While it is vitally important to adhere to a nutritious, balanced diet during your pregnancy, there are some foods that can pose a significant danger to your unborn baby. Foods such as lean meats, fresh vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products are ideal, but there are some things you should try to either limit or avoid altogether.
Undercooked Meat and Eggs
You may like your steaks cooked rare, but undercooked meat can contain a myriad of harmful viruses, parasites and bacteria. Cooking foods to a core temperature of 75C is the only way you can be sure that your beef and lamb won’t contain potentially harmful bugs, so buy a digital thermometer and probe your food before eating it.
It isn’t just meat you should be wary of, however. If you have a penchant for licking the bowl when you’re making cakes or cookies, you will need to control your cravings whilst pregnant. This is because these mixes usually contain raw eggs – a significant proportion of which contain the salmonella bacteria. If you do eat eggs, they should be hard-boiled or scrambled – they should never have a runny consistency.
You should also steer clear of raw sushi, as there is a reasonable chance it will contain a range of bacteria that may be harmful to your developing child.
Certain Processed Meats
Listeria is a seriously harmful bacteria for humans, and it has the potential to cause miscarriage, stillbirth and a range of complications to your pregnancy. Whilst exceptionally rare in developed countries, there is a chance that the bug can be ingested by eating processed meats such as hot dogs, salami and pastrami. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to avoid deli meats altogether while you’re pregnant. Other foods that can harbour the listeria bacteria include pates, pastes and fish that isn’t cooked with heat such as smoked mackerel. Anything that is labelled as ‘jerky’, ‘kippered’, or ‘smoked’ should be avoided altogether.
Fish such as tuna, shark, swordfish and marlin are known to be contaminated with significant levels of mercury, which can interfere with the natural development of your child’s central nervous system. The NHS recommends that you should eat no more than 140 grams of tuna per week whilst you’re pregnant, as this also contains mercury – albeit it at relatively low levels.
Whilst there are some undoubted benefits associated with eating oily fish such as trout, sardines and salmon during your pregnancy, these foods are known to contain a range of pollutants. The NHS recommends that no more than two portions of these fish are consumed in a week. Other fish you should consider limiting include sea bass, halibut, crab, dogfish and turbot. And if you plan to breastfeed, these restrictions will also apply after giving birth.
Caffeine and Alcohol
According to the NHS, exceptionally high levels of caffeine in your body during a pregnancy can lead to a lower-than-average birth weight, and in some rare cases, miscarriage. Unfortunately, caffeine is not only found in coffee, tea and soft drinks, it is also prevalent in chocolate and a range of pain relief medication. Official guidelines published by the NHS state that no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine should be consumed in one day. To put that in context, it’s the equivalent of two cups of instant coffee.
The guidelines regarding the consumption of alcohol are clear and unambiguous. The NHS recommends complete abstention. However, if you must drink, you should limit yourself to a maximum of two units, once or twice a week. This translates to a small glass of wine every three or four days.
Despite the potential dangers posed by certain foods and beverages, complications as a result of diet are exceptionally rare, so you shouldn’t be overly concerned with the risks. As long as everything you eat is thoroughly cooked, nutritious and well-balanced, you should be able to look forward to a happy and healthy pregnancy.
You should get advice from your midwife or healthcare experts if you are unsure of what not to eat during pregnancy.