Top 12 Dangerous Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

12-foods-to-avoid-pregnancyWe all want what’s best for our kids, starting from the day we know they exist! Do you know some of the most dangerous foods for your baby are the most common ones you eat? Need help understanding what is safe to eat during pregnancy?

Start with the basics in pregnancy nutrition. Understanding what foods to avoid during pregnancy can help you make the healthiest choices for you and your baby.

Please note that though a lot of research has been done regarding pregnancy and babies, a lot more needs to be done. Experimenting with fetuses/newborns/babies has many moral and legal complications and obligations, so most of the information available to you is through based on research done by collecting responses of mothers who may/may not observe and keep a close eye on everything they eat, drink and do and in what amounts! So, use your discretion when following pregnancy advice and remember, it is better to be safe (and avoid) than be sorry later.

1. Seafood high in mercury

Seafood can be a great source of protein, and the omega-3 fatty acids in many fish can promote your baby’s brain and eye development. However, some fish and shellfish contain potentially dangerous levels of mercury. Too much mercury could harm your baby’s developing nervous system.

The bigger and older the fish, the more mercury it’s likely to contain. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourage pregnant women to avoid these types of seafood:

  • Swordfish, Shark, King mackerel, Tilefish

So what’s safe? Some types of seafood contain little mercury. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 8 to 12 ounces — two average meals — of seafood a week for pregnant women. Consider these safe options of seafood:

  • Shrimp, Salmon, Pollock, Catfish, Anchovies, Trout

However, limit albacore tuna and tuna steak to no more than 6 ounces (170 grams) a week. Also, be aware that while canned light tuna on average appears safe, some testing has shown that mercury levels can vary from can to can.

In addition, keep in mind that not all researchers agree with these limits, citing a study that noted no negative effects for women who ate more seafood than the FDA-approved guidelines.

Raw, undercooked or contaminated seafood

To avoid harmful bacteria or viruses in seafood:

  • Avoid raw fish and shellfish. Examples include sushi, sashimi, and raw oysters, scallops or clams.
  • Avoid refrigerated, uncooked seafood. Examples include seafood labeled nova style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky. It’s OK to eat smoked seafood if it’s an ingredient in a casserole or other cooked dish. Canned and shelf-stable versions also are safe.
  • Understand local fish advisories. If you eat fish from local waters, pay attention to local fish advisories — especially if water pollution is a concern. If advice isn’t available, limit the amount of fish from local waters you eat to 6 ounces (170 grams) a week and don’t eat other fish that week.
  • Cook seafood properly. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 145 F (63 C). Fish is done when it separates into flakes and appears opaque throughout. Cook shrimp, lobster and scallops until they’re milky white. Cook clams, mussels and oysters until their shells open. Discard any that don’t open.
  • Smoked Seafood –Refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky should be avoided because it could be contaminated with listeria. (These are safe to eat when they are in an ingredient in a meal that has been cooked, like a casserole.) This type of fish is often found in the deli section of your grocery store. Canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is usually fine to eat.

2. Undercooked meat, poultry and eggs

During pregnancy, you’re at increased risk of bacterial food poisoning. Your reaction might be more severe than if you weren’t pregnant. Rarely, food poisoning affects the baby, too. Uncooked seafood and rare or undercooked beef or poultry should be avoided because of the risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella.

To prevent foodborne illness:

