If you’re looking for healthy food for pregnancy, a good place to start is to be mindful of what you eat (healthy nuts are a good food to eat during pregnancy, by the way).
It’s even more important to eat right during a pregnancy because you’re responsible for the new life that you’re carrying.
It is, therefore, essential that they not only eat a healthy diet but also to avoid foods and drinks that could be harmful to them and their developing baby.
Here are 16 foods and drinks you should avoid if you’re pregnant.
1. Fish contaminated with mercury (Definitely a food to avoid during pregnancy)
Number one on this list are fish contaminated with mercury. Mercury is a very toxic substance that often accumulates in large fish in polluted waters.
In high concentrations, mercury is toxic to the nervous and immune system, as well as the kidneys.
Mercury also has the potential to cause severe development issues in children.
Therefore, pregnant women should limit their consumption of large ocean fish to at most 1-2 servings a month.
Large fish that are often contaminated with high amounts of mercury include:
- King mackerel
Not all fish are contaminated by mercury.
Low-mercury fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids that are very good for developing babies, and it is advisable to eat these types of fish 2 times a week.
2. Fish contaminated with industrial pollutants
Fish caught from streams, rivers and lakes may have been exposed to harmful industrial chemicals including Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Organochlorine pesticides (OCs):
Consumption of foods contaminated with these chemicals have been linked to numerous fetal development impairments, including:
- Altered cognitive and behavioural development
- Thyroid hormone disruption
- Reduced fetal growth
- Cardiometabolic disorders
- Endocrine distruption
- Premature birth
- Altered male reproductive tract development
- Immune suppression.
Note: Healthy food for pregnancy should be free from dangerous chemicals.
3. Uncooked or undercooked fish
Uncooked seafood, including raw fish and shellfish carry a high risk of infections which can be bacterial, parasitic or viral. Vibrio, Salmonella and Listeria are common.
These infections can infect the mother, causing dehydration and weakness. However, more dangerous are infections that infect the baby, which can be very serious – even fatal.
Listeria infections are particularly risky for pregnant women, who are 20 times more susceptible to contracting the infection.
Foods contaminated by Listeria can pass through the placenta to the unborn baby, even if the mother appears healthy. This can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery and other medical problems.
Therefore, pregnant women should stay away from raw fish and shellfish.
Note: When choosing healthy food for pregnancy, make sure it is free from infectious disease.
4. Smoked Fish and Seafood
Processed fish liked smoked fish and seafood are often contaminated with Listeria.
This happens during the smoking process where they can come into contact with dirty handlers and soil, water or plants contaminated with the bacteria.
Listeria causes listeriosis. In addition to diarrhea and vomiting, the disease can cause sickness in newborns and even miscarriage and stillbirth.
Processed food like smoked foods also contain high levels of salt which can lead to increased blood pressure. Severe hypertension has been linked to low birth weight and premature births.
5. Undercooked, Uncooked or Processed Meat
Raw, uncooked or undercooked meat pose a serious risk of bacterial or parasitic infections, including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella, typically found on the surface of meat but some may find their way inside muscle fibres.
Bacterial infections are always dangerous for unborn children, and in this case could lead to stillbirth, neurological diseases and even cognitive impairment, blindness and seizures.
Whole cut meats including beef, veal and lamb ribeye, sirloins and tenderloins are risky to consume if not fully cooked.
As a general rule, extra care should be taken to ensure that any thick cut of meat is cooked thoroughly. Extra caution should also be taken with meats that have been processed and stored as they may have been infected with bacteria.
Processed meats should always be reheated until they are steaming hot before eaten by pregnant women.
6. Raw Eggs
Raw eggs are at risk to be infected with Salmonella.
A mother who is infected with Salmonella will experience symptoms including fever, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and nausea.
In rare cases, Salmonella infections can also cause cramps in the uterus which can lead to stillbirth and premature births.
