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The Ultimate Guide: Foods You Should Avoid When Pregnant

The Ultimate Guide: Foods You Should Avoid When Pregnant

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey filled with joy and anticipation, but it can also be incredibly confusing, and even anxiety-inducing when it comes to ‘the rules’ about a healthy diet. 

While many foods are beneficial for expectant mothers, there are also certain foods that should be avoided to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Join our in-house obstetrics expert, Dr Sarah Welsh, to explore the top foods to steer clear of during pregnancy and why they pose risks to you and your baby's well-being. 

“I know firsthand how tricky it can be to navigate all the information out there about what’s safe to eat when you’re expecting! I’m not a big alcohol drinker, so that was easy to cut out when I was pregnant with my first baby, however navigating dietary changes wasn’t so easy. Remember, that sashimi will be even more delicious when you’re celebrating post-birth!”

Top Foods To Avoid When You’re Pregnant

Unpasteurised Dairy Products

Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt are excellent sources of calcium and protein, which are vital for both you and your baby's bone health. However, unpasteurised dairy products should be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of containing harmful bacteria like Listeria, which can lead to foodborne illnesses. Pasteurisation is the process of partially sterilising milk, which makes it safer for us to eat and minimises the risk of infection. Most milk products in the UK are heavily pasteurised due to our strict laws and regulations around dairy products, however, the main thing that needs to be carefully considered is cheese. Not all cheeses are pasteurised, and some of the yummiest types are considered a no-no whilst pregnant e.g. Brie, Camembert, Emmental, and Parmesan. So make sure you double-check your cheeses before you dig in. 

Raw or Undercooked Meat, Fish and Eggs

While meat and eggs are rich sources of protein and essential nutrients, consuming them raw or undercooked during pregnancy can increase the risk of foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella and E. coli. These bacterias can be very dangerous to a foetus, so make sure all meat and eggs are thoroughly cooked before consumption to eliminate any harmful bacteria and safeguard your health and the health of your baby. That means no more Gordon Ramsey soft scrambled eggs, sticking to a well-done steak, and if you are enjoying some sushi - avoid any raw fish. 

Certain Types of Fish

Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for the development of your baby's brain and eyes. However, some types of fish contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful to the developing nervous system of your baby. Mercury is a highly toxic element that occurs in polluted waters. In high amounts, it can affect your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys. It can also cause serious developmental problems in children. Avoid high-mercury fish whilst you're pregnant, and breastfeeding. Examples of high-mercury fish are big-fish tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, and opt for low-mercury alternatives like salmon, trout, and sardines to reap the benefits of fish consumption without the risks.

Deli Meats and Processed Foods

Deli meats and processed foods are convenient options for quick meals, but they can harbour harmful bacteria such as Listeria, which poses a significant risk during pregnancy. These foods should be avoided or thoroughly heated before consumption to kill any bacteria and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

That means no hot dogs (no matter how much you’re craving a Costco hot dog), lunch meat, pepperoni (unless cooked), and any other deli meats. Instead, opt for fresh, whole foods to ensure a nutritious and safe diet for you and your baby. If you are craving processed meats such as sausages, ensure they are cooked all the way through to reduce risk. 

Raw Sprouts

Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish and bean sprouts, may seem like healthy additions to salads and sandwiches, but they can harbour bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. The humid environment the seeds need to start sprouting is the perfect environment for Salmonella, and no matter how hard you wash your sprouts, it’s nearly impossible to wash off. 

Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to foodborne illnesses, so it's best to avoid raw sprouts altogether during pregnancy. Opt for cooked sprouts as a safer alternative to enjoy their nutritional benefits without the risk of infection.

Conclusion

Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial during pregnancy to support the growth and development of your baby while ensuring your own well-being. By being mindful of the foods to avoid, such as unpasteurised dairy products, raw or undercooked meat and eggs, high-mercury fish, deli meats, processed foods, and raw sprouts, you can minimise the risk of foodborne illnesses and complications. The risk of infection from harmful bacteria in these foods is low, however the risk to your unborn baby when you’re pregnant is high. If you do accidentally eat something you’re advised to avoid, don’t panic! Keep an eye on how you’re feeling and if you become unwell (such as vomiting or diarrhoea) seek medical attention. However, the rates of Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli are low, especially in the UK, so it’s probable that you will not have any negative effects. As with everything in pregnancy (and life!), balance is key 🙂

It’s also important to take Pregnancy support supplements throughout your pregnancy journey, especially postpartum when you are breastfeeding. These will make sure you have all the nutrients you need to support the growth of a healthy baby, and that you are feeling well enough to be the best mummy you can be. 

Want more? 

  • Try our HANX Pregnancy Support, a new all-natural supplement to be taken pre, during and post-pregnancy. Designed in-house at HANX and led by our Co-Founder, gynaecology and obstetrics doctor, Dr. Sarah Welsh, during her own pregnancy.
  • Women’s health expert Clio Wood answers your top questions about postpartum sex here
  • Shop our HANX starter pack, a perfect introduction to all our most-loved sexual wellness products. 

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