Avoiding some foods ensures that you and your baby are safe and healthy. Below, we give a list of such must-not-have foods.
1. Fish containing mercury:
Fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish have high mercury levels and must be shunned. Mercury, an element found in oceans, streams, and lakes, converts into methylmercury in the human body. It is a neurotoxin and is linked to brain damage and developmental delays in babies. You could choose fish such as salmon, catfish, cod, and canned light tuna, which have low mercury levels. According to the US FDA, you can eat up to eight to 12 ounces of fish per week, which is two to three servings. Consumption of white tuna (albacore) should be limited to six ounces per week (1).
Solution: Choose fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury as the high protein, low saturated fats and many essential nutrients contribute to the child’s heart and brain development, and aid in proper growth. You should, however, check with a doctor or a qualified dietitian to know about the fish you can eat.
2. Smoked seafood:
Do not take smoked and refrigerated seafood, which are labeled as lox, jerky, nova style and kippered as they contain Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. This bacteria causes listeriosis (associated with symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting) that could lead to illness in newborn and even miscarriage or stillbirth. Moreover, processed seafood contains high levels of salt which can lead to increased blood pressure and swelling of the body parts (2).
Solution: You may have canned smoked seafood occasionally or when fresh fish is unavailable. However, avoid such food as much as you can.
3. Fish exposed to industrial pollutants:
Fish from local streams, lakes, and rivers contain harmful levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). On exposure to these contaminants, the babies may have low birth weight, smaller head size, learning disabilities, and memory problems. Avoid eating locally caught striped bass, pike, bluefish, salmon, trout, and walleye.
Solution: You can choose fresh water fishes.
Also, follow a few tips when picking fish from a local stream, lake, or river. Firstly, check the advisories related to that water body. You can get the information from the fishing regulations websites or at a local health department. This information would be regarding fish caught from local waters and not the ones available at local groceries. Avoid raw fish as it is more likely to contract food borne diseases (3).
4. Raw shellfish:
Avoid eating raw shellfish such as oysters, clams, and mussels to stay away from seafood-borne illnesses and food poisoning. They contain harmful bacteria, viruses, and toxins that will make you ill.
Solution: Instead you can eat cooked shellfish ensuring that you cook them with their shells open (2).
5. Raw or undercooked eggs:
You should not eat raw, undercooked, or soft-boiled eggs as they contain harmful salmonella bacteria which cause food poisoning. You may experience diarrhea, severe vomiting, headache, abdominal pain, and high temperature. All these symptoms are unlikely to harm your baby, but your immune system will become weaker, which may impact the baby’s development.
The foods that contain raw egg and must be avoided are: homemade Caesar dressings, custards, ice creams, mayonnaise and Hollandaise sauces, Béarnaise sauce, Aioli sauce, desserts including mousse, tiramisu, and meringue.
6. Raw meat and poultry:
Having undercooked/raw meat and poultry, such as pink or raw meat that is bloody, as it contains Toxoplasma parasite and harmful bacteria Salmonella. Salmonella increases the risk of food poisoning. Toxoplasma causes toxoplasmosis that has flu-like symptoms developing a few weeks after consumption of the food. It can lead to miscarriage or fetal death during delivery.
Solution: You must have well-cooked and hot meat and poultry. Eat home-cooked varieties where the temperature should be around 160°F for ground meats, 145°F for whole cuts, and 165°F for chicken breasts (5).
7. Deli meats:
You should avoid deli meats, also called ready-to-eat meats, such as sandwich meat, cold cuts, lunch meat, hotdogs, and sliced meats. They are known to contain listeria bacteria, which can readily move from the mother to placenta causing serious complications including fetal death.
Solution: Pasteurization and cooking at a high temperature kill listeria. Thus, you should eat deli meats only after reheating until they are steaming hot (6).
8. Unpasteurized milk:
It is unsafe to drink unpasteurized or raw milk during pregnancy. It has no nutritional advantage, and raw milk and its products account for a higher proportion of food borne diseases. They contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, E.coli, and cryptosporidium that can be dangerous to you and your baby (7).
9. Soft cheeses:
Do not eat soft cheeses such as Camembert, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, brie, feta, blue cheese, queso fresco, queso blanco, and panela unless they are pasteurized. Unpasteurized soft cheeses contain listeria (8).
Solution: Eat hard cheeses (Cheddar or Swiss cheeses) as they do not contain water unlike soft cheeses. Therefore, these cheeses are less likely to harbor any bacteria. All non-imported soft cheeses that are pasteurized are safe to consume (9).
10. Unwashed fruits and vegetables:
Unwashed fruits and veggies carry Toxoplasma parasite that harms the developing baby. Toxoplasmosis contaminates the soil where fruits and vegetables are grown and you may ingest the harmful microbes if you eat them unwashed.
Solution: Rinse the fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water. Peel away or scrub the surfaces and cut off the bruised areas as they are prone to bacteria. Cook the vegetables, especially the leafy ones