With so much information available advising women on what and what not to eat during pregnancy, it can be difficult to know what’s fact from fiction. In this months blog we’ll be exploring the foods you need to both limit and avoid during pregnancy to help keep you and baby happy and healthy.
If you are looking for general healthy eating during pregnancy information, see our previous blog here!
During your pregnancy there are a number of foods that you should limit and a number of foods you should avoid. This is to reduce the risk of illness for both you and your growing baby.
Cheese to avoid during pregnancy
Soft mould- ripened and blue cheeses
Chesses that have a white rind, such as brie, camembert and chevre are mould ripened meaning you should avoid eating them during your pregnancy. Soft blue- veined cheese such as Danish blue and gorgonzola are also unsafe to eat during pregnancy. However, once cooked, these cheeses become safe to eat.
These cheeses should be avoided in pregnancy because they are less acidic than most hard cheese and they also contain more moisture. This means that these cheeses have the ideal environment for harmful bacteria to grow in, particularly listeria. While listeria is rare, it’s important to take special precautions during your pregnancy, as even a milk form of illness in pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or sever illness in your newborn baby.
Note: NHS Choices says that thorough cooking of mould- ripened and soft blue cheese should kill any bacteria in cheese. However, it’s important to make sure the cheese is thoroughly cooked until it’s steaming hot all the way through.
Cheese safe to eat during pregnancy
- All hard cheese such as cheddar, parmesan and stilton
- Soft cheeses (non mould- ripened) made with pasteurised milk, including; cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi and goats’ cheese.
Milk and dairy products to avoid during pregnancy
Raw milk and dairy products
Avoid having raw milks, including cow, goat and sheep, as they are unpasteurised, meaning they have not gone through a process to remove harmful bacteria.
If raw milk is the only milk available, make sure that your boil it before drinking.
Avoid eating dairy foods, such as yoghurt and goats cheese, that are made using raw milk.
Milk and dairy products safe to have during pregnancy
- Pasteurised cow’s’, goats’ and sheep’s milk
- Ultra- heat treated cow’s, goats’ and sheep’s milk, often known as long- life milk
- Pasteurised dairy products such as yoghurt, including bio, live and low fat yoghurts. Make sure you check that homemade yoghurts are made with pasteurised milk.#
Avoid some partially cooked and raw eggs during pregnancy
Avoid eating partially cooked (runny) and raw hen eggs without the British lion stamp. If you choose these types of eggs, make sure you cook them thoroughly until the white and yolk is solid. This will reduce the risk of salmonella food poisoning.
If you’re unsure if eggs have British Lion stamp, for example if you’re eating in a restaurant or café, make sure you ask the staff, or to be on the safe side, ask for them to be well cooked.
Other eggs such as duck, goose and quail eggs should always be well cooked.
Partially cooked and raw eggs safe to eat during pregnancy
Due to improved food safety controls in recent years, pregnant women can now safely eat raw and partially cooked hen eggs, and foods containing them (such as mousses, soufflés and fresh mayonnaise), that are produced under the British Lion Code of Practice. You’ll see these eggs have a logo stamped on their shell, showing a red lion.
Meat and meat products
Meat and meat products to avoid/ limit during pregnancy
Liver and liver products
Avoid liver and liver products, such as haggis and liver sausage, as they contain very high levels of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.
Avoid eating pate during your pregnancy, including liver and vegetable pate, as they can contain listeria and cause food poisoning.
Raw and undercooked meat
Eating raw and undercooked meat during your pregnancy can be risky. Avoid eating meat joints and steaks that are cooked rare due to the risk of toxoplasmosis*.
Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly until it is piping hot throughout and there is no trace or pink or blood- especially when cooking poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat.
*Toxoplasmosis is an infection cause by a parasite that is found in raw and undercooked meat, unpasteurised goat’s milk, soil, cat faeces and untreated water.
Cold cured meats
Many cold meats, such as pepperoni, Parma ham, chorizo and salami aren’t cooked, but cured and fermented. This means there is still a risk they contain the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis.
You can reduce the risk of the toxoplasmosis causing parasite by freezing cured and fermented ready- to- eat meats. These meats need to be frozen for four days before you can safely eat them.
If you plan to cook meat first, for example pepperoni on a pizza, you don’t need to freeze it first, because the cooking process will kill any harmful bacteria.
Avoid eating game during your pregnancy that has been shot with lead pellets, due to the higher levels of lead. Most venison and other large game meats sold in supermarkets are usually farmed and contain no or low levels of lead which are safe to eat.
Meat and meat products that are safe to eat during pregnancy
- Thoroughly cooked meat and poultry
- Pre- packed meat such as ham and corned beef.
