With pregnancy comes a lot of information and questions, not just about the growth of the baby but also about what you need to do to take care of yourself and the growing fetus.
Diet is one of the first things that should be addressed when a woman finds out she’s pregnant. Pregnant women are often raising questions about which nutrients are most necessary during pregnancy, what amount of weight gain is normal, but the most common question is: “What foods should I eliminate that could be potentially harmful to my child?”
Here are six of the most common foods that you should avoid when pregnant.
Undercooked meat (beef and pork) should be avoided during pregnancy because of the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis. This disease is caused by a parasite called toxoplasma gondii. Normally, the infection is mild, but if you’re pregnant, the parasite can infect the baby and produce many symptoms that vary from premature delivery and low birth weight, to malformations and mental retardation. If the infection occurs early in pregnancy, the possibility of fetal infection is lower but the consequences can be more severe. The opposite occurs when the mother is infected in the third trimester.
If your primary source of daily protein is meat, it should be well cooked as heat eliminates the risk of infection.
Raw Fish and Seafood
These include sushi and all shellfish. The recommendation to avoid them during pregnancy is related to the risk of bacteria or parasite infection from contaminated food. Some bacteria, like listeria and some parasites like anisakis can be found in contaminated seafood; they produce an intestinal infection, which can lead to dehydration. Fever and dehydration during pregnancy can be linked to abortion or preterm birth.
Fish like salmon is packed with omega-3, which is necessary for the baby’s development, but it should be well cooked before consumption.
Seafood High in Mercury
Fish is a great source of protein and some contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which can be beneficial for your baby’s eye and brain development. But some other fish may contain dangerous levels of mercury that can affect your baby’s health. Mercury is an overall contaminant that can be present in seas and even air; it is toxic for the human brain, liver, and kidneys, especially to small children and fetuses. The bigger and older the fish, the more likely that it’s contaminated with mercury. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages pregnant women to avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, pregnant women may safely eat other fish as long as they don’t exceed two average meals per week.
These can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, especially salmonella, which can produce a severe intestinal infection that leads to high fever and dehydration, which can be harmful for the baby. If you’re pregnant, you should avoid all products that may contain raw eggs, such as homemade dressings, mayonnaise, and eggnog.
Soft Cheeses and Unpasteurized Milk
Cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, and feta may be made with unpasteurized milk. Milk that has not been pasteurized may be contaminated with bacteria called listeria. This bacteria can cause a mild infection in the mother, but can be devastating for the fetus, potentially leading to brain damage. Make sure that any dairy you consume is pasteurized.
Recommendations for caffeine intake during pregnancy vary, but generally you should not exceed 200 mg per day. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it may increase your heart rate and your blood pressure, both of which are not recommended during pregnancy. It crosses the placenta to your baby, increasing its heart rate as well. Doses above 200 mg have been linked to prematurity, miscarriage, and low birth weight. Although studies are not conclusive, it’s better to limit your intake if you’re pregnant.
A cup of coffee may contain anywhere from 150 to 400 mg of caffeine, depending on the type and brew. Other drinks like regular tea, green tea, chocolate, some soft drinks, and even some medications may contain lower doses of caffeine (40-150 mg per cup).
A balanced diet that favors fresh, organic food is important for a healthy pregnancy, as well as other healthy habits like regular exercise and sleep. Start on the path to a healthy pregnancy by giving your body the right nutrients and self-care and staying away from foods that may be harmful to your baby. Taking care of yourself in all aspects means you’re already starting to take care of your baby.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.