During your pregnancy, it is extremely important to avoid certain foods that you may have enjoyed pre-pregnancy. This is because many foods either contain harmful bacteria or environmental pollutants that negatively affect your baby. Listeria, salmonella, E. Coli and methyl mercury poisoning are among these harmful elements. Be sure to post a copy of our complete guide of foods to avoid during pregnancy on your refrigerator! Lastly, poor food safety preparation can also mean exposure to harmful substances.
Unpasteurized Products : Listeria
Unpasteurized products are made from raw milk; if the milk process was not performed properly and the milk is ‘dirty’, then it may be infected with listeria. It is therefore advised that pregnant women not consume the following unpasteurized products:
- raw milk
- soft cheeses : feta goat cheese, brie, camembert
- Mexican-style cheeses : queso blanco and queso fresco
- unpasteurized juice
Listeria is a serious threat: it has been responsible for 2,500 illnesses and up to 500 deaths a year. Some studies estimate that 30% of those deaths involve pregnant women and their fetuses. Listeriosis can cause miscarriage or premature birth.
While ‘dirty’ milk may be contaminated with listeria, there are many advocates of the health benefits of Grade A Certified raw milk. Talk to your doctor to find out more about the benefits of unpasteurized milk.
Raw Eggs : Salmonella
Any dish containing raw eggs is infected with Salmonella. Avoid:
- raw eggs
- Caesar dressing
- egg nog (unpasteurized)
- Hollandaise sauce
- cookie batter
- homemade ice cream
Undercooked Meats : Salmonella, E. Coli, Toxoplasmosis
Pregnant women should avoid all undercooked meats. Remember to take precautions when preparing meats: make sure your steak has an internal temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit and heat hamburger and pork to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid:
- deli meats
- hot dogs
- raw seafood, especially shellfish
- undercooked chicken or meat
Hot dogs can be especially harmful, and have even been found to increase the risk of leukemia in children if eaten more than once a month.
Aspartame is a sweetener made by Monsanto found in many diet foods and available in packets to sweeten your foods. Be advised that aspartame has been linked to cancer as well as neuro- and immunotoxicity due to long term ingestion. Because of aspartame’s bad press, Monsanto has come up with a new sweetener, Neotame. Neotame has not been sufficiently tested and is thought to be more toxic than its predecessor, aspartame; it contains carcinogenic ingredients, such as formeldahyde. Because aspartame contains phenylalanine, it can be toxic for certain children. Make sure the foods you eat do not contain artificial sweeteners. When sweetening foods, opt for natural sweeteners like honey or fruit juice.
Certain Fish : Methyl Mercury
Fish is an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, integral in the development of your baby’s brain and vision. Yet, because of coal plant pollution, most of the world’s fish population is contaminated with methyl mercury. Methyl mercury is a neurotoxin and causes neurological damage, developmental delays and learning deficits. Although the FDA has issued warnings on certain fish species, the US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) states that independent studies have shown a need for more rigorous limitation of certain fish species. The graph below is based on their findings.
|safe to consume during pregnancy
|limit to approximately one serving per week
|do not consume while pregnant!
Trying to get enough uncontaminated fish in your diet is understandable difficult; using a mercury calculator will help you figure how much mercury you’re ingesting with your fish. You can also get other sources of the nutrients found in fish. You may want to make up for Omega-3s by eating crushed flaxseed with your breakfast or snacking on walnuts. While flaxseed and walnuts have about a fifth of the Omega-3s, it may be the safer option until pressure is put on industries that contaminate our waters. Pregnancy diets deficient in Omega-3s will result in children with behavioral problems and abnormal vision.
Farm-Raised Fish : PCBs
As if you didn’t already have enough on your plate. Fish farming raises a number of health and environmental concerns. Farm-raised fish have significantly higher levels of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, for a number of reasons. Because PCBs embed themselves in fat, ‘fatter’ farm-raised fish are rich in this cancer-causing toxin. And while you may think the nutrients of fish even out the dangerous effects of PCBs, farm-raised fish are considerably less nutritious than their wild counterparts. This is because farm-raised fish don’t have the opportunity to fulfill their natural and healthy diets. Therefore, stay away from farm-raised fish at the supermarket; farm-salmon is typically labeled “Atlantic” or “Icelandic”, while wild salmon is named “Alaskan” or simply “Wild”. Be sure to ask your fishmonger what waters your fish comes from.
If you or your family has a history of food allergies, it is advised that you stay away from peanuts and products that may contain traces of peanuts. Your fetus can be exposed to food allergens and may develop peanut allergy if he has a predisposition.
Vitamin E and Pregnancy
A new research study points out some possibly harmful effects of Vitamin E, stating that high intake of Vitamin E (over 1,500 IU) promotes oxidative damage, which damages cells and speeds their aging process. This could lead to heart disase and cancer. Critics of the recent study say the study is “making something out of nothing for the sake of headlines”. Researchers behind the study say that you usually get enough Vitamin E in your diet and taking Vitamin E capsules may be more than you need.
Food Preparation Tips
Even food preparation needs to be handled carefully as improper handling of food can lead to infection or disease. Here are some tips to help you in the kitchen:
- avoid dented cans or jars that leak or don’t ‘pop’ when you open them
- completely defrost foods, especially meats, prior to cooking; thaw foods in the refrigerator or in a plastic bag submerged in cold water; never thaw foods at room temperature.
- do not freeze anything that has been defrosted
- reheat food only once, then toss it
- when food shopping, avoid fish, meat and eggs that are not well refrigerated or kept on ice
- always wash your hands after preparing food, between foods and after the restoom
- avoid contaminating foods with each other
- wash raw vegetables thoroughly, as unwashed vegetables can harbor toxoplasmosis
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD