What can you eat when pregnant? Five key foods to avoid


    Pregnant women often say one of the biggest things they’ve learnt while expecting is what they can’t eat. It can be a real pain if you’re a big sushi or coffee fan and you aren’t sure what you’re allowed (coffee is fine according to the NHS in limited amounts, hooray!). Most foods and drinks are safe to have during pregnancy, with the obvious exception of things like alcohol, but there are some things pregnant women should be very careful with or avoid altogether.

    Five key foods to avoid

    Undercooked or raw fish

    This one will be hard to swallow for sushi fans, but it’s probably one of the most important ones.

    Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several viral, bacterial or parasitic infections like norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella and Listeria.

    Some of these infections may only affect you, causing dehydration and weakness, while others can be passed on to your baby with serious – or even fatal – consequences.

    Pregnant women are especially susceptible to listeria infections, and accordion got the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are up to 10 times more likely to get it than the general population.

    This bacteria can be found in soil and contaminated water or plants, and since raw fish can become infected during processing like smoking or drying, Listera can occur.

    Listeria can be passed to the baby via the placenta, even if you’re not showing any signs of illness, and can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious health problems.

    However, according to the NHS, you can have “raw or lightly cooked fish in sushi, if the fish has been frozen first,” so check with the chef if you’re eating out!

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    Unwashed produce

    The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables could be contaminated with a number of bacteria and parasites.

    These include Toxoplasma, E-Coli, Salmonella and Listeria, which can all be acquired from the soil or subsequent handling.

    Contamination can occur at any time during production, harvest, processing, storage, transportation or retail.

    Toxoplasma is particularly dangerous as the majority of sufferers have no symptoms, while others may feel as though they have the flu for a month or more.

    Most babies infected with the Toxoplasma bacteria in the womb have no symptoms at birth, however conditions like blindness or intellectual disabilities could develop in later life.

    When pregnant, it’s essential to minimise the risk of infection by thoroughly washing, peeling or cooking fruits and vegetables.

    Processed junk food

    Pregnancy is the perfect time to start eating nutritious foods, increasing the amounts of protein, folate, choline and iron you ingest.

    An optimal pregnancy eating plan should mainly consist of whole foods with plenty of nutrients to fulfil you and your baby’s needs.

    Processed junk food is generally low in nutrients and high in calories, sugar and added fats.

    While some weight gain is necessary and inevitable during pregnancy, excess weight gain has been linked to a number of complications and disease.

    These include an increased risk of gestational diabetes, as well as pregnancy or birth complications.

    Stick to meals and snacks that focus on protein, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and fibre-rich carbohydrates like whole grains, beans and starchy veg.

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    High mercury fish

    Mercury is a highly toxic element, has no known safe level of exposure and is most commonly found in polluted water.

    In higher amounts, mercury can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system and kidneys, so it’s no surprise it can also cause serious developmental problems in children – even with low amounts.

    Since mercury is discoverable in polluted seas, large marine fish can accumulate high amounts of the toxin, therefore it’s best to avoid high mercury fish while pregnant and breastfeeding.

    High mercury fish to avoid:

    • Shark
    • Swordfish
    • King mackerel
    • Tuna (especially bigeye tuna)
    • Marlin
    • Tilefish
    • Orange roughy

    Low mercury fish, however, are plentiful and include:

    • Anchovies
    • Cod
    • Flounder
    • Haddock
    • Salmon
    • Tilapia
    • Trout – freshwater


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