You’re Pregnant! What Not to Eat
August 17, 2011
You’re pregnant but won’t be going in for your first OB appointment for a week or two (or four!) While you wait, what should you stop eating in deference to your new little tenant?
Food. You’re not alone: the recommendations are extensive and can vary from doctor to doctor and country to country. If you try to track down every single thing you put in your mouth, it can get pretty stressful.
The rule of thumb is to avoid raw or unwashed foods that are more likely to carry harmful bacteria than cooked and washed foods. Generally that means nothing uncooked or undercooked, so skip the following
- raw fish (sushi)
- “raw” cheese (unpasteurized)
- “raw” milk (unpasteurized)
- raw meat (no carpaccio and, sadly, all your steaks must be well-done for the next 40 weeks)
- raw eggs (caesar salad dressing, hollandaise, soft-poached eggs)
- raw shellfish (oysters and, to be extra safe, mussels and clams that the restaurant might have undercooked)
All of this is because of a bacteria called listeria, which you’ll see referred to in most articles about pregnancy eating. It’s not just your run-of-the-mill food poisoning salmonella and is pretty nasty, particularly for people with reduced immunity, meaning the elderly, the very young (your baby) and you while you’re pregnant.
You should be smart about avoiding listeria but also be sane: about 7 out of every 1,000,000 people are infected each year. It lives in and on foods that aren’t clean and is killed when they’re cooked. The snags are that a.) you don’t cook all your foods (like cantaloupe, which was home to a scary outbreak earlier this year), and b.) some industrially cooked foods (meaning, not cooked by you or a restaurant just before being served) can be exposed to listeria again in the packaging process, so skip these:
- deli meats
- pate (one end of the spectrum…)
- hot dogs (the other end of the spectrum!)
- packaged smoked or cooked seafood (lox, packaged crab)
None of those are very good for you anyway, so just chalk your abstinence up to virtuous eating choices!
As you can tell from the number 7-in-a-million and from what I’ve been able to find out in my reading, FDA monitoring catches a lot of the cases of listeria headed for the open market, which means your greatest risk is from homemade or home-prepared foods. The biggest outbreak in the US before the cantaloupe-spread one was from homemade Mexican cheese. So don’t buy that! But also remember
- thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables you consume since listeria doesn’t just live in meat, fish and cheese.
The last note is on fish, which can be contaminated by its water supply or is just naturally high in mercury, so in addition to giving sushi a miss, avoid
- any locally caught fish that might come from a polluted body of water
- fishes high in mercury, including white tuna (light tuna is better but don’t have it too often)
There’s a list of mercury-dense fish here + very specific tuna guidelines if you’re a big fish eater or, like I did, you’re traveling to a country (Fiji) that eats primarily fish while you’re pregnant!
Next: What to Drink (Or Not)
I referred to the American Pregnancy Association’s site often and found it reasonable.
Info on listeria here.