If you’re eating out it makes sense to be aware of what’s safe and what’s probably best avoided when choosing from the menu.
No food is ‘banned’ when you’re pregnant and guidelines exist only so you can make informed choices. The thing to remember is that well-sourced and well-prepared food probably does not actually contain the ‘nasty’ you’re trying to avoid.
For example certain soft cheeses may not contain listeria at all, but guidelines recommend you avoid certain cheeses in case listeria is present. Here’s a run down of what you can and probably can’t eat from the menu.
Cheeses to avoid
- Mould-ripened soft cheeses including Camembert, Chaumes, chèvre (goats cheese with a white rind), Pont L’Eveque, Taleggio, Vacherin-Fribourgeois, Brie, Blue Brie, and Cambozola.
- Blue-veined cheese such as Bergader, Bleu d’Auvergne, Blue Wensleydale, Shropshire Blue, Danish Blue, Dolcelatte, Gorgonzola, Roncal, Roquefort, Stilton, tomme.
- Soft, unpasteurised cheese, including goat and sheep’s cheeses (e.g. Chabichou, Pyramide, Torta del Cesar).
These cheeses can contain listeria. Listeria is an organism which can cause a mild to severe flu-like illness in adults.
However when you’re pregnant a listeria infection could lead to your baby being premature or even to a miscarriage.
But don’t worry too much as any restaurant or cafe serving food containing these cheeses will usually want to show off about it so they’ll most likely be listed so you can avoid them!
Also if the dish is cooked until it’s ‘piping hot’ (for example a lasagne with Taleggio cheese) it’s OK to eat as listeria is killed by cooking at high temperatures.
Which cheeses can you eat?
- Hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Cheshire and Parmesan.
- Soft cheeses such as cottage cheese, cream cheese and Fromage Frais as well as processed cheese products in sealed packages (such as cheese spreads).
What you should know about eating eggs
- Cooked eggs where the yolk (yellow bit) and white are not runny are safe to eat.
- Avoid raw eggs. These may be present in home-made mayonnaise, béarnaise and hollandaise sauces, some salad dressings, ice cream, icing, mousse, tiramisu and other desserts like chilled chocolate ‘pots’. But don’t hold back on the crème brulée or caramel custard because the eggs are cooked! Raw eggs are sometimes stirred into a carbonara – if in doubt ask.
- Chilled, savoury soufflés and mousses, often on the starter menu, may contain raw egg whites, so ask first.
All eggs have the potential to be infected with salmonella. Salmonella infection causes symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, dehydration and a high temperature and some people need to receive hospital treatment.
Although there’s no direct harm to your baby, you will feel very unwell. Cooking eggs until they’re not runny kills off any potential salmonella bacteria.
Can you still eat meat, liver and pate?
- Meat is absolutely fine to eat, but ask for it to be thoroughly cooked. This is especially important with poultry and products made from minced meat, such as sausages and burgers as these can contain bacteria and parasites. Make sure these are cooked until they are steaming hot all the way through and no pink meat is left.
- Liver and liver-products (such as pates and Leberwurst – liver sausage) are best avoided because they contains lots of Vitamin A. Too much of this can lead to your baby having birth defects. However the Vitamin A in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes is present in much lower amounts, so you don’t need to avoid these to get your five a day!
- Avoid pates of all descriptions (including vegetable) because pate can contain listeria.
- Also avoid cooked meats such as ham, salami or cooked and cold chicken, or ready-to-eat peeled prawns from a smorgasbord or buffet as these may contain listeria. These foods cooked on-site at the restaurant and served to you hot are absolutely fine though.
What do you need to know about fish and seafood?
- Avoid shark, swordfish and marlin because these can contain high levels of mercury, which could affect your baby’s developing nervous system.
- Limit dishes containing oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout, fresh tuna, sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut and rock salmon to two portions a week. This is because these types of fish can contain dioxins and PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyls), which have been linked to cancer and damage to the immune and reproductive systems. All adult humans have been exposed to dioxins and PCBs from the food they eat, and these substances build up in your body over your lifetime. They won’t harm your baby in the short term, but they are passed across your placenta and through your breast milk to your baby so it’s best to limit the amount you pass to your baby by limiting the amount you consume.
Contrary to popular belief you do not need to avoid sushi and other dishes made with raw fish as long as the fish used to make it has been frozen first.
This is because fish can contain small worms called parasites, which could make you ill and which may deprive you and your baby of nutrients.
Freezing kills the worms and makes raw fish safe to eat. Sushi sold in UK restaurants, whether it’s ready-made or made on site, is OK because the raw fish used must (by law) have been frozen at minus 20°C for at least 24 hours.
Some raw fish such as salmon does not need to be frozen first if it has been smoked, salted or pickled. This is because these processes also kill any worms in the fish.
- Do not eat raw shellfish. This includes oysters, muscles, clams, winkles, whelks and cockles. This is because raw shellfish may contain bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning, which will not harm your baby, but will make you very poorly. You can eat all shellfish which is thoroughly cooked, but avoid any whose shells remain closed after cooking.
What to watch out for with salads
- Salads are absolutely fine to eat if they have been prepared on the premises you’re eating in and have been washed (ask if in doubt!). But you should probably avoid pre-prepared salads from a salad-bar or smorgasbord as they may contain listeria.
- Avoid side servings of pre-prepared salads like coleslaw as listeria is a real threat in such foods.
Do you need to cut out coffee, tea and herbal teas?
- As a general rule, teas made from fruit or herbs which are used in cooking are safe for you to drink for example chamomile, mint and peppermint. However, it’s best not to have sage tea as one of the chemicals in sage tea, thujone, has been linked to miscarriage and high blood pressure. If you’re into parsley tea limit it, as large amounts may may increase the risk of miscarriage and affect your baby’s development. It’s fine to eat fresh or dried parsley and sage when used in cooked food.
- In the first twelve weeks of pregnancy it is is best to limit your caffeine intake to 200mg a day. This is what’s in two mugs of instant coffee (100mg each), five cans of cola (up to 40mg each), or four cups of tea (50mg in each). Be careful though as a strong after-dinner espresso could contain as much as 150mg in one shot! Even filter coffee contains up to 140mg in one mug. Too much caffeine has been linked to miscarriage in the first trimester and low birth weight, which can affect your baby’s health in later life. After the first trimester doctors are not sure whether caffeine has any negative affects on your baby.
The truth about nuts
- All nuts are fine to eat when you’re pregnant – even peanuts – see below.
- Despite previous Government advice on peanuts (to avoid when pregnant if you have eczema, asthma or other allergies) this advice has now changed, The latest research shows that there’s no clear evidence that eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
‘But Aunty Betty said you can’t eat honey’ – and other pregnancy-food myths
The following foods, despite what your well-meaning Aunty Betty might say are perfectly safe to eat.
- Mascarpone cheese
- Salt in moderation
- Live or bio yoghurt
- Probiotic drinks
- Creme fraiche
- Soured cream
- Spicy food