Raw eggs are commonly found in these foods:
- Salad dressings
- Homemade mayonnaise
- Poached eggs
- Hollandaise sauce
- Homemade ice cream
- Cake icings
Retail foods that contain raw eggs should be pasteurized before consumption. Always read the label to be sure.
Note: Sometimes you’ll have to look closer at the foods you eat to make sure that they are a healthy food for pregnancy.
More foods to avoid if you’re looking for healthy food for pregnancy...
7. Organ meat
Although rich in iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A and copper that are good for pregnant women, consuming too much animal-based vitamin A can be toxic.
Vitamin A toxicity and overly high levels of copper can result in birth defects and liver toxicity.
It is recommended that pregnant women do not consume organ meat more than once a week.
Widely used for its psychoactive properties, caffeine consumption primarily comes from coffee, tea, soft drinks and cocoa.
Women who are pregnant, however, are advised to restrict their caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day, which is about 2 to 3 cups of coffee.
This is because unborn babies and their placentas do not possess the main enzyme that breaks down caffeine, which leads to high caffeine buildup.
The effects of toxic buildup of caffeine for babies is restricted fetal growth, leading to higher risk of low birth weight when the baby is born.
Babies born with low birth weights (less than 2.5kg) have been associated with higher risk of infant death and chronic diseases when adults, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
9. Raw sprouts
Raw sprouts like clover, radish, mung, bean sprouts and alfafa are at risk of being contamined by Salmonella.
Sprouts are more likely to be contaminated by by bacteria because of the humid environment needed for for it to start sprouting – and the contamination is almost impossible to clean.
Therefore, pregnant women are advised to not eat raw sprouts completely. Cooked sprouts are safe to eat, however, and make for a healthy food for pregnancy.
10. Unwashed produce
Any produce that is unwashed and unpeeled like fruits and vegetables could be contaminated by bacteria and parasites including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria from soil or handling (processing, transport, storage, retail).
Toxoplasma bacteria are a particular concern for mothers and their unborn child, which are often found on fruits and vegetables.
Most people who contract Toxoplasma show no symptoms though others may experience a flu-like symptoms for a month or so.
Infants infected by Toxoplasma don’t show symptoms until later in life, including blindness and intellectual disabilities.
A smaller percentage of newborns who are infected suffer serious eye or brain damage.
Pregnant women are advised to always thoroughly rinse, peel and cook their fruits and vegetables.
11. Unpasteurized milk, cheese and fruit juices
Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese and juices can contain Listeria, Salmonella, E. Coli and Campylobacter.
Pasteurization allows for food to be sterilized without damaging the nutritional content of the products.
Pregnant women should only drink pasteurized milk, juices and cheese to prevent infections.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancies increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth and should be avoided by pregnant women. Even small amounts can have deleterious effects on baby’s brain development.
Alcohol consumption also causes fetal alcohol syndrome which manifests as facial deformities, cognitive disability and heart defects.
Therefore, alcohol should be avoided completely during pregnancy.
13. Processed junk food
Processed foods often lack the necessary nutrients required for healthy development of the baby, which include protein, folate and iron.
Women who are pregnant need to ensure that they get enough of these nutrients for themselves and their baby.
However, pregnant women do not need twice the calories. About 350-500 extra calories is sufficient.
14. Sugar-rich foods (free sugars)
Sugar-rich foods and consumption of free sugar has been linked to increased risk for the development of allergies and asthma in children.
Free sugars are any sugars that is added to food or drink (e.g. glucose, galactose, fructose, sucrose, maltose).
Free sugars are also present in natural foods like honey, syrups and fruit juices.
15. Street food
This refers to foods that are prepared in stalls and vendors by the road due to possible poor food and water hygiene.
This increases the risk of contracting bacterial diseases including E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella and Vibrio cholerae, and food-borne parasites.
Unborn children exposed to too much glucocorticoids have been linked to physical and mental disorders, including cognitive impairment (lower IQ, poorer memory), deficit/hyperactivity disorders and higher body weight.
Girls are more likely to be affected.
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