Wondering what foods to avoid during early pregnancy? Here are 9 foods that should be avoided during pregnancy and the reasons why.
Mercury is a highly toxic element. It has no known safe level of exposure and is most commonly found in polluted water. In higher amounts, it can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in children. Since it’s found in polluted seas, large marine fish can accumulate high amounts of mercury. Therefore, pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of high-mercury fish to no more than 1–2 servings per month.
High-mercury fish include:
SharkSwordfishKing mackerelTuna (especially albacore tuna)However, it’s important to note that not all fish are high in mercury — just certain types.
Pregnant women should not eat high-mercury fish more than 1–2 times each month. This includes shark, swordfish, tuna and mackerel.
Undercooked or Raw Fish
Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections. These can be viral, bacterial, or parasitic, such as norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella, and Listeria. Some of these infections only affect the mother, leaving her dehydrated and weak. Other infections may be passed on to the unborn baby with serious, or even fatal, consequences. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to Listeria infections. In fact, pregnant women are up to 20 times more likely to get infected by Listeria than the general population.
This bacteria can be found in soil and contaminated water or plants. Raw fish can become infected during processing, including smoking or drying. Listeria can be passed to an unborn baby through the placenta, even if the mother is not showing any signs of illness. This can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious health problems. Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid raw fish and shellfish. This includes many sushi dishes.
Raw fish and shellfish can be contaminated with bacteria and parasites. Some of these can cause adverse health effects and harm both the mother and unborn baby.
Undercooked, Raw and Processed Meat
Eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites, including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. Bacteria may threaten the health of your unborn baby, possibly leading to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including intellectual disability, blindness, and epilepsy. While most bacteria are found on the surface of whole pieces of meat, other bacteria may linger inside the muscle fibers. Some whole cuts of meat — such as tenderloins, sirloins or ribeye from beef, lamb, and veal — may be safe to consume when not cooked all the way through.
However, this only applies when the piece of meat is whole or uncut, and completely cooked on the outside. Cut meat, including meat patties, burgers, minced meat, pork, and poultry, should never be consumed raw or undercooked. Hot dogs, lunch meat, and deli meat are also of concern. These types of meat may become infected with various bacteria during processing or storage.
Raw or undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria. As a general rule, meat should be cooked all the way through.
Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella. Symptoms of Salmonella infections are usually experienced only by the mother and include fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. However, in rare cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth. Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:
Lightly scrambled eggsPoached eggsHollandaise sauceHomemade mayonnaiseSalad dressingsHomemade ice creamCake icingsMost commercial products that contain raw eggs are made with pasteurized eggs and are safe to consume. However, you should always read the label to make sure.
Pregnant women should always cook eggs thoroughly or use pasteurized eggs. Raw eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella, which can lead to sickness and an increased risk of premature birth or stillbirth. Pasteurized eggs can be used instead.
Organ meat is a great source of several nutrients. These include iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A, and copper — all of which are good for an expectant mother and her child. However, eating too much animal-based vitamin A (preformed vitamin A) is not recommended during pregnancy.It may cause vitamin A toxicity, as well as abnormally high copper levels, which can result in birth defects and liver toxicity.
Therefore, pregnant women should not eat organ meat more than once a week.Organ meat is a great source of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A and copper. To prevent vitamin A and copper toxicity, pregnant women are advised to limit their intake of organ meat to no more than once a week.
Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world and mainly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and cocoa. Pregnant women are generally advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, or about 2–3 cups of coffee. Caffeine is absorbed very quickly and passes easily into the placenta and fetus. Because unborn babies and their placentas don’t have the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, high levels can build up (23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source). High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.
Pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to 200 mg per day, which is about 2–3 cups of coffee. High caffeine intake during pregnancy can limit fetal growth and cause low birth weight.
Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese and Fruit Juice
Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese can contain an array of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter.
The same goes for unpasteurized juice, which is also prone to bacterial contamination. These infections can all have life-threatening consequences for an unborn baby.
The bacteria can be naturally occurring or caused by contamination during collection or storage. To minimize the risk of infections, pregnant women are advised to consume only pasteurized milk, cheese, and fruit juice.
Pregnant women should not consume unpasteurized milk, cheese or fruit juice, as these foods increase the risk of bacterial infections.
Pregnant women are advised to completely avoid drinking alcohol, as it increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Even a small amount can negatively impact your baby’s brain development. It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which involves facial deformities, heart defects, and intellectual disability.
Since no level of alcohol has been proven to be safe during pregnancy, it’s recommended to avoid it altogether.Pregnant women should not drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria and parasites. These include Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, which can be acquired from the soil or through handling. Contamination can occur at any time during production, harvest, processing, storage, transportation, or retail.
Bacteria can harm both the mother and her unborn baby. One very dangerous parasite that may linger on fruits and vegetables is called Toxoplasma. The majority of people who get Toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, while others may feel like they have the flu for a month or more.
Most infants who are infected with Toxoplasma while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth. However, symptoms such as blindness or intellectual disabilities may develop later in life. What’s more, a small percentage of infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth. While you’re pregnant, it’s very important to minimize the risk of infection by thoroughly rinsing, peeling or cooking fruits and vegetables).
Fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with harmful bacteria, including Toxoplasma. It’s important to thoroughly rinse all fruits and vegetables.