What foods should you avoid when pregnant?
Please say my brunch benedict with smoked salmon is still on the menu…?
Heartbreakingly, no. On the 20th of September I said goodbye to anything involving raw, unpasteurised egg, raw or smoked fish, and rare meat, and began to scrutinise everything else.
Pregnancy food restrictions are to avoid listeria, toxoplasmosis, salmonella, mercury poisoning from fish or other food-borne bacteria that could be harmful, or even deadly, to your baby. As well as avoiding foods, getting proper nutrition is important for a healthy pregnancy, and your body requires an additional dose of certain vitamins at this time, so you should be taking a prenatal/folic acid and getting as many nutritious foods as you can.
Cheese, glorious cheese
Eggs benny with hollandaise, soft boiled eggs, mayonnaise…
As you may know, eggs can contain salmonella, a major cause of food poisoning. Raw egg doesn’t just hide in cookie dough though, it’s the backbone of most delicious creamy sauces: hollandaise, aioli, homemade mayonnaise and more.
However, while hollandaise which has been sitting at room temperature all day at your fave cafe might be a risk to avoid (the late, great Anthony Bourdain’s warning against Hollandaise in Kitchen Confidential has stuck with me for life – though I’ve only adhered since pregnancy):
Not for me. Bacteria love hollandaise. And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order. Any place that makes hollandaise should throw it out about every hour and make a fresh batch, otherwise it can hurt you. And how long has that Canadian bacon been festering in the walk-in? Remember, brunch is only served once a week – on the weekends. Cooks hate brunch. Brunch is punishment block for the B-Team cooks, or where the farm team of recent dishwashers learn their chops.
If I’ve just terrified you away from your favourite weekend pasttime, let me pepper this with a dose of reality – when I told my midwife how much I missed eggs benedict, she actually told me to have it. Let’s be realistic – hundreds, if not thousands, of women are eating eggs benny all over the world at this very moment with absolutely no idea they are pregnant, and they’re all doing just fine.
Best before or use by dates? For once, I’m taking heed.
I always thought those dates were more a guideline than a rule, yes, even foods that have a ‘use by’ date are subjected to a sniff test, but during pregnancy, I discovered, these are dates to be stuck to, even the ‘best before’s’. Dairy products, especially, I was warned about early on in my pregnancy, even when pasteurised, so eat or drink within the dates, and use within a few days of opening.
But fish is so good for you, what could possibly be bad?
Fish is SO good for you, and there are so many delicious fishy dishes which will provide amazing nutrition to your baby, but there are also a few you should probably avoid for the 40 or so weeks of pregnancy. Raw seafood, oysters and sushi aren’t considered safe due to the possibility of food poisoning, whereas other certain fish (including shark, marlin, southern blue fin tuna, orange roughy and swordfish) contain high amounts of mercury – which pregnant women shouldn’t eat in large amounts. Fortunately, most other seafood is wonderful, and fully cooked salmon, snapper and shrimp make excellent low-mercury choices.
You may have heard that all shellfish is off the menu, but that’s not the case – prawns, for example, are a perfect pregnancy food, so long as they’re cooked.
Pregnant women can’t eat sushi?
There is nothing wrong with sushi per-se, and freshly made sushi with cooked ingredients such as chicken, salmon or prawns is still a great choice. However, cooked rice can can become contaminated with listeria during the handling process, and pre-made sushi is not always stored at correct temperatures. Because rice has such a huge surface area (every grain of rice being exposed), it’s also the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Put simply, eaten fresh, sushi is fine, but you shouldn’t eat anything cooked that’s been sitting around all day, rice in particular.
Deli meats and pate?
Deli meats and pate pose another risk to listeria. Another reason to avoid eating pate is that it often contains liver, which you shouldn’t eat in pregnancy. Organ meat, including liver contains high levels of retinol, a type of vitamin A. Too much retinol in pregnancy may be harmful to your unborn baby (if you use high-grade anti-ageing skincare, double-check the ingredients for retinol/vitamin A). Some say that the deli meat ban is a myth, though Ministry of Primary Industries Food Safety in Pregnancy booklet still excludes them.
In general, other meat is fine, but you should use a meat thermometer. The USFDA suggests cooking beef steaks and roasts, and lamb chops and roasts to at least an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the risk of food-borne illness, while pork or any ground meat needs to be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
What else is off the menu?
There’s a few more surprising foods to avoid while pregnant, including hummus/tahini, soft serve or homemade ice-cream, pre-made desserts including cream or custard, and even fruit, vegetables and salad, which may not have been properly washed, and are therefore subject to bacteria, and sprouts may harbour bacteria in the seeds, so they’re off limits too!
You’ve probably also stopped drinking alcohol already, but did you know that you may need to reduce your caffeine intake too (sorry!). 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 (I’m sad too!)
As a general rule, if in doubt, wash properly, cook thoroughly, and ask your GP or midwife for any further guidance. Still need help finding your midwife or LMC? Read this and don’t forget to enjoy What foods should you eat when pregnant?