Fish and shellfish
Fish to avoid/ limit during pregnancy
Shark, swordfish and marlin
Avoid eating these fish during your pregnancy because they contain high levels of mercury which can damage your baby’s developing nervous system.
Avoid eating raw shellfish, such as oysters, during your pregnancy to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
Limit tuna during your pregnancy due to it’s high mercury content. You can safely eat:
- 2 tuna steak a week (each weighing about 140g when cooked or 170g when raw)
- 4 medium sized cans of tuna a week (each about 140g when drained).
Limit the amount of oily fish you eat during your pregnancy because they contain pollutants. Don’t eat more than 2 portions of oily fish a week. Note: oily fish is good for us so don’t give it up altogether. The health benefits outweigh the risks as long as you don’t eat more than recommended amount.
Oily fish include; fresh tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring and sardines.
Other fish to limit
There are also some other fish that you should limit during your pregnancy, despite them not being classified as oily. Research shows they have similar levels of pollutants as oily fish.
Do not eat more than 2 portions a week of:
- Dogfish (rock salmon)
Fish and shellfish that you do not need to limit during pregnancy
- White and non- oily fish, such as: cod, haddock, plaice, coley, skate, hake, flounder, gurnard
- Smoked fish, included smoked salmon or smoked trout, is considered safe to eat in pregnancy
- Cooked shellfish, such as: prawns, muscles, cockles, scallops and lobster
- Its fine to eat both raw or lightly cooked fish in dishes like sushi when your pregnant, as long as any raw wild fish used to make it has been frozen first*.
*This is because occasionally wild fish contains small parasitic worms that could make you ill. Freezing kills the worms and makes raw fish safe to eat.
Certain farmed fish destined to be eaten raw in dishes like sushi no longer needs to be frozen beforehand.
Lot of the sushi sold in shops is fine to eat as it will have gone through appropriate freezing treatment (always read the label). If in doubt, avoid eating sushi containing raw fish. If eating in a restaurant, always ask how they have prepared it. It’s only safe to eat raw or partially cooked fish if it has been frozen first.
Vitamins and fish oil supplements
Avoid taking any supplement containing vitamin A or fish liver oil supplements throughout the course of your pregnancy as they can be harmful for your baby.
Food with soil on them
Make sure you thoroughly wash fruits, vegetables and salads to remove any soil and visible dirt. Unwashed fruits and vegetables can increase your risk of listeria and toxoplasmosis.
Moderate amounts of liquorice sweets and liquorice teas will cause no harm during your pregnancy. However, it’s important you avoid the herbal remedy liquorice root as it contains high levels of the active ingredient glycyrrhizin.
The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend not to drink alcohol throughout the course of your pregnancy to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking alcohol, especially in the first three months of your pregnancy, increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and your baby having a low birth weight.
If you do decide to drink alcohol when you’re pregnant, it’s important to know how many units you are consuming. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommend you drink no more than one to two UK units, no more than once or twice a week.
One UK unit is 10 millilitres (ml) or eight grams of pure alcohol. This is equal to:
- half a pint of beer, lager or cider at 3.5% alcohol by volume (ABV: you can find this on the label)
- a single measure (25ml) of spirit, such as whisky, gin, rum or vodka, at 40% ABV
- half a standard (175ml) glass of wine at 11.5% ABV
High caffeine intake during pregnancy can result in babies having a low birthweight, which increases the risk of health problems in later life. Too much caffeine can also cause miscarriage.
You don’t need to avoid caffeine completely during your pregnancy, but try not to have more than 200mg a day. According to NHS Choices, some approximate amounts of caffeine found in food and drinks is as follows:
- one mug of instant coffee= 100mg
- one mug of filter coffee= 140mg
- one mug of tea= 75mg
- one can of cola= 40mg
- one 250ml can of energy drink= 80mg (larger cans of energy drink may have up to 160mg caffeine)
- one 50g bar of plain (dark) chocolate= most UK brands contain less than 25mg
- one 50g bar of milk chocolate= most UK brands contain less than 10mg
To help you cut down on the amount of caffeine you have, try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or mineral water instead of regular tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks.
It’s best to drink herbal and green teas in moderation during your pregnancy. The Food Standards Agency recommends drinking no more than around four cups of herbal or green tea a day during pregnancy. Remember, some greens teas contain caffeine.
Myth busting fact- nuts and peanuts
As long as you aren’t allergic, you can eat peanuts and foods containing peanuts, such as peanut butter, during your pregnancy (unless advised otherwise by a health professional).
The Department of Health previously advised pregnant women not to eat peanuts during pregnancy. This advice has now changed because the latest research shows no evidence that eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
By Georgia Leech