Finding out you’re pregnant is fantastic – but can also bring with it a minefield of what you should and shouldn’t eat and drink. 😨
Panic not though – MadeForMums, along with expert pregnancy nutritionist Dr Rana Conway and dietician Rick Miller have put together this handy guide to help demystify the confusion around foods that are unsafe in pregnancy. Take a look…
The only cheeses that are a total no-go are soft, mould-ripened cheeses with a rind: it doesn’t make any difference if they are pasteurised. These cheeses are less acidic than hard cheeses and the moist conditions in the cheese make it an ideal place for bacteria to grow.
This can lead to listeriosis, which can potentially cause miscarriage and stillbirth.
- Blue Brie
What if they’ve been cooked?
You can eat these if they have been thoroughly cooked so they are piping hot all the way through.
A note about pasteurised vs unpasteurised cheeses
It can be confusing, but whether a cheese is labelled pasteurised or unpasteurised makes no difference to its safety in pregnancy as unpasteurised hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, are safe to eat.
It all comes down to the moisture levels and acidity, and whether it’s likely to harbour listeria bacteria.
Pâté should generally be avoided in pregnancy – apart from those that are pasteurised or heat treated, most of which are safe – such as salmon paste that comes in a jar.
- Liver pâté
- mushroom pâté
- vegetable pâtés
Vegetable pâtés and mushroom pâté can contain the bacteria listeria. Unlike many bacteria, listeria can grow in cold temperatures – even a fridge – and in rare cases, lead to miscarriage.
Liver pâtés can also contain high levels of Vitamin A. Vitamin A at high doses can lead to birth defects and damage to your baby’s liver.
“It’s fine to have pâté (except liver pâté) that is heat treated or pasteurised while you’re pregnant, as these don’t carry the same listeria risk as pâté that are bought chilled and stored in the fridge in the supermarket,” says Dr Conway.
Avoid liver or liver products, such as liver pâté or liver sausage, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A, which can potentially cause birth defects.
Nutritionist Dr Rana Conway explains: “Pregnant women and even women trying for a baby are advised not to eat liver or liver products. They should also avoid supplements containing vitamin A, such as cod liver oil, unless advised by their doctor to take them.”
However, it’s important to distinguish between vitamin A from animal/meat sources (called retinol) and from veggie sources (called beta-carotene).
Some women – especially those having twins or babies close together in age – are advised to increase their intake of beta-carotene.
Raw beansprouts and other vegetable sprouts
While you should wash anything that might have soil on it before cooking, you should be extra careful with:
- mung beans
– which are often served raw in salads.
That’s because bacteria like salmonella and listeria can get into the cracks of these sprouts, making it pretty hard to rid them of bacteria just by scrubbing them.
We spoke to Rick Miller, a dietician recommended to us by the British Dietetic Association (BDA) who advised either cooking thoroughly or avoiding eating altogether.
Runny, raw and soft-boiled eggs
On October 11 2017 the Food Standards Agency officially confirmed that raw or runny eggs are SAFE to eat in pregnancy as long as they are British Lion-stamped. Even raw Lion-stamped eggs are thought to be very low risk.
If you’re eating out and you don’t know if the eggs you’re eating are British Lion-stamped it’s best to avoid soft cooked or raw eggs.
Find more guidance on eating eggs in pregnancy here
Live, low fat and bio yoghurts are fine to eat in pregnancy. If it’s homemade yoghurt – make sure it’s been made with pasteurised milk and if not – avoid it.
Peanuts are now considered safe to eat in pregnancy.
Previously pregnant women were advised to avoid peanuts if there was a history of allergy (asthma , eczema, hay fever or food allergies) in their child’s immediate family but this has now changed as there is no clear evidence that eating peanuts when pregnant increases the risk of your baby having a peanut allergy.
If you’re making homemade ice-cream, ensure you use British Lion-stamped eggs – otherwise use a pasteurised egg substitute or egg-free recipe.
Bought soft ice-creams should be fine as they’re made with pasteurised products so any salmonella risk should have been eradicated.
