Can’t begin your day without a venti Coffee on your way to work? Feel lost without your pear and brie panini at lunch? Dreaming of sipping a nice Shiraz while eating your local, grass fed steak, nice and rare? There may need to be changes to your regular diet when you become pregnant to keep you and your baby safe but that doesn’t mean that you have to go without the finer foods. Here is a breakdown of what to avoid, and why, along with safe alternatives. Keep in mind that though you may have a rich, varied diet while not pregnant, you may spend some time surviving on cereal if it’s all that you can stomach. This is normal!
There are a lot of recommendations on food safety in pregnancy, and it is smart to stick to them. You are now building a little person in your body and following safety recommendations helps keep them safe. Some bacteria can have a harmful effect on the wellbeing of your baby, or for both of you. There is a definite list of things to avoid completely and some foods to cut down on. A good rule for pregnancy is “everything in moderation” except for the following culprits:
Listeria laden food
This unfriendly bacteria travels through many of our agricultural products, generally through dairy and meat, but also has been seen in vegetable products through ground or water contamination. Avoid this one like the plague, because that’s what it will feel like. It is quite rare to come in contact with listeria but we hear of food warnings often in the news. For most people who do pick it up, listeriosis (the sickness caused by this bacteria) is a quick bout of diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Pregnant women are more likely to have more serious complications and even with a mild case, are at higher risk of miscarriage. Listeria is hardy, able to live and breed even at fridge temperatures and contaminate food after cooking. Some of the more common carriers include:
Soft or mould-ripened cheeses: That double cream brie that melts in your mouth is a perfect environment for listeria. Crumbled blue cheese on your burger? Also a target. Even if the milk used is pasteurized, these types of cheese are at risk based on their aging process and storage, the things that make it so delicious.
Alternatives: Listeria likes cool environments but doesn’t hold up to hot ones. So, the good news is that you can still enjoy these foods, you just have to cook them. Try slicing your brie in half, filling the center with Major Grey’s chutney, wrap in a few layers of phylo pastry and pop it into the oven until steamy. Or use that blue cheese in a yummy casserole with broccoli. Hard cheeses are all safe, even if made with unpasteurized milk, because they are heated.
Deli Meats/Cured Meats/Hot Dogs: Let’s just start by striking hot dogs off the grocery list all together… The other foods listed are culprits because of the long refrigeration time and the fact that we eat it cold. If contamination has happened between the processing and the sale of these meats, the bacteria can continue to grow and spread. These products are often quite processed and not an ideal source but who can resist a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich on Rye?
Alternatives: Switch out your deli sliced chicken with last night’s leftover chopped chicken in your wrap or sandwich. Or enjoy that smoked meat sautéed quickly with onions on toasted rye.
Unpasteurized milk/milk products: Unpasteurized milk is generally hard to find in Ontario, unless you milk the cow yourself. Hard cheeses made from raw milk are safe, but the milk and soft cheeses from raw milk can transmit that listeria well.
Alternatives: You can easily pasteurize milk at home by boiling it for a few minutes. Otherwise, stick to pasteurized sources. Have you tried milk from a grass fed cow? Remarkable difference.
Fruits and Vegetables: As you wander through the farmers market or grocery store on Saturday morning, you’re likely to come across listeria contaminated fresh produce. It contaminates the soil, or the water, whether you’re an organic farmer, or not. This one is a no brainer – all you have to do is wash your produce well and store it properly. No need to avoid those fresh, juicy garden greens; they provide you with a fantastic dose of vitamins and minerals and are of great benefit to that growing baby.
Canned and raw seafood: In this category, the biggest culprit is smoked seafood, like that Sunday brunch smoked salmon. Sushi can fall prey to listeria also. It is wise to avoid raw fish in pregnancy for its potential for parasitic worms and other bacteria. Canned fish is generally thought safe in moderation (2 tins of tuna per week) and fish can provide us with some great fats for the development of babe’s brain.
Alternatives: Toss that smoked salmon into your pasta to heat it, mix with some capers for the same delicious taste. Or switch out your fish for veggies or avocado in your sushi and load up on wasabi.
Toxoplasmosis laden food
This parasite usually gets its bad reputation from kitty litter boxes but is actually more commonly transmitted via undercooked meat or from your very own garden, especially if you have cats. The toxoplasmosis reproductive cycle is mostly dependent on cats, as well as the transmission. The illness itself can often be mild for moms and in half of the cases, crosses the placenta to baby. The effects on unborn babe vary, depending on when you were exposed in pregnancy. Aside from the food sources below, it is also a good idea to not eat kitty litter.
Undercooked or raw meat: Does anyone out there actually enjoy steak tartar? Though more common in pork and lamb, it has shown up in beef at times. Meat can be a great source of iron in your pregnancy, but some people don’t enjoy it if it isn’t cooked to their preference. It might be a disappointment to eat a filet mignon well done.
Alternatives: There is good news here: toxoplasmosis can be killed by freezing it to -10 C for 2-4 days before cooking it. Otherwise, cook your meat fully so that it reaches an internal temperature that is safe for consumption.
Garden vegetables: Blame that cat again this time. Cats like to use gardens as toilets and you might not always notice when harvesting your carrots and radishes. Again, no need to avoid the fresh garden bounty, just wash it well, as well as your hands.
No more margaritas on the beach or martini nights with the girls. That might be a bit harsh… You can still go out with the girls but you could volunteer as designated driver. Alcohol is definitely on the avoid list. We know for sure that there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, and that alcohol can have harmful effects on the baby as seen in FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
Alternatives: Gingerale is a great help with nausea in pregnancy and can refresh you like a beer would. You can also ask for that daiquiri to be a virgin version.
Thankfully, this is one that you don’t have to give up, but you may have to modify the amount that you are using. There is an increased risk of miscarriage in the first trimester and low birth weight babies if overconsumption occurs throughout the pregnancy. The safe recommended amount in pregnancy is 300mg a day. You could quickly surpass that limit with a venti brewed coffee from Starbucks, measuring in at 415mg. If espresso is your thing, you can still have it. At 75gm of caffeine per shot, you can still sip a few of them in a day, or drink two cups of coffee. Teas ring in lower on the caffeine scale, averaging between 30 and 80 mg per cup of black tea. Around four colas and soft drinks are required to max out at 71mg per serving. Watch for other culprits of caffeine when pregnant and plan accordingly – the chocolate is just too delicious to give up (only 20-30 mg per serving). As for energy drinks – avoid those, they are laden with caffeine and sugar, with some brands ringing in over the daily limit. Know your amounts and stick to the 300 mg limit, and be prepared for an active fetus after your morning latte.
Alternatives: Though there are safe amounts of caffeine for pregnancy, some women feel more comfortable avoiding it all together or cutting down some. Order your coffee decaffeinated, or half and half. Replace cola or energy drinks with sparkling water with juice.
Pregnancy is a time of great change in your body, so feed your body well! Maybe this is the time to learn about healthier choices. Or about watching what you eat. Remember to follow the food guide and eat lots of different colours. Check out Josee’s blog blog post on 10 ways to help you eat better and save money. Check back soon for posts on important nutrients when eating for two and a helpful shopping list and meal plan.
Becca is a registered midwife with Generations Midwifery Care. Learn more about Becca here.