Health experts caution against eating any type of raw food during pregnancy.
When you are pregnant, your body undergoes a series of changes to accommodate the growing fetus. The immune system is naturally suppressed, and the risk of certain infections is high. These infections can pass to your unborn child irrespective of whether the infection in the mother is symptomatic.
The following infections can cause miscarriages, premature labor, and birth defects in the child:
- Listeriosis: Listeria monocytogenes are bacteria that infect young children, immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant women. Symptoms of infection are fever, vomiting, and diarrhea in the mother. The infection can lead to sepsis and meningitis in the unborn baby.
- Toxoplasmosis: Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite found in uncooked meat. Handling uncooked meats by the mother can lead to toxoplasmosis infestation in her unborn baby. Toxoplasmosis is known to cause congenital hearing loss, blindness, and brain damage in unborn babies.
- Salmonellosis: Salmonellosis during pregnancy may cause inflammation of the placenta and membranes that surround the fetus and increase the risk of stillborn babies.
Additionally, raw foods may be contaminated by other bacteria such as E. coli, Shigella, and Campylobacter jejuni that may cause food poisoning in pregnant women, leading to dehydration, shock, and low blood pressure.
10 raw foods to avoid during pregnancy
Here are 10 raw foods to definitely avoid when you are pregnant (although you can enjoy them if they are well cooked):
- Raw meat: Raw or undercooked beef, lamb, pork, or poultry must be avoided during pregnancy. There is a high risk of E. coli and toxoplasmosis in such meats. Generally, meat should be thoroughly cooked all the way through. All market-brought sausages, burgers, and steaks should be cooked until you see no residual blood or pinkness.
- Raw eggs: Having foods that may contain raw egg such as mousse, certain sauces (Hollandaise and béarnaise), salad dressings, homemade ice creams, and tiramisu must be avoided in pregnancy because Salmonella bacteria can transmit from the intact outer shell to the inside of the egg.
- Sushi: Salmon and codfish used in sushi can be contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus bacteria. Although the infection is harmless in most individuals, pregnant women are at risk of gastroenteritis due to this infection.
- Shellfish: Fresh or cured oysters are contraindicated in pregnancy due to a high risk of E. coli and salmonellosis.
- Cured meats: Some cold cured meats, such as chorizo, salami, and prosciutto, are not cooked before being cured. Because of this, they may be contaminated by toxoplasmosis parasites and should be avoided.
- Unpasteurized milk: Often fresh, unpasteurized milk comes with a high risk of Listeria contamination. It is advisable to avoid unpasteurized milk in any form including cold coffee, ice creams, or drink.
- Cheese: Cheese made from unpasteurized milk, mold-ripened soft cheese with a white rind, brie, camembert, soft goat cheese such as chevre, and soft blue cheese such as Gorgonzola and Roquefort should be avoided during pregnancy due to a high risk of Listeria contamination. Additionally, soft cheese contains more moisture, making them more susceptible to any potential food poisoning.
- Uncooked sprouts: Uncooked sprout surfaces, especially alfalfa and radish, often contain various bacteria that enter the sprout through tiny cracks, no amount of washing can clean them. It is better to steam these before consumption.
- Celery and lettuce: Salads made with celery and lettuce are often contaminated with E. coli and Salmonella. It is better to avoid raw salads at least while pregnant.
- Juices: Juices that are freshly squeezed in restaurants may not be pasteurized or otherwise treated to ensure their safety. If you want to have juices, make them at home where fruits are washed thoroughly under running water, skin is scrubbed well, and glasses are clean.
6 foods to avoid during pregnancy
Some foods are dangerous during pregnancy even if they are eaten cooked, such as:
- Certain fish: Certain fish are known to contain high levels of mercury. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that may cause defects in brain development in a child. These fish include king mackerel, marlin, shark, swordfish, tilefish (from the Gulf of Mexico), and bigeye tuna.
- Organ meats: The liver is often a rich source of vitamin A. Because high vitamin A levels are known to cause congenital birth defects in the baby, it is best to limit yourself from eating occasional small portions of organ meats and pates.
- Caffeine: High caffeine consumption is linked to low birth weights in newborns. Most doctors advise limiting caffeine consumption to no more than 200 mg daily (one to two cups per day). This includes caffeine in drinks such as black or green tea, sodas, sports drinks, chocolate, and cold medications. Remember that one 350-mL mug of instant coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine, that of filter coffee contains 140 mg of caffeine, and one cup of black tea contains 75 mg of caffeine.
- Alcohol: Alcohol is associated with congenital developmental anomalies in children. There is no safe limit or variety of alcohol, and it must be avoided at all costs throughout pregnancies.
- Herbal teas: Certain herbal teas that contain sage, parsley, peppermint, and aloe vera must be avoided, especially in the first trimester, because they are known to stimulate uterine contractions. Ginger tea is mostly safe in pregnancy.
- Miscellaneous: Certain herbs such as fenugreek, turmeric and ashwagandha, and raw papaya have been known to promote menstruation. There is no evidence regarding their safety in pregnancy. You should discuss with your doctor the consumption of any herb during pregnancy.
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What should I do if I eat something risky when I am pregnant?
Do not panic, and do not try to induce vomiting because it may do more harm than good. The best course of action would be to contact your doctor or midwife for advice.
If you experience symptoms such as cramps, spotting, and vomiting, you should visit the emergency room.
3 food precautions when you have takeout during pregnancy
Three food precautions that you must follow when you have takeout during pregnancy include:
- Two-hour rule: If you cannot consume the food within two hours of being served, don't take the leftovers home. Drive home as soon as possible after eating out and put your leftovers in the refrigerator. Discard any perishables (foods that can spoil or become contaminated by bacteria if unrefrigerated) left out at room temperature for longer than two hours. When temperatures are above 90°F (32°C), discard food after one hour. If the food was in the car (warm environment) for over an hour, discard it.
- Temperature: Don't let hot food sit out at room temperature. Similarly, if you receive a lukewarm dish in a restaurant, send it back.
- Heat the food before eating: If you are not going to eat the food within two hours, you can keep it hot in the oven with the temperature set at or above 200°F. Make sure the food is heated at a high temperature and not just warmed up. This includes side dishes such as stuffing. Check with a food thermometer to make sure that the food is held at an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C).
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