Confused about what to eat when pregnant? Here’s your need-to-know update
You probably know there are some foods and drinks that are off the menu when you’re pregnant.
That’s because your immune system is suppressed during pregnancy to make it easier for your body to accept your baby. But, in turn, this makes it harder for your body to fight off invading bacteria.1,2
However, by knowing what foods to avoid during pregnancy – and which ones are OK on a pregnancy diet – both you and your baby can stay safe while you’re expecting.
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Eating eggs in pregnancy
Runny eggs are back on the menu! In the past, pregnant women have been advised to avoid raw or partially cooked eggs for fear of salmonella food poisoning, but this advice has now changed.
Hen’s eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice have a Red Lion logo on the box and stamped on the shell of each egg.3 These eggs have been shown to be very low risk for salmonella, so it’s fine for you to have them raw or runny, such as soft-boiled eggs, soufflés, fresh mayonnaise, mousses and truffles.4
But you must stick to these eggs. For unstamped chicken eggs, or duck, goose or quail eggs, you need to cook them through until the whites and yolks are solid. This will destroy any salmonella bacteria present.5
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Peanuts and pregnancy
Previous advice was that women should avoid peanuts in pregnancy if they had a family history of allergy, such as asthma, eczema, food allergy or hay fever, for risk of triggering it in their baby.
But a 2012 study, published in Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed there’s no clear evidence that eating nuts or peanuts in pregnancy will cause allergy in your baby.6 Of course, if you’re allergic yourself, you’ll still need to steer clear!
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Are soft cheeses safe?
It’s best to avoid blue-veined soft cheeses, like gorgonzola, and mould-ripened soft cheeses, like brie – unless cooked.
In general, soft cheeses contain more moisture and are less acidic than hard cheeses, providing the ideal conditions for the bacteria listeria to thrive. Although rare, even mild listeria infection in pregnancy could cause miscarriage, stillbirth or illness.7
There are lots of cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy. Cream cheese, cheese spread, feta, mozzarella and ricotta are fine, as long as they’re pasteurised. And all hard cheeses are safe too, like cheddar, parmesan and stilton, even if they contain mould or are unpasteurised.8
Milk, yoghurts and ice cream
Stick to pasteurised milk and yoghurts when pregnant. Processed ice creams are safe, but check homemade or artisan varieties are made without egg or using a pasteurised egg substitute.9
Be careful with cooked and cold meats
Make sure all meat and poultry is piping hot and thoroughly cooked through, with no trace of blood or pink before you tuck in. Be especially careful with poultry, pork, sausages, burgers and mince.
This is because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis, a symptomless infection caused by a parasite that’s found in raw meat, and which you can pass to your baby. To be on the safe side, freeze meat for a few days before defrosting carefully and cooking it.10,11
Pre-cooked, packaged meats, like ham and corned beef, are safe. But certain other cold meats, such as chorizo, pepperoni, prosciutto and salami, haven’t been cooked but cured; a process which doesn’t kill the parasites.
For these meats, freeze them for four days first, then defrost and enjoy. There’s no need to freeze if you’re going to be cooking them.12
Pass on the pâté
In pregnancy, aim to avoid all pâté, whether it’s made from meat, fish or vegetables, as it may contain high levels of listeria.13
Meat pâté is often made from liver, which should also be avoided. Liver is high in vitamin A, which can harm your baby.14
Which fish is fine to eat?
Steer clear of fish containing higher levels of mercury, including swordfish, shark and marlin, as this can affect the development of your baby’s nervous system.15
Limit the amount of tuna you eat too, as this contains quite high levels of mercury. Stick to two fresh steaks (140g each, cooked) or four cans (140g, drained) per week.16
Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna, are good for your baby’s developing brain, but don’t eat more than two portions a week as they may contain pollutants.17
There’s also a two-portion a week maximum on another group of fish and shellfish, including sea bass, sea bream, halibut, turbot and crab.18 All other white fish, smoked fish and shellfish, once cooked, are safe.19
Good food hygiene for pregnancy
Minimise your risk of food poisoning with these simple steps:20
- wash fruit, vegetables and salad thoroughly to remove all traces of soil and chemicals
- wash and dry hands, surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat
- use separate chopping boards for vegetables, meat and fish
- don’t wash raw chicken
- cover raw meat or store in a sealed container and keep it on the bottom shelf of the fridge
- always reheat food and ready meals thoroughly
- don’t reheat food more than once
- don’t refreeze raw foods
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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1. US Food & Drug Administration. While You’re Pregnant – What is Food-Borne Illness? Available from: https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm083316.htm
2. Weinberg, ED. Pregnancy-associated immune suppression: risks and mechanisms. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/088240108790009X
3. NHS Choices. Foods to avoid in pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/
4. As Source 3
5. As Source 3
6. Maslova E, et al. Peanut and tree nut consumption during pregnancy and allergic disease in children – should mothers decrease their intake? Longitudinal evidence from the Danish National Birth Cohort. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22743306
7. As Source 3
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10. As Source 3
11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites – Toxoplasmosis. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/pregnant.html
12. As Source 3
13. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Listeria and pregnancy. Available from: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Listeria-and-Pregnancy
14. As Source 3
15. NHS Choices. Should pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid some types of fish? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/should-pregnant-and-breastfeeding-women-avoid-some-types-of-fish.aspx?CategoryID=54
16. As Source 15
17. As Source 15
18. As Source 15
19. NHS Choices. Can I eat shellfish during pregnancy? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/can-I-eat-shellfish-during-pregnancy.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216
20. British Nutrition Foundation. Food Safety in Pregnancy. Available from: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/nutritionforpregnancy/food-safety.html