If you’re pregnant and feeling confused about what you can and can’t eat, you’re not alone! In this post we go through the reasons why some foods aren’t recommended during pregnancy, and which foods are safe to eat.
However, you don’t need to get too hung up about what you ate before you knew you were pregnant, or worry about an occasional mistake during pregnancy: normally, the chances of your baby being harmed are minute. We’ve included the most commonly avoided foods here and food you can safely eat, but it’s not a definitive list.
Cheese is a fantastic food to eat in pregnancy because it is a good source of protein and calcium. However, you should not eat soft cheeses because they are more susceptible to bacterial growth such as listeria – a bacteria which can cause an infection called listeriosis.
Check the labelling on cheeses before you buy, as quite a few are made with unpasteurised milk, though you only need to worry about the soft ones: hard unpasteurised cheese, such as parmesan, is considered safe.
Cheeses you should avoid:
- Mould-ripened soft unpasturised cheeses: Brie, Blue Brie, Camembert, Chaumes, Chèvre (goat’s cheese with a white rind), Pont l’Eveque, Taleggio, Vacherin
- Blue-veined cheeses: Bleu d’Auvergne, Cambazola, Danish Blue, Dolcelatte, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Shropshire Blue, Tomme
- Soft, unpasteurised cheeses: goat and sheep’s cheeses.
Cheeses you can safely eat:
- Hard cheeses: Babybel, Caerphilly, Cheddar, Cheshire, Derby, Double Gloucester, Edam, Emmenthal, Gouda, Gruyère, Havarti, Jarlsberg, Lancashire, Manchego, Parmesan, pecorino (hard), Provolone, Red Leicester
- Soft cheeses (provided they are made from pasteurised milk): Boursin, cottage cheese, cream cheese (eg Philadelphia), mascarpone, mozzarella, processed cheeses (eg Dairylea), quark, ricotta, feta.
Under cooked eggs and poultry may contain salmonella – a bacterium that causes very severe food poisoning. If you contract salmonella while you are pregnant it won’t pass directly to your baby as it doesn’t cross the placenta. However, it can cause severe dehydration that can lead to complications and possible hospitalisation.
In 2016, the guidelines for eating runny yolks or partially cooked eggs during pregnancy changed. Now, if the eggs are produced under British Lion code (which 90% of UK eggs are) and have the lion stamp on, they are ok to serve runny. However, do be aware that imported eggs may still pose a risk, as do eggs from birds other than hens.
Foods containing egg you may want to avoid:
- Home-made ice cream
- Fresh hollandaise sauce
- Fresh mayonnaise
- Certain uncooked puddings such as home-made chocolate mousse and tiramisu.
Foods containing egg that you can eat safely:
- Shop-bought versions of all of the above should be fine because they will have been made with pasteurised eggs – ie heated to a point where the bacteria are destroyed. Baked products containing eggs, such as cakes and biscuits, are also safe.
You can still eat ice cream while you are pregnant, but only shop-bought varieties: not soft ice cream (like a Mr Whippy). Soft ice cream that comes from a machine is kept at a higher temperature and there is a danger that the machine could also be harbouring germs. So if you get the urge for an ice cream when you are out and about, stick to a tub.
In the 1960s and 1970s pregnant women were encouraged to eat buckets of liver, and as it was a fairly cheap form of protein they dutifully obliged. These days, due to changes in the way animals are fed, liver contains high levels of vitamin A, which can cause birth defects.
Official guidance is to avoid all liver products, including liver pâté and sausage, but please don’t worry if you ate some before you knew you were pregnant; it’s very unlikely to have caused any problems
Fish is an excellent source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals when you’re pregnant; oily fish (eg salmon) also supplies long-chain omega 3 fatty acids which are important for your baby’s brain and eye development. However, there are some precautions you should take.
Fish to avoid:
It is sensible to avoid raw or undercooked shellfish, such as mussels, oysters and prawns, because they harbour salmonella and another, rather wonderfully named, germ: campylobacter.
- Fish with high mercury content Shark, swordfish and marlin may contain high levels of mercury – which has been shown to damage a baby’s nervous system – so you should not eat these at all.
Fish you can eat:
- Supermarket sushi – it is normally frozen beforehand, which will kill any parasites. If you are making it at home, freeze it for 24 hours before consumption, and if you are eating it at a restaurant do check that it has been frozen before you tuck in.
- Oily fish
Although oily fish, such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel, are very nutritious, they have also been found to contain traces of pollutants. So that you and your baby can benefit from the omega 3s without taking on risks from these pollutants, the FSA advises pregnant women to eat one or two portions of fish a week, including one meal of oily fish, but not to have oily fish more than twice a week.
Tuna has been found to contain traces of mercury, but at much lower levels, so the FSA advises pregnant women to have no more than two fresh tuna steaks or four cans of tuna a week