Foods to eat and avoid during pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time to be kind to yourself and listen to what your body needs.
It’s also a time to be aware of certain foods that are less than ideal for the health of yourself and your growing baby. With a few tweaks, you can still enjoy a healthy and satisfying pregnancy diet that shouldn’t leave you feeling too deprived.
High mercury fish
Mercury is highly toxic and is commonly found in polluted seas, where certain fish can accumulate high levels of it. These highest amounts can be passed on to you where they may be toxic to your nervous and immune systems. Mercury exposure has also been shown to risk causing serious developmental problems in children, even in lower amounts. High mercury fish include shark, swordfish and tuna.1
Raw, or undercooked fish
Unfortunately for sushi and shellfish lovers, it’s off the menu for 9 months. Raw fish have a higher risk of carrying a number of viral, bacterial or parasitic infections ranging from norovirus to salmonella and listeria. Not only can these make you very ill, but they can also be passed onto your baby. Furthermore, pregnancy seems to make you even more prone to picking up these infections, with research showing that pregnant women are up to 10 times more likely to get infected with listeria than the rest of the population.2
Undercooked, raw and processed meats
The issues that exist with raw and undercooked fish can also be seen in undercooked, raw and processed meats, which also pose a risk of bacterial or parasitic infection that can make both you and your baby seriously unwell. Most of these bacteria are found on the surface of the meat, so it’s best to ensure any meat you eat is cooked well done while pregnant. Processed meat also carries a higher risk of infection so is best avoided altogether if possible or if not, reheated until piping hot to kill off any bacteria.
Unpasteurised dairy foods
As with fish and meat, raw milk and unpasteurised or soft ripened cheese can carry a number of harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria, E.coli and Campylobacter, which can all cause serious complications to your unborn baby, as well as making you extremely ill.3
Raw eggs can be found hidden in many products from homemade mayonnaise and ice cream to hollandaise sauce and cake icings. Poached and lightly scrambled eggs can also contain traces of raw egg. These are all best avoided as raw eggs come with a higher risk of containing salmonella, which can make you and your growing baby very unwell.
This can be a tricky one to give up, but caffeine is not the best thing for your pregnancy diet. As it is very quickly absorbed, it passes easily to the placenta where it can build up in high levels that are unable to be metabolised. This can lead to restricted foetal growth rates, which has been linked to lower birth weights and an increased risk of infant death or chronic illnesses during adulthood.4
Eat these foods instead!
The good news for fish lovers is that there are options other than shellfish and sushi, and not all ocean or farmed fish are high in mercury! Cod, haddock, salmon and freshwater trout are all safe options. Salmon is particularly good as it’s high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the development of your baby.5
While soft and unpasteurised cheeses may be off the menu, you should still consume protein to support the needs of your growing baby. Dairy products like milk, pasteurised cheese and yoghurt are all perfectly safe.
Raw eggs might also be forbidden for a while, but eggs in general are absolutely fine. What’s more, they are an excellent source of choline, which is important for the development of your baby and can help prevent developmental abnormalities of the brain and spine.6
Lean meats and proteins are great sources of energy, and beef in particular is rich in iron, which is essential during pregnancy as you will need more of it while your blood volume is increasing. Lower levels of iron during early and mid-pregnancy have been linked to iron deficient anaemia, which can increase the risk of lower birth weights, so go ahead and eat that steak – just make sure that it’s well cooked.7
Avocados are great as part of a pregnancy diet as they are high in potassium, which may help relieve leg cramps that are common during pregnancy. Try not to think of your pregnancy as a time of food deprivation. You will need more calories than before to support the growth of your baby. Armed with the knowledge of what is, and what isn’t, a healthy food choice, you will be able to enjoy the ultimate pregnancy diet that is both satisfying and safe for you and your baby.