One of the most common questions I get asked by expectant mamas is what foods need to be avoided during pregnancy. And while there definitely are foods that should be avoided if you’re pregnant, there’s also a ton of misinformation out there.
Pregnant women are often told by family, friends, or the media that they need to avoid a ton of food options. This can leave expectant mamas feeling apprehensive and confused over which foods they can eat.
The good news is that the long list of foods women are often told to avoid can actually be significantly reduced. But there are certainly some foods that you need to avoid in pregnancy for the health of your baby and yourself. So why is this?
Pregnant women are at increased risk of contracting foodborne illness
During pregnancy, women have altered immune function so that the body can accept implantation and support a growing fetus without rejecting it as foreign. However, with altered immune function, it can be more difficult for the body to fight off certain infections– including foodborne microorganisms. This puts pregnant women at increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness, aka “food poisoning”.
What is foodborne illness?
Foodborne illness or food poisoning is caused by ingesting food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. The contamination of these microorganisms can happen any time before you eat it, especially during handling, storing, or cooking.
Although generally, people recover from foodborne illness quickly, it poses more threats to pregnant women. As your body changes to prepare for the birth of your unborn baby, your immune system becomes weaker. Some bacteria can even go through the placenta. With a developing immune system, babies often cannot fight off the poisoning.
Food poisoning is more dangerous to the unborn baby than to the mother. Developing food poisoning during the first three months of pregnancy can cause a miscarriage, while developing food poisoning later in the pregnancy may result in premature birth.
Is foodborne illness serious during pregnancy?
Foodborne illness is very common, with around 1 in 8 Canadians experiencing a form of foodborne illness each year. This number is likely higher as the symptoms are very similar to the flu and often people aren’t aware that they may have a foodborne illness.
Although foodborne illness may present as flu-like symptoms outside of pregnancy, altered immune function can lead to more significant illness during pregnancy and the bacteria from foodborne illness can actually cross the placenta. Since a fetus does not have a fully developed immune system, this can result in serious complications.
We want to do everything possible to prevent foodborne illness during pregnancy, which includes avoiding certain foods that are more prone to bacteria or harmful microorganisms.
What foods should you avoid when pregnant for food safety?
It’s recommended to avoid the following foods in pregnancy due to an increased risk of contracting foodborne illness:
1. Raw and undercooked meats: Avoid raw fish, raw seafood, raw meats, and raw poultry, as well as smoked fish and seafood.
2. Specific meat products: Meat spreads and patés should be avoided; deli meats and hot dogs should be heated through until steaming hot
3. Raw and undercooked eggs: Foods containing raw eggs (for example: cookie dough or traditional caesar salad dressings) should be avoided, as well as eggs that are not fully cooked through.
4. Certain cheeses: It is recommended to avoid soft cheeses such as brie, goat cheese, blue cheese, and feta while pregnant. The highest level of caution would be avoiding these cheeses, however, some research does suggest that simply making sure that they are made with pasteurized dairy will reduce the risk of foodborne illness enough.
5. Unpasteurized Juices: Unpasteurized juices may contain harmful, disease-causing bacteria (such as salmonella and E.Coli) from fruits and vegetables which may seriously impact your pregnancy.
6. Sprouts: Sprouts (such as bean or alfalfa sprouts) typically have higher levels of bacteria. If consuming sprouts, they should be very well cooked through, such as in a casserole dish.
Although many health professionals recommend steering clear of these foods for food safety, it’s important to keep in mind that no food is 100% safe from foodborne illness. With ALL foods, food safety practices are really important to reduce the risk of contracting foodborne illness. Properly cleaning, storing, cooking, and chilling foods are all ways that will help to reduce the risk of bacteria growth.
Our nutrition course “Have a Safe PUSH” walks you through all the food safety practices you need to know to reduce your risk of foodborne illness in pregnancy. To learn more, speak with a member of our team today!