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What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

Selection of foods on a white background including banana, mango and orange
Confused about what to eat when pregnant? Here’s your need-to-know guide on pregnancy foods to avoid.
Confused about what to eat when pregnant? Here’s your need-to-know guide on pregnancy foods to avoid. You probably know there are some foods and drinks that are off the menu when you’re pregnant – how annoying when all you want to do is eat! There’s good reason though, 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. 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. There’s a lot of myth surrounding the subject though, so let us take you through what you can and can’t eat during your pregnancy.

Eggs

Eat up!: Hen’s eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice
Don't eat: Unstamped hen’s eggs Duck, goose, quail or other ‘alternative’ eggs

Cheese

Eat up!: Pasteurised cheese All hard cheeses
Don't eat: Uncooked blue-veined soft cheeses, e.g. gorgonzola Uncooked mould-ripened soft cheeses, e.g. brie

Milk, yoghurts and ice cream

Eat up!: Pasteurised milk and yoghurt Processed ice creams (make sure ‘artisan’ or ‘homemade’ varieties are made without egg / use a pasteurised egg substitute)
Don't eat: Unpasteurised milk, yoghurts and ice cream

Meat

Eat up!: Piping hot and thoroughly cooked meat (no pinkness or blood) Pre-cooked, packaged meats
Don't eat: Uncooked chorizo, pepperoni, prosciutto, salami and other cured meats – freeze for 4 days and defrost to make safe

Pâté

Don't eat: All pâté can be dangerous, even ones made from vegetables and fish

Fish

Eat up!: White fish Smoked fish Shellfish Tuna in small doses, max 4 140g cans a week or two fresh 140g steaks Max 2 portions of sea bass, sea bream, halibut, turbot, crab and similar
Don't eat: High-mercury fish, e.g. swordfish

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.

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. 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.

Alternative choice: still a bit wary of eating eggs while you’re pregnant? There are lots of alternatives, from using chia seeds, flax meal, or vegan egg replacements in your baking, to scrambling up some tofu with eggy-tasting Himalayan black salt or tasty turmeric to top your toast.

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!

Alternative choice: if you do have a nut allergy, we understand it can be difficult to find your favourite foods – our nut-free selection should help you out with some tasty treats and classic staples that are safe for you and your baby.

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. 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.

Alternative choice: whip yourself up some vegan cashew cheese if you would rather avoid dairy cheese altogether. Cashews are packed with copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, carbohydrates and vitamins, which are great for you and your baby!

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.

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. 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.

Alternative choice: Lots of women have craving for meat during pregnancy – even the staunchest of vegans have been seen to drool at a steak! Research suggests that this craving is due to extra requirements of protein and iron – which red meat fulfils perfectly, but its not your only choice. If you don’t want to eat meat, why not try an alternative? Our Vegan Philly Cheesesteak recipe is full of plant-based protein and iron (it’s tofu based).

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. Meat pâté is often made from liver, which should also be avoided. Liver is high in vitamin A, which can harm your baby.

Which fish is fine to eat?

  • Cooked fish and seafood
  • Smoked fish like trout and salmon
  • Raw or lightly cooked fish in sushi – if the fish has been frozen first
  • Cold pre-cooked prawns
  • Cooked shellfish, like lobster, crab, mussels, prawns, clams and scallops
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. 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. 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.

Alternative choice: do you love tuna but don’t want to risk it during pregnancy or want to go totally fish-free? Try vegan Loma Tuno or making your own chickpea tuna by mixing a can of chickpeas with onion, celery, capers and vegan mayo. There’s also a two-portion a week maximum on the following seafood: sea bass, sea bream, halibut, turbot and crab. All other white fish, smoked fish and shellfish, once cooked, are safe.

Can you eat scampi when pregnant? Yes, as long as it is thoroughly cooked you can tuck into your scampi and chips!

Other foods and drinks to avoid during pregnancy

Caffeine

You can still consume drinks containing coffee while you’re pregnant, but make sure it is no more than 200mg per day. To help you stay under the limit, here’s the average caffeine content of your favourite drinks:
  • Mug of instant coffee – 100mg
  • Mug of filter coffee – 140mg
  • Mug of green / black tea – 75mg
  • Can of cola – 40mg
  • 250ml can of energy drink – 80mg
  • 50g bar of plain dark chocolate – less than 25mg
  • 50g bar of plain milk chocolate – less than 10 mg

Alcohol

If you drink alcohol while you are pregnant you could be causing long-term harm to your baby. Going tee-total while you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant is the safest approach.

Herbal teas

It’s recommended that you drink no more than 4 cups of herbal tea a day.

Liquorice

Normal liquorice is safe to eat but you should avoid liquorice root.

Vitamins

Avoid high-dose multivitamin supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A – too much vitamin A can harm your baby.

Good food hygiene for pregnancy

Minimise your risk of food poisoning with these simple steps:
  • 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

Source

1. https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm083316.htm
2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/088240108790009X
3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22743306
5. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/pregnant.html
6. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Listeria-and-Pregnancy
7. https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/should-pregnant-and-breastfeeding-women-avoid-some-types-of-fish.aspx?CategoryID=54
8. https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/can-I-eat-shellfish-during-pregnancy.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216
9. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/nutritionforpregnancy/food-safety.html
10. https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm083316.htm
11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/088240108790009X
12. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/
13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22743306
14. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/pregnant.html
15. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Listeria-and-Pregnancy
16. https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/should-pregnant-and-breastfeeding-women-avoid-some-types-of-fish.aspx?CategoryID=54
17. https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/can-I-eat-shellfish-during-pregnancy.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216
18. https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/nutritionforpregnancy/food-safety.html
 

Disclaimer

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
 

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