Eating well-balanced meals is a good idea at all times but, during pregnancy, it is very important. There are essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that your developing baby needs. While the popular phrase ‘eating for two’ connotes an image completely devoid of self-control and self-restraint, there are some foods which you should steer clear from when pregnant. In short, when pregnant, most of what you eat is directly delivered to the baby a couple hours later, including foods with raw bacteria, too much caffeine, or alcohol, all of which can harm your baby. Here I describe 5 foods you should avoid during pregnancy:
- Raw or undercooked eggs
Raw eggs can hide in salad dressing, cookie dough and a variety of other foods. Raw eggs could contain any number of bacteria, parasites, or viruses, which could cause foodborne illnesses that would affect your health and the health of your baby. Some bacteria that cause illness in humans can even cause miscarriage, so it’s best to avoid them entirely during pregnancy.
- Unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juice
Although carrying around a cup of fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juice is trendy, pregnant women probably shouldn’t join the crowd. Women think these drinks are great during pregnancy because they’re healthy, organic and full of vitamins, but what some of them don’t realize is that certain juices, such as orange juice, are unpasteurized. Also, the rapid chopping and juicing process allows for cross-contamination, and as a result, these juices have a higher risk of containing bacteria like E. coli, which can make the mother and developing baby very sick.
Deli meats have been known to be contaminated with serious bacteria called listeria, which can cause miscarriage. Listeria has the ability to cross the placenta and may infect the baby, which could lead to infection or blood poisoning and may be life-threatening. If you are pregnant and considering eating deli meats, make certain that you reheat the meat until it is steaming. Restaurants, such as Subway, recommend that pregnant women eat the following non-luncheon meat items: meatball, steak and cheese, roasted chicken, and tuna (limit 2 servings a week). Do not eat refrigerated pates or meat spreads.
Most pregnant women know not to eat sushi, but smoked fish is a little less obvious since it’s technically cooked through a curing process. Cold-smoked or cured fish like salmon lox isn’t heated high enough to kill certain parasites and bacteria, which can cross into the placenta and harm the pregnancy. Fish should always be cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit before eating if you’re pregnant. Similar to lox, ceviche is technically cooked using a cold curing process where the fish is soaked in acidic lime juice; as a result, no bacteria is being killed. Fish that contain high levels of mercury should be avoided as well. Mercury consumed during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage. A sample of these types of fish includes shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Canned, chunk light tuna generally has a lower amount of mercury than other tuna, but still should only be eaten in moderation.
- Raw alfalfa and bean sprouts
Vegetables are an important part of any healthy diet, but raw alfalfa or bean sprouts are an exception if you’re pregnant. Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts carry a risk of foodborne illness. Unlike other fresh produce, seeds and beans need warm and humid conditions to sprout and grow. These conditions are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. Sprouts are okay to eat if you aren’t pregnant, but the risk of contamination is too high to safely consume them while carrying a developing baby. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind- including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts.
Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness, as cooking kills the harmful bacteria. Make sure to request that raw sprouts not be added to your food. If you purchase a sandwich or salad at a restaurant or delicatessen, check to make sure that raw sprouts have not been added as well.
Overall, although you are eating for two, make sure that you are doing it in the safest way possible for both you and the baby! The developmental stages in the beginning of each trimester are imperative to the baby’s growth and development- with the right nutrients.