Pregnancy is one of the most vital and sensitive periods in a woman’s life. Expecting mothers have to pay close attention to what they eat and make sure to avoid harmful foods and beverages.Certain foods should only be consumed rarely, while others should be avoided completely. This is because these food items can trigger a probable miscarriage, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy, when pregnant women are usually at a higher risk of having one. Here are foods and beverages to avoid or minimize during pregnancy:
- 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. In higher amounts, it can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in children. Since it’s found in polluted seas, large marine fish can accumulate high amounts of mercury. Therefore, pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of high-mercury fish to no more than 1–2 servings per month. However, it’s important to note that not all fish are high in mercury — just certain types. Consuming low-mercury fish during pregnancy is very healthy, and these fish can be eaten up to 2 times per week. Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for your baby.
- Undercooked or Raw Fish: Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections. These can be viral, bacterial or parasitic, such as norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella and Listeria. Some of these infections only affect the mother, leaving her dehydrated and weak. Other infections may be passed on to the unborn baby with serious, or even fatal, consequences. 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. This bacterium 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. Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid raw fish and shellfish. This includes many sushi dishes.
- Undercooked, Raw and Processed Meat: Eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites, including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Bacteria may threaten the health of your unborn baby, possibly leading to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including mental retardation, blindness and epilepsy. 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.
- Raw Eggs: Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella. Symptoms of Salmonella infections are usually experienced only by the mother and include fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea.Pregnant women should always cook eggs thoroughly or use pasteurized eggs.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world and mainly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and cocoa. Pregnant women are generally advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, or about 2–3 cups of coffee. High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.Low birth weight — defined as less than 5 lbs, 8 oz (or 2.5 kg) — is associated with an increased risk of infant death and a higher risk of chronic diseases in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Raw Sprouts: Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts, may be contaminated with Salmonella. However, sprouts are safe to consume after they have been cooked.
- Unwashed Produce: The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria and parasites. Bacteria can harm both the mother and her unborn baby. One very dangerous parasite that may linger on fruits and vegetables is called Toxoplasma. Most infants who are infected with Toxoplasma while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth. However, symptoms such as blindness or intellectual disabilities may develop later in life.
- Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese and Fruit Juice: Pregnant women should not consume unpasteurized milk, cheese or fruit juice, as these foods increase the risk of bacterial infections.
- Alcohol: Pregnant women are advised to completely avoid drinking alcohol, as it increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Even a small amount can negatively impact your baby’s brain development. It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which involves facial deformities, heart defects and mental retardation.
- Processed Junk Foods: An optimal pregnancy diet should mainly consist of whole foods, with plenty of nutrients to fulfill the needs of the mother and growing child. Processed junk food is generally low in nutrients and high in calories, sugar and added fats. This causes long-term health issues since overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults.