vegetable, make sure to cut that part out as these areas are more prone to be infected with bacteria. While being pregnant, make sure that you are cooking all leafy vegetables properly before having them.
Alcohol is a big no-no when you are pregnant. Doctors advise that pregnant women should totally avoid having any type of alcoholic beverage, as it will increase the risk of having a stillbirth or a miscarriage exponentially. Even having a little bit of alcohol can harm the developing baby’s brain. Consumption of alcohol can also lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes heart defects, facial deformities, and even mental retardation. Therefore, it is best to avoid alcohol at all cost while being pregnant.
To have a safe and healthy baby, make sure that you eat right while being pregnant. What you eat at this time will form the basis of nutrition that goes to your baby. This is why it is so important to eat a well-balanced and healthy diet when you are pregnant. By keeping in mind this list of foods and beverages that can harm your unborn child, you will be more aware of what needs to be avoided when pregnant.
- American Pregnancy Association. (2021). Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy-841/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). Foods to Avoid When Pregnant. https://www.cdc.gov/pregnancy/during.html
- Mayo Clinic. (2021). Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20046955
- NHS. (2021). Foods to avoid in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/foods-to-avoid/