Despite pregnancy being a time when food cravings (and sometimes aversions) hit strongly with not a care for time or convenience, we cannot, unfortunately, let loose and consume everything that hits our whims and fancies. There are certain foods to avoid when pregnant.
Every pregnant mama knows of the dangers of consuming alcohol while pregnant, but how aware are we of certain seemingly innocent foods that have been linked to miscarriage and stillbirth?
Pregnant women should pay heed to what they are consuming in order to avoid being at increased risk of stillbirth. Photo: iStock
Foods to avoid when pregnant
Foods that cause Listeriosis and/or salmonella
Listeriosis or Listeria is an infection with symptoms that might pass for the common flu, including include fever, body aches, and headache. Although it is treatable with antibiotics, it has been linked to miscarriage and stillbirth before the illness is even recognised.
The disease can also cause preterm delivery and life-threatening infections in newborn infants. Listeria causes problems for people at risk, including those who are pregnant or have diseases that compromise the immune system. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to develop the infection, than women who are not pregnant.
Salmonella may present symptoms similar to Listeria, but may also come with diarrohea, belly pain, nausea or vomiting, and blood in your stools. Despite Salmonella having the potential to resolve on its own typically in adults, it can present many problems for pregnant women, and in more severe cases the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth.
The most common sources of listeria and salmonella are:
- Unpasteurized products – Raw and unpasteurised milk and cheeses can contain an array of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter.
Juices also fall under this category, which is also prone to bacterial contamination.
Soft cheeses like brie, feta and camembert, should be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of being contaminated with Listeria.
To minimise the risk of infections, pregnant women are advised to consume only pasteurised milk, cheese, and fruit juice
- Raw, Undercooked and Processed meats – These include hot dogs, sausages, cold cuts, and deli meats.
Eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection from several bacteria, including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella, which can threaten the health of your baby by increasing its risk of stillbirth, or leading to severe neurological illnesses, including intellectual disability, blindness and epilepsy, when born.
Minced meats, pork, poultry, and beef (including rare to medium-rare steaks), should never be consumed raw or undercooked, as they may contain harmful bacteria.
As a general rule, meat should be cooked all the way through, and smoked and processed meats must be reheated to at least 160 degrees F immediately before consumption.
Processed meat such as meat patties, burgers, hot dogs, lunch meat and deli meat comes with an added risk of exposure to various bacteria during processing or storage, and should never be eaten unless reheated to a steaming hot temperature before consumption.
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- Unwashed or Poorly washed fruits and vegetables – The surfaces of unwashed, poorly washed, and unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria and parasites, including Listeria, Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella, which are widely present in soil or through the handling of produce in sorting facilities.
It is very important to minimise your risk of infection to these diseases during pregnancy, by thoroughly rinsing, peeling or cooking fruits and vegetables.
- Raw or soft-cooked eggs – Eggs that are raw or have been soft-cooked in preparations such as lightly scrambling them or poaching them halfway and not fully cooking them, must be avoided. Raw eggs may also be found in some sauces such as Hollandaise sauce, homemade mayonnaise, and certain salad dressings.
Some recipes for homemade ice cream, tiramisu, and cake frostings may also call for the use of raw eggs. When pregnant, always consume eggs where both the white and the yolk has been fully cooked, or eggs that have been pasteurised, to avoid the risk of contracting Salmonella.
However, most commercial products (such as store-bought mayonnaise) that contain raw eggs are made with pasteurised eggs. These are therefore safe to consume, but always read labels to make sure you are not subjecting yourself to the risk of contracting Salmonella.
Consuming raw, soft-cooked or unpasteurised eggs may put you at risk of contracting Salmonella. Photo: iStock
- Raw Sprouts – Sprouts such as mung bean sprouts, alfalfa, clover, and radish sprouts, grow in humid environments and are ideal carriers for Salmonella. The bacteria is also almost impossible to wash off. Pregnant mamas are advised to avoid raw sprouts altogether and consume only cooked sprouts as they are safe to eat after they have been cooked.
Other foods to avoid when pregnant
High mercury fish
Elevated levels of Mercury can be found in large marine fish that come from polluted seas. If consumed in high amounts, it can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys. In more serious cases, mercury poisoning can lead to serious developmental problems in children, and can even lead to miscarriage and stillbirth.
Pregnant women should eat high-mercury fish no more than 1–2 servings per month. Common high-mercury fish that must be avoided include:
- Shark – Ikan Yu/Sar Yee
- King mackerel – Ikan Tenggiri Papan/ Ma Jiao Yu/ Ma Kau/ Vanjaram
- Tuna (especially albacore tuna) – Ikan Kayu/ Ikan Tongkol / Kam Cheong Yee
It is important to note that not all fish contain mercury, and the consumption of low-mercury fish during pregnancy is very healthy. These types of fish are safe for consumption and can be eaten up to 2 times per week. Low-mercury fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for your baby
Components that act as laxatives are present in papayas that are not ripe, and green papayas, which may bring on premature labour. Further, papaya seeds are also rich in enzymes that cause contraction of the uterus, that may lead to miscarriage and even stillbirth.
Despite being a great source of several nutrients including vitamin A, eating too much animal-based vitamin A is not recommended during pregnancy, as it may lead to vitamin A toxicity, as well as abnormally high copper levels. This can both lead to birth defects in infants, and liver toxicity that may cause miscarriage or stillbirth.
Pregnant women are advised to limit their intake of organ meat, and not consume it more than once a week.
While traditional foods like bird’s nest and chicken essence are considered safe during pregnancy when taken in moderation, there have not been enough clinical studies performed on other herbal supplements, or natural “remedies” and botanicals with medicinal properties, that may cause stillbirth or affect the health of your infant.
Always consult your doctor before consuming any herbal medicines and supplements.
Processed junk food
Processed junk food is generally low in nutrients and high in calories, sugar and added fats, which may lead to an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes, which may lead to pregnancy or birth complications, including stillbirth.
While an occasional indulgence is safe, and sometimes even necessary, do ensure that you limit your intake of processed and junk foods, especially when pregnant.
Caffeine is a component commonly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and cocoa. It is absorbed very quickly by your body and passes easily into the placenta and to your unborn baby.
Pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, or about 2–3 cups of coffee, as the high intake of caffeine has been linked to restricted fetal growth leading to low birth weight at delivery, and in severe cases, stillbirth.
And lastly, Alcohol
No list of foods to avoid when pregnant is complete without Alcohol featuring on it. Photo: iStock
While it would be safe to assume that pregnant mamas are aware fo the dangers of alcohol consumption, no list of foods to avoid stillbirth comes complete without the addition of alcohol in it.
Alcohol, even in small limited doses, can negatively impact your baby’s brain development, and lead to miscarriage and stillbirth. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which leads to facial deformities, heart defects, and intellectual disability.
There are no known levels of safe consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, and it is recommended to be avoided altogether.
So pregnant mamas, it would do you good to avoid these foods mentioned above during your pregnancy, for the health and safety of yourself and your unborn child. Always pay attention to the preparation and cooking of other foods considered safe to eat as well, as added precautions are necessary during this crucial time.