  • Fully cook all meats and poultry before eating. Use a meat thermometer to make sure.
  • Cook hot dogs and luncheon meats until they’re steaming hot — or avoid them completely. They can be sources of a rare but potentially serious foodborne illness known as listeriosis.
  • Avoid refrigerated pates and meat spreads. Refrigerated pate or meat spreads should be avoided because they may contain the bacteria listeria. Canned pate or shelf-safe meat spreads can be eaten.
  • Cook eggs until the egg yolks and whites are firm. Raw eggs can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Avoid foods made with raw or partially cooked eggs, such as eggnog, raw batter, and freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing.
  • Avoid eating Deli Meat. Deli meats have been known to be contaminated with listeria, which can cause miscarriage. Listeria has the ability to cross the placenta and may infect the baby, which could lead to infection or blood poisoning and may be life-threatening. If you are pregnant and you are considering eating deli meats, make certain that you reheat the meat until it is steaming.
  • Raw eggs or any foods that contain raw eggs should be avoided because of the potential exposure to salmonella. Some homemade Caesar dressings, mayonnaise, homemade ice cream or custards, and Hollandaise sauces may be made with raw eggs. If the recipe is cooked at some point, this will reduce the exposure to salmonella. Commercially manufactured ice cream, dressings, and eggnog are made with pasteurized eggs and do not increase the risk of salmonella. Restaurants should be using pasteurized eggs in any recipe that is made with raw eggs, such as Hollandaise sauce or dressings.

3. Unpasteurized foods

Many low-fat dairy products — such as skim milk, mozzarella cheese and cottage cheese — can be a healthy part of your diet. Anything containing unpasteurized milk, however, is a no-no. These products could lead to foodborne illness. Avoid soft cheeses, such as Brie, feta and blue cheese, unless they are clearly labeled as being pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk. Also, avoid drinking unpasteurized juice.

4. Excess caffeine

Caffeine can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s heart rate. While further research is needed, some studies suggest that drinking too much caffeine during pregnancy might be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.

Because of the potential effects on your developing baby, your health care provider might recommend limiting the amount of caffeine in your diet to less than 200 milligrams a day during pregnancy. For perspective, an 8-ounce (237-milliliter) cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine, an 8-ounce (237-milliliter) cup of brewed tea contains about 47 milligrams and a 12-ounce (355-milliliter) caffeinated cola soft drink contains about 33 milligrams.

Although most studies show that caffeine intake in moderation is permissible, there are others that show that caffeine intake may be related to miscarriages. Avoid caffeine during the first trimester to reduce the likelihood of a miscarriage.

As a general rule, caffeine should be limited to fewer than 200 mg per day during pregnancy. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it helps eliminate fluids from the body. This can result in water and calcium loss. It is important that you are drinking plenty of water, juice, and milk rather than caffeinated beverages. Some research shows that large amounts of caffeine are associated with miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, and withdrawal symptoms in infants. The safest thing is to refrain from consuming caffeine.

5. Herbal tea

There’s little data on the effects of specific herbs on developing babies. As a result, avoid drinking herbal tea unless your healthcare provider says it’s OK — even the types of herbal tea marketed specifically to pregnant women.

You CAN drink ‘Fenugreek Tea‘ during lactation (breastfeeding) if you would like to increase your milk production, but do avoid it during pregnancy.

6. Alcohol

One drink isn’t likely to hurt your baby, but NO level of alcohol has been proved safe during pregnancy. The safest bet is to avoid alcohol entirely.

Consider the risks. Mothers who drink alcohol have a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Depending on the amount, timing, and pattern of use, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can cause facial deformities, heart defects and mental retardation or other developmental disorders. Even moderate drinking can impact your baby’s brain development.

There is NO amount of alcohol that is known to be safe during pregnancy, and therefore alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can interfere with the healthy development of the baby.

If you consumed alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, stop drinking now. You should continue to avoid alcohol during breastfeeding. Exposure of alcohol to an infant poses harmful risks, and alcohol does reach the baby during breastfeeding.

7. Soft Cheeses

Imported soft cheeses may contain listeria.  You would need to avoid soft cheeses such as: brie, Camembert, Roquefort, feta, Gorgonzola, and Mexican style cheeses that include queso blanco and queso fresco, unless they clearly state that they are made from pasteurized milk. All soft non-imported cheeses made with pasteurized milk are safe to eat.

8. Unpasteurized Milk

Unpasteurized milk may contain listeria. Make sure that any milk you drink is pasteurized. What you usually buy at the store is pasteurized (If you have doubts, read the label), so it is safe.

