In today’s blog, I am going to take a look at the food and drinks that mums should limit or avoid during pregnancy, and the reasons why.
Most women are usually aware of certain foods that they need to limit or avoid. However, confusion over what specific types of foods are unsafe can happen because official guidelines are regularly changing, as new evidence is discovered. Let’s take a look at the following food groups; cheese, fish, meat, eggs, drinks (caffeine & alcohol).
🧀 CHEESE 🧀
Hard cheeses are safe to eat during pregnancy, even blue-veined or unpasteurised ones. Hard cheeses don’t contain as much water as soft cheeses and this means that bacteria are unable to grow in them. Examples include cheddar, parmesan and stilton.
There are many other ranges of cheeses that pregnant Mums can consume as long as they are made from pasteurised milk. For example, mozzarella, feta, ricotta, goat’s cheese and processed cheese.
Pregnant mums should avoid the following cheeses:
- Soft cheeses with a white mouldy rind such as Brie, Camembert and any goat’s cheese with a white rind
- Soft blue-veined cheeses such as Gorgonzola or Danish blue
Why? These types of cheese can harbour listeria, which is a type of bacteria that is extremely dangerous to an unborn baby.
🐟 FISH 🐟
As we know fish is a very good source of protein and omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are important for the health of both Mum and baby. However, consuming fish does have some risks assosiated with it. Why? Fish can be a source of environmental pollutants, which are extremely harmful to the developing foetus. So the consumption of some fish needs to be limited whilst others need to be completely avoided.
The intake of oily fish such as salmon, sardines, fresh tuna, trout and mackerel should be limited to two portions per week. Why? This type of oily fish can contain high levels of an environmental pollutant called polychlorinated biphenyls or P-C-Bs. These are highly toxic industrial chemicals which are slow to break down. These toxins accumulate in rivers, lakes and coastal areas.
Fish usually only contains small amounts of P-C-Bs. However, chronic exposure, through regular fish consumption, can lead to developmental and neurological problems in a developing foetus.
Shark, Swordfish and Marlin
All three of the above are large predator fish. They all contain unsafe levels of mercury (as they accumulate the most) and so should be completely avoided during pregnancy. This is due to the fact that they eat other fish that are contaminated with mercury.
Tuna can have low levels of mercury so it is recommended that consumption should be limited to two portions of fresh tuna or four medium-sized cans per week.
Shellfish is safe to eat if cooked properly. However, not so if raw, as it contains bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning.
If fish that has been frozen has been used to make Sushi, then it is safe to eat. However, if raw fish has been used it may contain parasitic worms so needs to be avoided. However, if unsure as to the origins and handling of the fish used, then err on the side of caution and avoid completely whilst pregnant.
Some Mums choose to leave out fish altogether and instead choose to take a fish oil supplement. However, this can carry risks and so if this method is preferred Mum must remember to check the label carefully to make sure they are not exceeding the recommended intake of Vit A.
At the end of the day most Doctors will discourage the avoidance of fish because most experts agree that the benefits far outweigh the benefits of eating this protein, if eaten within the guidelines.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, mums should avoid eating liver during pregnancy as it contains very high levels of Vit A, which we know can be harmful to the unborn, developing foetus.
Cook Meat Properly
Apart from liver, meat is safe to eat but it must be prepared and cooked properly, thus avoiding food poisoning and toxoplasmosis. This is an infection caused by a parasite that can be found in meat, soil and cat faeces. (This is why as parents we are always cautious of small children being around cats or playing outside when they are young, because little ones always tend to put their hands in their mouths).
So in order to reduce the risk of infection there are (yes you’ve guessed it) a few guidelines that should be followed:
- Wash hands and all surfaces, utensils carefully after handling raw meat
- Avoid raw meat
- Cook meat right through with absolutely no trace of pink. Again this is particularly important for poultry, pork, burgers and sausages.
