What’s OK and not OK to eat while pregnant

January 13, 2017 | by Julie Jensen, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

When you’re pregnant, you hear a lot of buzz about what to eat and what not to eat. You may get conflicting advice that leaves you thoroughly confused. It can be a lot to take in and, frankly, a bit alarming. We’re going to break it down for you.

First and foremost, you want to eat a well-balanced diet with all the essential nutrients and vitamins your developing baby needs. Talk with your doctor about the right nutrition plan for you. Most foods are safe, but there are some that are not OK to eat during pregnancy.

The American Pregnancy Association lists the foods to avoid when you’re pregnant:

Raw meat. This includes raw, rare or undercooked beef or poultry and fish. These foods pose a risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis and salmonella.

Deli meats. Otherwise known as sandwich meat, lunch meat, cold cuts or sliced meats, the risk with deli meats (although low) is exposure to listeria, which could lead to serious complications for your developing baby. If you decide to eat deli meats, reheat the meat until it is steaming.

Raw eggs. Avoid any foods that contain raw eggs, such as some homemade Caesar dressings, mayonnaise, homemade ice cream or custards, and Hollandaise sauces, which could expose you to salmonella. Look for pasteurized eggs instead.

Unpasteurized milk, juice and cheese. Stay away from unpasteurized milk or juice, and soft cheeses like brie, Camembert, Roquefort, feta, Gorgonzola, and Mexican style cheeses, which may contain listeria. Choose pasteurized options instead. Yogurt is a healthy choice too.

Unwashed fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are a necessary part of a balanced diet, but just make sure you wash and peel all your fruits veggies to avoid potential exposure to toxoplasmosis. Avoid raw sprouts altogether.

Refrigerated pate or meat spreads. These may contain the bacteria listeria. Choose canned pate or shelf-safe meat spreads instead.

Certain types of fish. Above all, make sure your fish is cooked, so stay away from raw sushi or sashimi. Shrimp are safe to eat, but make sure to cook the shrimp thoroughly. Cooked salmon is a healthy choice for its essential omega-3 fatty acids, just eat in moderation (twice a week). Avoid these types of fish:

  • Fish with high levels of mercury. Mercury consumed during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Eat canned, chunk light tuna in moderation.
  • Smoked seafood. This includes lox, nova style, kippered or jerky, which could be contaminated with listeria. Canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is usually OK to eat.
  • Fish caught in local lakes and streams. This type of fish could be exposed to industrial pollutants, and include bluefish, striped bass, salmon, pike, trout, and walleye. 
  • Raw shellfish. Undercooked shellfish, including oysters, clams, and mussels, can cause seafood-borne illness and should be avoided altogether during pregnancy.

There are two more rules of thumb during pregnancy. Refrain from caffeine, especially during the first trimester, then limit to one 12-ounce cup of coffee a day. Some research suggests that large amounts of caffeine are associated with miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight. Also, there is no amount of alcohol that is known to be safe during pregnancy. Prenatal exposure to alcohol can interfere with the healthy development of the baby. 

Here are some healthy options that are OK to eat when you’re pregnant:

  • Legumes (lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, peanuts)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Whole eggs, cooked
  • Broccoli and dark, green vegetables (kale and spinach)
  • Berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries)
  • Lean cooked meat (beef, pork and chicken)
  • Whole grains, oats, quinoa, brown rice
  • Avocadoes
  • Yogurt, pasteurized milk and cheese
  • Plenty of water

In sum, you should avoid eating any food that is raw, undercooked, unpasteurized or unwashed during pregnancy. While the risk of having an issue from something you eat is relatively low, why take the risk?

Better to be safe than sorry and wait until after your pregnancy to partake in some of these risky foods. Believe me, it will be the first of many sacrifices you make for you child!

Explore pregnancy and baby services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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