9. Unpasteurized Juices

Read the label and choose packaged juices as they are pasteurized and are kept under refrigeration to avoid contracting the very harmful E.coli and salmonella bacteria.

10. Raw Vegetable Sprouts

Sprouts are excellent sources of proteins and minerals but avoid eating raw sprouts during pregnancy. When raw, sprouts can harbor harmful bacteria and viruses which can be a cause of bad food poisoning. You can have sprouts, but consume them after shallow frying them or better still, cooking them. They will still taste good.

11. Canned food

Canned foods are packed and stored for longer period of time; these are absolutely not recommended during pregnancy. These are harmful for two reasons – firstly, the lining in the cans often contains Bisphenol A (BPA), which affects fetal endocrine activity. Secondly, the tinned foods might be too old and harbor harmful bacteria due to their long shelf life.

Opt for fresh vegetables, fruits and fish. Fresh is always better! Go for seasonal choices, to ensure maximum nutrients and minimum expense.

12. Unwashed fruits and vegetables

To eliminate any harmful bacteria, thoroughly wash all raw fruits and vegetables. Avoid raw sprouts of any kind — including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean — which also might contain disease-causing bacteria. Be sure to cook sprouts thoroughly. Vegetables are safe, and a necessary part of a balanced diet. However, it is essential to make sure they are washed to avoid potential exposure to toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis may contaminate the soil where the vegetables were grown.

13. Other Foods to Avoid

Mango –

Both ripe and unripe Mangoes are absolutely healthy & safe for the expecting mother when eaten in moderation. It is advisable not to eat unripe mangoes in the last trimester of pregnancy. The unripe mangoes contain a good amount of vitamins. These fruits treat morning sickness, cure constipation and fight acidity.

Pineapple –

Bromelain, which is present in abundant quantities in pineapple, MAY weaken the cervix leading to early labor. During the first trimester it would be better to avoid eating pineapple for any unforeseen event such as weakening of the cervix.

Papaya –

Ripe papaya is packed with nutrients, but should be consumed in very small amounts. Unripe or semi-ripe papaya is not safe for pregnancy, but a fully ripe papaya does no harm. However, it is better to be careful while consuming papaya during pregnancy.

Sesame Seeds –

Sesame seeds, or til, was traditionally used as a medicine for causing abortion, in a dose of 1 tbsp. of grounded seeds mixed with jaggery twice a day. Sesame seeds excite the uterine muscles, causing contractions and eventually expulsion of the fertilized ovum. The effects are primarily visible in early stages of pregnancy. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid sesame seeds, especially in the first trimester. Other nuts and dry fruits such as dates, raisins, almonds soaked in water, groundnuts, walnuts and pistachios are all safe to consume in a amount of five to 10 pieces daily.

Spices and Herbs –

Fennel, or saunf, and fenugreek seeds, or methi dana, are both contraindicated in high doses during pregnancy. These seeds contain phytoestrogens that act like female hormone estrogen and induce uterine contractions. In traditional medicine, fennel and fenugreek seeds are given after delivery to stimulate menstruation, cleanse the uterus, treat hormonal disorders and aid in milk production. Small amounts of these seeds used for food preparation or as a spice, in quantities of 1 to 2 tsp., are considered safe but medicinal doses should be avoided during pregnancy. Also, avoid flavor enhancer such as ajinomoto, as it destroys brain cells and might prove harmful for the developing fetus brain.

Compiled using information from the following sources:

  • Mayo Clinic Guide To A Healthy Pregnancy Harms, Roger W., M.D., et al, Introduction.
  • US. Food and Drug Administration,
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
  • Eating for Two: The Complete Guide to Nutrition during Pregnancy Abbott-Hess, Mary, et al, Ch. 4, 5 and 7.
  • William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 8.
  • American Pregnancy Association
  • Mom Junction

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