Foods to avoid during pregnancy

There are foods that, for the sake of the unborn child, it would be good to avoid or limit during pregnancy: these are the ones that involve the greatest risks.

The nutrition of the pregnant woman

The quality of food is one of the factors that can significantly affect the health of the pregnant woman and the unborn child.

It is therefore advisable for the expectant mother to pay attention to nutrition starting from the pre-conceptional period, i.e. before conception and up to the entire period in which the baby will be breastfed.

Everything that the expectant mother eats and drinks during the forty weeks of pregnancy is, for obvious reasons, the main source of nourishment for the unborn child.

Therefore, in the same way that it is important for a child to eat well with healthy foods and without taking alcohol or junk food, it is equally important for the fetus.

As for the limitations or recommendations on what is preferable to avoid during pregnancy, there are several foods that it would be advisable to remove from the table, or to limit their consumption as much as possible, also for the good of the unborn child.

Here is a brief review of what we have found from the medical literature on this topic.

In any case, also due to the different health conditions and familiarity of each individual woman, before implementing any significant change in one’s diet, it is always good to consult your doctor.

Alcoholic beverages

It is good to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. In fact, alcohol passes from the mother’s blood through the umbilical cord  directly to the fetus and is therefore harmful to the unborn child.

The negative effects of alcohol – which develop through mechanisms that are not yet fully understood – obviously depend both on the quantities consumed daily and on the specific characteristics of each individual woman.

In any case, alcohol abuse during pregnancy can also lead to fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS – Fetal  Alcohol Syndrome ) , which is the most serious of the pathologies of the fetus due to alcohol consumption .

The most severe form of this syndrome occurs,

  • with a significant limitation of the growth of the fetus during prenatal life, or of the child in its first years of life,
  • with the development of a smaller than normal head circumference,
  • with an intellectual deficit accompanied – or not – by behavioral disorders,
  • with particular facial anomalies.

Sometimes there may also be congenital heart disease, or some other similar malformation.

Fish with high levels of mercury

Mercury is a toxic substance that can pass through the placenta and can be harmful,

  • for brain development of the unborn child,
  • for his kidneys,
  • for his nervous system.

Many products of the marine food chain can contain high levels of mercury and therefore should be avoided:

  • swordfish;
  • the shark,
  • the mackerel.

Raw foods and unpasteurized milk

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) pregnant women who eat these foods are at high risk of two food poisonings:

  1. listeriosis, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes,
  2. toxoplasmosis , an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma.

1- to listeriosis

It is a disease that usually occurs during pregnancy or in immunosuppressed subjects.

A healthy person, not pregnant and with an efficient immune system, could well consume contaminated food without becoming ill. Conversely, when a woman ingests contaminated food during pregnancy, her baby at birth could be affected by listeriosis. [ 3 ]

In severe cases, listeriosis infections acquired during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, or fatal infections in the newborn. The bacteria that causes listeriosis is present in a wide variety of raw foods, such as meat and vegetables.

To a lesser extent, even in foods that become contaminated after cooking or processing: this is usually the case with soft cheeses, processed meats and smoked fish.

Raw milk, unpasteurized cheeses and unpasteurized milk-based foods are also particularly at risk of containing this bacterium. [ 4 ]

2- toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that can only be contracted if the Toxoplasma parasite is ingested. This parasite may be present,

  • in the raw meat of infected animals,
  • in cat feces
  • in soil on which an infected cat has defecated,
  • on raw fruit and vegetables not washed with baking soda (as they could be contaminated by these excrements).

If you consume raw fish, you do not run the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis: however, raw fish during pregnancy is not recommended due to the possible presence of salmonella. If they are not cooked well, shellfish could also contain salmonella.

The cheeses: soft, matured with moulds, those like Gorgonzola – Roquefort

The risks that are run by consuming soft cheeses derive from the fact that they are less acidic and more humid than “common” cheeses. These characteristics make them an ideal environment for the proliferation of dangerous bacteria (such as listeria).

For the same reasons, during pregnancy it would be good to avoid soft cheeses, and also avoid cheeses like Gorgonzola or Roquefort (a French cheese made from sheep’s milk).

If they are made with unpasteurized milk, aged cheeses are the best choice during pregnancy.

In fact, hard cheeses such as Parmesan contain less water than soft cheeses, and it is therefore more difficult for bacteria to grow inside them.

The mushrooms

It is always prudent to eat mushrooms only if you are 100% sure of their edibility and freshness: in fact, even those that are edible but not fresh could contain substances dangerous to the fetus.

Tips and best practices to reduce the risks that can arise from food

  1. Avoid meats, fish, eggs and seafood unless you are sure they are well cooked.
  2. Avoid washing food with unsafe water or eating food washed or prepared with water of dubious origin.
  3. Do not take frozen drinks if you are not sure of the origin of the ice – or rather – of the water used to prepare the ice.
  4. Pay attention to the storage and expiration dates of refrigerated products.
  5. In the fridge and in the kitchen, keep raw products (especially those of animal origin) separated from vegetables and cooked products and ready to be consumed.
  6. Wash your hands often, especially before and after preparing food, before eating, and after handling uncooked eggs, meat, fish, or seafood.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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