One of the best things you can do to give your baby a healthy head start is getting the right nutrition during pregnancy and steering clear of foods that are potentially harmful to you and/or your baby.
Here’s a quick rundown of 5 foods you should avoid when you’re pregnant:
- Alcoholic Beverages
Though you may have heard that it’s okay to have the occasional alcoholic drink during pregnancy, it’s best to be on the safe side and choose a sparkly fruit drink or mocktail (non-alcoholic cocktail) instead. Alcohol enters your baby’s bloodstream just like it enters yours, but takes twice as long to clear out. So, if you’re drinking, your baby is too.
- Unpasteurized Dairy and Juices
Pasteurization is a food safety technique that kills bacteria in foods or liquids through heat processing. Unpasteurized milk – which is found in soft cheeses such as goat cheese, feta and brie – may contain Listeria and other pathogens that can be harmful to you and your baby. The same is true for unpasteurized beverages like fresh-squeezed juices or apple cider. If you’re not sure whether something is pasteurized or not, check the label.
- Raw or Undercooked Seafood
Craving sushi? Keep in mind that raw and even seared or smoked seafood is strictly off-limits while you’re expecting due to the high risk of ingesting bacteria and parasites. Any seafood you eat should be cooked well, meaning shellfish should be firm and fish should be flaky.
A note about high-mercury fish: Fish is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for your baby’s brain development, but some types of fish – swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel, to name a few – are also high in mercury. Stay away from these, as well as fish such as albacore tuna, grouper, farmed salmon, wild striped bass and Atlantic halibut that contain contaminants. Wild salmon, Arctic char, Pacific halibut, sole, shrimp and scallops may be safer seafood selections for expectant moms.
- Rare and Processed Meats
Rare and undercooked meat and poultry can harbor harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Trichinella, all of which can lead to food poisoning. If you have a baby on board, make sure that any meat you eat is cooked all the way through.
Processed meats like hot dogs and deli meat are preserved with nitrites and nitrates, food-preserving chemicals that aren’t good for your baby in large amounts. They may also contain trace amounts of Listeria. If you’re craving a deli sandwich, consider switching to a nitrate-free lunch meat and heating it up to get rid of any bacteria that may be lurking inside.
- Raw Eggs
In addition to cake batter and cookie dough, raw eggs may be hiding in homemade ice cream, mayonnaise and salad dressings. As you probably know, raw eggs – like raw meat and poultry – may contain Salmonella. To be safe, check that any eggs you eat are well-cooked and make sure that the eggs you use at home have been well-refrigerated and aren’t past their sell-by date.
When it comes to eating during pregnancy, a good rule of thumb is that it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re concerned a food may contain bacteria or chemicals, stay away from it. It’s also a smart idea to cut back on caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases your heart rate and blood pressure, neither of which is recommended during pregnancy.1 It can also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb iron. And don’t forget that coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine. Soft drinks, tea, chocolate and energy drinks may be high in caffeine too.
Of course, a healthy pregnancy diet is about much more than just the foods to avoid. It’s about the foods you do eat – be sure to get a balanced mix of lean protein and calcium, whole grains, a rainbow of fruits and vegetables and healthy fat, along with a daily prenatal vitamin.