Pregnancy is one of the most vital and delicate times in a woman's life.
Therefore, it is more important than ever to eat a healthy diet.
This means paying attention to what you eat and making sure to avoid harmful foods and beverages.
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Certain foods should only be consumed rarely, while others should be avoided completely.
Here are 11 foods and beverages to avoid or minimize during pregnancy.
1. High-Mercury Fish
Mercury is a highly toxic element. It has no known safe level of exposure and is most commonly found in polluted water (1).
In higher amounts, it can be toxic to the nervous system, immune system and kidneys (2).
Since it is found in polluted seas, large fish that live in these oceans can accumulate high amounts of mercury.
High-mercury fish include:
- King mackerel
- Tuna (especially albacore tuna)
However, it is important to note that not all fish are high in mercury—just certain types.
Bottom Line: Pregnant women should not eat high-mercury fish more than 1–2 times each month. This includes shark, swordfish, tuna and mackerel.
2. Undercooked or Raw Fish
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 (8).
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 (9).
Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid raw fish and shellfish. This includes many sushi dishes.
Bottom Line: 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.
3. Undercooked, Raw and Processed Meat
Eating undercooked or raw meat increases the risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites.
Bacteria may threaten the health of the unborn baby, possibly leading to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including mental retardation, blindness and epilepsy (14).
While most bacteria are found on the surface of whole pieces of meat, other bacteria may linger inside the muscle fibers.
However, this is only as long as 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.
Pregnant women should not consume processed meat products unless they've been reheated until steaming hot.
4. Raw Eggs
Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella.
Symptoms of Salmonella infections are usually experienced only by the mother.
However, in rare cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth (17).
Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:
- Lightly scrambled eggs.
- Poached eggs.
- Hollandaise sauce.
- Homemade mayonnaise.
- Salad dressings.
- Homemade ice cream.
- Cake icings.
Most 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 used pasteurized eggs.
Bottom Line: 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.
5. Organ Meat
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.
Therefore, pregnant women should not eat organ meat more often than once a week.
Bottom Line: 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.