Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Food-borne illness leads to pregnancy complications

During pregnancy, some foods that you used to enjoy may not be safe for you to eat. Some may contain high levels of certain chemicals and harmful bacteria, such as listeria, salmonella, E. Coli and methyl mercury, which may potentially harm your unborn baby. Although these bacteria have the potential to make anyone ill, the changes in your hormones during pregnancy will suppress your immune system, which means it will be harder for your body to fight infections. Not only can this make life miserable for you, but some food-borne illnesses can even lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects.

 

Adjust Your Menu During Pregnancy

You'll need to use your own judgment when it comes to types of food and their preparation, but it will help to have a list of some of the particularly dangerous foods in each food group:

  • Dairy. Stay away from unpasteurized milk and dairy products, which may contain Listeria bacteria. While it's easy to judge some products (your milk carton should quite clearly tell you if the milk is pasteurized or not), it can be more difficult in other cases. Spoilage is another concern with dairy, as a yogurt tub or block of cheese is a great breeding ground for bacteria. Read labels closely, and make sure you pay attention to expiry dates on all dairy.
  • Meat. Uncooked or undercooked meat (chicken, beef, fish or any other type) can contain salmonella, and should therefore be avoided. However, liver is not safe to eat in any form during pregnancy. Also, remember that some things can hide in dishes and virtually disappear into the mix. Raw eggs are used in many recipes, from Cesar salad dressing to lemon meringue pie, so read labels and ask questions to make sure you don't eat any by accident.
  • Fruits and Vegetables. Often over-looked when it comes to food safety, fruits and vegetables can harbor harmful bacteria in their skin and leave you just as sick as an undercooked piece of meat. Of course, they are also an incredibly important part of pregnancy nutrition, so you should take extra precaution when eating them rather than exclude them from your diet altogether. Pay special attention to coarse rinds that have come into direct contact with the soil and peel fruits and vegetables whenever you can.
  • Breads and Grains. In general, you won't run into much trouble with grains, but keep in mind that, like produce and meat, some grains are prone to perishing quickly. You may be tempted to cook a large amount of rice to eat over the next few days, but that may not be a good idea: rice can spoil surprisingly quickly, so avoid cooking more than a day's worth at a time.

Artificial Sweeteners

The use of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (NutraSweet/Equal) should be reduced or eliminated during pregnancy. Some sugar substitutes, saccharin in particular, have been linked to a higher risk of bladder problems, including bladder cancer in unborn babies, when consumed in large amounts. Artificial sweeteners can be most commonly found in diet soft drinks and diet or sugar-free foods. It's best to use natural sweeteners such as fruit juice or honey when possible.

Avoiding Food Borne Illness in the Kitchen

Also, food preparation plays a big role in keeping your unborn baby safe. Poor or unsafe food preparation can mean exposure to harmful substances, which may lead to food poisoning or infection. The first rule of thumb when it comes to food safety is proper cleaning. From your hands to your tools to your food, it's important to get in the habit of cleaning everything frequently and properly. Wash raw vegetables and fruit very well, clean your hands after touching any meat or dirty produce and make sure all food preparation surfaces are wiped cleaned and sanitized.

Unfortunately, you may need to adjust your taste preferences until you deliver, too. For instance, it's best to cook all meat completely, and only eat cold luncheon meats like smoked turkey and ham after heating them up until they're steaming hot. Always play it safe when it comes to food preparation during pregnancy for the good of your body and your baby's health.

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