What food can’t you eat during pregnancy?
Eating well is fundamental to your health and wellbeing, and especially important when you are pregnant. However, there are some foods that the NHS states you should avoid or limit as they could be harmful to you and your baby.
Here is a little guide to help you make the right choice throughout your pregnancy. Please do not worry if you have eaten/drunk any of the following before you realised you were pregnant, as the risks are generally quite low. If you are really need some reassurance, don’t hesitate to speak to your GP or midwife.
- Avoid unpasteurised milk and any products made from it (including yoghurt and cream). Always check the label: if you cannot see ‘pasteurised’ clearly written, then you should not consume the product. Stick to pasteurised products instead. Ultra-heat treated (UHT) milk, sometimes called long life milk, is fine too.
- Soft ice creams are fine to eat when you are pregnant. They are processed products made with pasteurised milk and eggs, so there shouldn’t be any risk of salmonella food poisoning. If you like to make your ice cream yourself, use a pasteurised egg substitute or follow an egg-free recipe.
- Soft cheeses with a white rind are not safe to eat as they are mould ripened. This includes camembert, brie and some goat cheeses (the ones sold in a log shape with a white rind, for instance). Soft blue cheese such as Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola are also a no-no.
If you cannot do without those cheeses, you can cook them. Add them to a pizza, for instance, or cook a camembert in the oven until it’s melted – it makes a nice starter with some pitta bread to dip in it!
The good news is, not all soft cheeses are off-limits during pregnancy: cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goats' cheeses without a white rind, and processed cheeses such as cheese spreads are all safe to eat if they are made from pasteurised milk. All hard cheeses (such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Stilton) are safe as well, so you can still enjoy a wide variety of cheeses.
- Eggs: You should avoid raw or runny eggs, unless they have the British red lion logo: these eggs come from vaccinated flocks and are therefore a very low risk for salmonella. However, non-hen eggs (duck, goose, quail) must always be cooked thoroughly.
- Pregnant women should not eat raw or undercooked meat. Meat is safe when thoroughly cooked; there should be no trace of pink or blood. Liver should be also be avoided because of its high vitamin A content, and wild game because it has been shot with lead pellets and therefore may contain high levels of lead (farmed game is fine though).
- Deli meats and ready to eat meats: all types of pâté should be avoided too as they are high risk for listeria, and pâté are often made from liver which contains a lot of vitamin A. Ham and corned beef are fine. Cold cured meat and fermented meat (e.g. salami) have not been cooked and are therefore not safe to eat during pregnancy. However, you can make them safer to eat by freezing them for four days to kill most parasites, or by cooking them.
- Avoid shark, swordfish or marlin and limit the amount of tuna you eat because the high mercury content could affect your baby’s developing nervous system. During pregnancy it is also advised to restrict consumption of oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring to two portions a week.
- Shellfish are fine to eat if they are thoroughly cooked (pre-cooked prawns are fine too). Smoked fish are considered safe according to the NHS.
- It is fine to eat sushi made with raw or lightly cooked fish, as long as any raw wild fish has been frozen first. If in doubt, you might want to avoid eating sushi that contains raw fish, such as tuna. A good alternative is vegetarian sushi such as avocado California roll or kappa maki.
Fruits and vegetables
- Fruit and vegetables are very healthy and rich in nutrients, and they should be a staple of your diet. When pregnant you want to be mindful of foods with soil on them, as soil can be contaminated with listeria. Wash your fruits, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil and visible dirt before consumption.
- Most medical authorities recommend completely avoid alcohol while pregnant. Stick to soft drinks: mocktails and fruit infusions with sparkling water are nice alternatives. Many women actually go off the taste of alcohol while pregnant, which makes cutting it out easier.
- You don’t need to cut off caffeine completely, but try to stay under 200mg/day. This caffeine chart gives you an idea of the caffeine content in different types of drinks. Don’t forget that some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine: talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist before taking these remedies.
- The FSA recommends limiting your intake to four cups of herbal or green tea a day while pregnant. If you are unsure whether your favourite variety of tea is safe, don’t hesitate to speak to your midwife, GP or pharmacist.
Now you know what to avoid or limit during your pregnancy, as well as some alternatives. Please keep in mind that even though you have to be more careful with your nutrition, this is also a time to enjoy yourself and celebrate. It is ok to treat yourself from time to time, as long as you do not put yourself at risk.