However, Mr Whippy-style ice-creams bought from vans should be avoided as the machinery themselves might contain bacteria. Read more here
You should not eat raw meat when pregnant as it has the potential risk of toxoplasmosis (though do note this is very rare, but it can cause neurological damage to your baby, or stillbirth).
The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food’s latest report states: “Do not eat raw, or undercooked, meat, particularly lamb, pork, and venison, including any ready prepared chilled meals. Cook all red meat until no trace of pinkness remains and the juices run clear, and do not taste meat before it is fully cooked. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.”
Dr Conway warns to be “particularly careful when you’re eating out or at a barbecue”.
Cold cured meats
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises pregnant women to be careful when eating cold cured meats like
- Parma ham
– as they are not cooked but cured and fermented, so may contain parasites that cause toxoplasmosis.
Check the packaging – if they’ve been cooked first they’re OK to eat, if not – freeze them at home fro 4 days before eating as freezing kills most parasites.
Fish to avoid when pregnant
Fish which contain high levels of mercury and should not be eaten at all as they can damage your unborn baby’s nervous system are:
Cooked cold meats
While some countries say pregnant women shouldn’t consume pre-packed meats like ham and corned beef, this is not the guideline in the UK and these meats are considered safe to eat here.
Fish to limit when pregnant
Oily fish, and restaurant favourites such as sea bass and sea bream, should be limited to two portions a week, because of possible toxins in the fish.
- Sea bass
- Sea bream
- raw prawns
- raw oysters
- other raw shellfish such as scallops
– when you’re pregnant – as they can contain bacteria and viruses that could give you food poisoning. Although this won’t harm your baby, it can be very nasty when pregnant.
It is ok to eat sushi made from raw fish (but not raw shellfish) as in the UK it must have been frozen first.
EU rules mean that fish used in sushi has to be frozen to -20C for at least 24 hours before use.
The freezing process kills any possible parasites, which could otherwise cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in extreme cases, can even be fatal. Cooking fish also kills the parasites.
There are no regulations against eating liquorice sweets or drinking liquorice tea when pregnant, though, according the the NHS website, liquorice root should be avoided although there’s no explanation give as to why.
Dietician Rick Miller told us: “This is quite preliminary evidence that liquorice could increase the risk of stillbirth, we simply do not know.”
Any food which is undercooked can be risky, along with foods that are left sitting out for a while, such as side dishes at a barbecue so make sure ready-prepared foods like microwave meals, pasties and pies are all thoroughly cooked through to avoid bugs.
“If you’re heating food in the microwave it’s particularly important to follow the instructions, including advice to stir ready meals, to make sure there are no cold spots and that every part gets properly heated,” explains Dr Conway.
“This advice applies to foods such as pies and pasties too. Obviously you can’t stir a pie, but you can cut into the middle to make sure it’s piping hot.”
At barbecues, Dr Rana Conway advises to “discreetly cut into the middle of a sausage or piece of meat” to check it’s cooked through.
“When you’re at a barbecue you need to be careful about the side dishes as well as the meat,” explains Dr Conway.
“Salads, dips and sauces are sometimes left out for several hours, the weather is likely to be warm and the same cutlery may be used for different foods.
“This all provides an ideal environment for food poisoning bacteria to spread and multiply. Try sticking to hot foods and those you know haven’t been out for long.”
What about drinks?
Caffeine: Pregnant women are advised to have no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day (that’s roughly to mugs of instant coffee). Read more
Herbal / green teas: There’s not much safety information regarding herbal and green teas, so the Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggests limiting intake to 4 cups a day. If you’re unsure about any herbal products. (And do also bear in mind that green tea contains caffeine).
Alcohol: Current FSA advice is that pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol – but if you do drink it should be limited to 1 to 2 units no more than once or twice a week. Read more
Milk: UHT (ultra-heat treated, or ‘long life’) milk is fine; as is pasteurised milk. Unpasteurised (or ‘raw’) milk should be boiled before you drink it.