A healthy pregnancy diet revolves around fruit, vegetables, complex carbs and protein. Even though all these foods have great nutritional value and generally have good raps, pregnant women must be weary of some particular types of food that may have harmful chemicals or bacteria in them. These chemicals and bacteria can cause several health risks to both you and your baby. So how can you figure out what’s safe and what’s not? That’s what we’re here for!
Bean sprouts are an excellent source of Vitamin A, an essential nutrient all pregnant women need. Vitamin A helps maintain a healthy immune system and promotes healthy eyes and vision. Keep in mind that too much Vitamin A during pregnancy isn’t a good thing – and can lead to illness and birth defects.
Raw bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts are known for being E. coli and Salmonella carriers, two types of harmful bacteria that can cause a lot of harm to both mother and baby. Please see our previous blog post to learn more about E. coli, Salmonella and other foodborne illnesses and the health risks and pregnancy complications associated with them.
Bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts can be exposed to harmful bacteria that contaminate the plant even before it starts to sprout. You can cook them in an effort to eliminate any bacteria that may be present, but it is recommended that they be avoided all together. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all fruits and vegetables (whether they have been homegrown, bought at the supermarket, grown organically or conventionally) be washed thoroughly before eaten. But we will go a bit more in depth into safe food handling and preparation in our next post.
Raw or Undercooked Meat
Raw or undercooked meat can harbor many different types of bacteria including E. coli, Trichinella and Salmonella. In some cases, it may also cause toxoplasmosis. Being exposed to such bacteria puts you at a greater risk of food poisoning on a regular day, but because pregnant women tend to have weaker immune systems, the risk and associated symptoms increase considerably.
Make sure all the meat you cook at home or order at a restaurant is well cooked. This rule should apply to all types of meat including steak, pork, poultry, etc.
Hot Dogs & Deli Meat
These types of ‘meat products’ are preserved with nitrites and nitrates. These chemicals are unsafe for pregnant mothers and developing fetuses. Not only are they pumped full of preservatives (and unhealthy fats) they are also prone to carrying Listeria, a harmful bacterium. Upon entering the bloodstream, it can cause serious harm to your health and that of your baby. There are ways to get around this if you are a big deli meat fan. Either source out some nitrate-free deli meats or heat them up to help eliminate the unwanted bacteria. Keep in mind that even with heating normal deli meat you are still ingesting the preservatives and may or may not succeed in eliminating all the bacteria that may be present.
Hot dogs are low in nutritional value and are also pumped full of preservatives. Some experts say that hot dogs, when eaten in moderation, pose no serious health risks. The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research beg to differ, as a recent study concluded that consuming hot dogs can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
Unless you choose to use the pasteurized variety, consuming raw eggs increases your risk of being exposed to Salmonella. Steer clear of any foods that use raw eggs as an ingredient. This includes mayonnaise and other sauces like hollandaise sauce, eggnog, raw batter or cookie dough and certain ice creams.
Since eggs are an excellent source of healthy protein, don’t eliminate them from your pregnancy diet. Instead, make sure all the eggs you consume are cooked thoroughly before you eat them. Also make sure you keep them well refrigerated and keep an eye on their best-before dates.
Unpasteurized Dairy & Juices
Thanks to the Food and Drug Administration, you would be hard pressed to find store-bought milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. However, certain juices, soft cheeses and eggs found in your local grocery store are sometimes unpasteurized. Unless these products are clearly marked as being pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk, be sure to avoid them.
Typically soft cheeses such as brie, feta, goat cheese, camembert, blue cheese and certain types of Mexican-style cheese (like queso fresco) are avoided during pregnancy for this reason. Unpasteurized dairy can house Listeria and other harmful pathogens that can compromise fetal health. Certain types of unpasteurized juices such as apple cider and freshly squeezed orange juice should be avoided as well. Unless it is clearly marked as pasteurized juice or treated to kill bacteria with UV irradiation, don’t drink them.
Fish With High Mercury Content
Fish is an excellent source of Omega-3 as well as an amazing low-fat protein source, but it is important to be weary of their mercury content, especially in larger fish species. The older and larger the fish, the higher the mercury count. This is why fish consumption, particularly for pregnant women, should be moderated. Larger species such as shark, king mackerel, swordfish, tuna and tilefish should be avoided altogether.
High levels of mercury exposure can threaten the health of pregnant women, and even more so the health of unborn babies. In large quantities, this highly poisonous substance can damage the lungs, nervous system, kidneys, vision and hearing. There are greater risks involved with fetuses and children than for adults. While in the womb, unborn babies can suffer severe damage to their nervous systems, which can sometimes result in miscarriages and still-born deaths. Surviving babies exposed to high levels of mercury can suffer brain damage, deafness, blindness and/or learning disabilities.
Raw or Seared Seafood
Eating either raw or seared seafood while pregnant is a risky business. While it may be extremely delicious, the risk of ingesting parasites and bacteria is pretty high. Raw, smoked or seared oysters, ceviches, fish tartars, carpaccios and clams should be completely avoided. If you are a serious lover of seafood, just make sure everything you consume is well cooked.
Pineapple & Papaya
Vitamin C is yet another essential nutrient during pregnancy, but there are certain types of fruit that pregnant women should avoid. Pineapples are rich in bromelain, which can soften the cervix. This can lead to diarrhea and possibly early labour. Because of this, it is recommended that pregnant women either limit or completely eliminate pineapple from their pregnancy diets, especially during the first trimester. That being said, some over-due pregnant women drink pineapple juice to induce labour. It remains unclear as to whether or not this is a healthy way to induce pregnancy.
Papaya is also known for bringing on early labour. Papayas are rich in latex, and this is particularly true for unripe or semi-ripe papaya. Latex is known for triggering uterine contractions. However, ripe papaya is very suitable for a pregnancy diet. Not only is it rich in Vitamin C, but it also works to reduce symptoms associated with heartburn and constipation.