Avoid Washing Chicken in the Sink
Also avoid washing your chicken at the kitchen sink! In fact this is such a bad idea with very high consequences that the NHS issued a public warning against this “sanitary” practice, stating that ‘it can increase your risk of food poisoning from camplyobacter bacteria. Washing chicken involves running tap water over the infested piece of meat. The water then becomes contaminated the moment it hits the surface of the poultry. That water then proceeds to splash in every direction both inside and around your kitchen sink. Did you know that “water droplets can travel more than 50 cms in every direction” a distance that equates to over one and a half feet!’ (NHS).
So next time you cook poultry, skip washing it first. The oven will kill any bacteria anyway, once the chicken is properly cooked! Why do I mention this here? When we use to live in Asia, the lovely lady who use to live with us always washed our poultry. This was fine until one day my youngest (3 at the time) got severe food poisoning. We were all racking our brains as to how he may of contracted this! It wasn’t until the Doctor asked if our poultry was washed, that I realised there was a very strong possibility it may have been this way. Result… no more washing poultry, even now when I have returned back to the UK.
🍳 EGGS 🍳
Eggs can contain the bacteria salmonella, which again can lead to food poisoning. So for this reason pregnant women have to take certain steps when preparing eggs.
You should avoid runny eyes during pregnancy and instead cook them until both the yolk and white are firm. Sorry if you like sunny-side up!
Pregnant Mums need to remember that raw egg can often be hidden in certain foods. For example, traditional recipes for mousses, ice-cream, mayonnaise and dressings often require a raw egg. If in doubt check with the waiter/waitress or chef.
Products that are often purchased at Mum’s local supermarket, such as mayonnaise, will usually contain egg that has been pasteurised. Again check the label if you are uncertain.
Now we will take a look at the last two…
☕ CAFFEINE and ALCOHOL 🍷
A pregnant Mum doesn’t need to avoid caffeine completely. Guidelines recommend her intake should be no more than 200 milligrams per day. Caffeine is to be found in a number of food and drinks e.g. coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and energy drinks. The level found in each one can vary but to give you an idea; a mug of filter coffee contains around 140 milligrams, a mug of instant coffee around 200 milligrams, a mug of tea around 75 milligrams, a can of cola around 40 milligrams and finally a bar of chocolate around 25 milligrams.
To help cut down Mum can replace caffeinated drinks with water, fruit juice (look out for the sugar content if carton) or decaffeinated versions.
If a pregnant Mum has too much caffeine she will increase the risk of having a baby with a low birth weight and babies with a low birth weight often have an increased risk of health problems later in life. Also high caffeine consumption during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.
So the official guideline by the UK Chief Medical Officer is:
“If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.”
The risks involved when a pregnant Mum drinks is that the alcohol will pass across the placenta to the foetus, thus impairing development of the unborn baby. Excessive, heavy drinking within the first three months can damage the developing organs and nervous system of the foetus. If this heavy drinking continues then baby can be born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Children born with this condition will have a range of symptoms ranging from low birth weight, facial abnormalities, learning difficulties and behavioural problems.
There is no known safe level of alcohol consumption so the best option is to avoid it, particularly if a woman is thinking or starting to conceive. This will allow her to adapt her lifestyle for the next 9 months and to ensure that her baby will not be exposed to alcohol during the early stages of pregnancy, when she may be unaware that she is.
However, women should be aware that if they do find out they are pregnant after conception or during early pregnancy, having drunk during this stage, that it is unlikely (in most cases) that their baby has been affected. This happened to me and my little one came out just fine, but once I knew I avoided alcohol because I knew of the risks.
So there you have it!
As I mentioned during one of my earliest blogs I like to be informed about all the recommended guidelines, but I know as busy women we don’t always have the time to find out. Having this information at your fingertips is the key to making informed choices whilst we are pregnant. Now with the internet there are so many varied and excellent sources to find your information, so that you can make those all important decisions. This is not just related to the types of food and drinks recommended for consumption during pregnancy, but also before and after birth.
However, because this is the job I am passionate about, I know one of my roles is to help you Mums-to-be or Mums already keep-up-date here on my blog page so you can get on with the business of your daily lives.
My next blog will be about Losing Weight after giving Birth… a topic that is always hot on any Mums’ mind once the excitement of the arrival of the newborn and the everyday routine gets underway; “how do I lose this baby weight?”
Happy Body, Happy You, Happy Baby!