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Eating and Drinking in Pregnancy: Food and Drink to Avoid

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Which food and drinks should be avoided during pregnancy and what is safe to eat.

During pregnancy women are often confused about what foods and drinks are safe to consume. With so much controversy I will provide the facts about the most common food and beverages to be avoided during pregnancy. 

Caffeine

It is not recommended to drink excess amounts of caffeine during pregnancy. Caffeine is found in many things from tea and coffee to some fizzy juice and chocolate. It can also be found in some over the counter painkillers. The FSA (Food standards association) recommend that pregnant women drink no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. This is the equivalent of two mugs of instant coffee, four cups of tea or five cans of coke. It is therefore not necessary to cut caffeine out completely but merely limiting the amount consumed. 

Excess caffeine can result in a baby born with a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems. There is a possibility that high levels of caffeine consumption can result in miscarriage though this research is not conclusive.

Alcohol

It is recommended that alcohol consumption should be limited or cut out completely during pregnancy. Many health professionals state that pregnant women should steer clear of alcohol completely, especially in the first three months. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and crosses the placenta to the baby. It can damage developing cells and may cause premature birth or miscarriage. 

Excessive alcohol consumption in pregnancy can result in FAS (Fetal alcohol syndrome). This can cause birth defects of the face and produce a low birthweight baby which may be smaller than usual as they grow up. These children can have learning difficulties, behavioural problems and co-ordination difficulties. Women who participate in binge drinking; consuming more than five units of alcohol; are more at risk of developing a baby with FAS, than a women who drinks the same amount over a longer period. 

Fish and Seafood

Fish contains high levels of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It is therefore of great nutritional value to pregnant women, however some fish and shellfish contain high levels of mercury which should be limited during pregnancy. Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish should all be avoided during pregnancy as they contain high mercury levels. Omega-3 is essential for healthy brain development, therefore fish with low mercury levels should be consumed once or twice a week to gain the most benefits. Cod, Pollock and Clams are examples of low-mercury fish. Raw shellfish should also be avoided during pregnancy.

Eggs and Egg products

Raw eggs may contain salmonella which is harmful to your immune system. It is important to make sure eggs are cooked thoroughly before consumption. Soft boiled or runny yolks should not be eaten during pregnancy to minimize the risk of salmonella poisoning. Home made sorbets, meringues, mousse and mayonnaise are made with raw egg. These should be avoided during pregnancy. Shop bought mayonnaise is made with pasteurised egg and is safe to eat. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning can include severe vomiting and diarrhoea, abdominal pain, headache and a very high temperature. 

Meats

Raw, rare or undercooked meat or poultry is best avoided during pregnancy as it may contain salmonella or toxoplasmosis bacteria. Ensure that meat is properly cooked before eating during pregnancy. Pay particular attention to food cooked on a barbecue as it may appear cooked on the outside but be raw on the inside. 

Cheese

Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium. Pregnant women should avoid soft, mould ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert. Blue-veined cheeses such as Stilton or Danish Blue should also be avoided. These types of cheese provide a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Listeria can grow on these cheeses and can be damaging to the unborn child. Hard cheeses which have been pasteurised are perfectly safe to eat during pregnancy. 

Further reading:

Food Standards Agency

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Posted on Jan 4, 2011

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