Tips

To Avoid or Not to Avoid: How to Eat During Pregnancy

The internet is full of forums and ideas of what you “can” and “can’t” eat while pregnant.

It can be tricky to discern fact from fiction. Just like most of nutrition, there isn’t a black and white answer, so we’re here to help you decide if these safety recommendations apply to you and your pregnancy.

Let’s break down some of the most commonly cautioned-against foods (and determine if the basis of caution is worth the hype):

Seafood

Why is it a concern? High mercury intake and food poisoning.
What nutrients could I be missing? DHA, iodine, zinc, iron, vitamin B6, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and glycine.[1] For a reminder about what some of these nutrients do in your body, check out our blog on micronutrients!
How can I consume it safely?

  • Certain fish have a higher concentration of mercury and should be avoided. These fish include swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish.[2]
  • Seafood like cod, haddock, salmon, shrimp, and many other options are safe to eat during pregnancy if they are sourced responsibly. The seafood market is very tightly regulated so if you make sure to select fresh-caught, responsibly stored seafood from a reputable establishment, you can still consume seafood.[1]
  • Cooking food helps eliminate potential bacteria, which is why consuming raw seafood while pregnant is often discouraged. However, if raw seafood is wild caught, stored correctly and sourced responsibly, it can be eaten during pregnancy [1].
  • Raw shellfish is responsible for 75% of food poisoning from seafood so we suggest you avoid it altogether.[3]

Deli Meats

Why are they a concern? Listeria.
What nutrients could I be missing? Deli meats can provide a good source of lean protein.
How can I consume them safely?

  • We love to recommend whole foods first, so if you’re craving turkey deli meat, try just cooking some turkey at home first. But it’s nice to know that if you do have a hankering for deli meats, FDA researchers estimate that only one in every 83,000 servings causes listeria.[4]
  • Trust your nose and throw away odd-smelling meat.
  • Be smart about where you’re purchasing your deli meat (gas station versus meat from a local store) and eat within two to four days of purchasing.
  • Heat your deli meat until it’s steaming to decrease pathogen exposure.[1]

Runny Egg Yolks

Why are they a concern? Salmonella.
What nutrients could I be missing? Protein, choline, DHA, and iodine are all found in egg yolks.[1]
How can I consume them safely?

  • The odds of an egg containing salmonella are between 1/12,000 and 1/30,000.[5] These odds decrease significantly when you purchase free-range organic eggs. So, much like seafood, it comes down to sourcing and knowing where your eggs are coming from.
  • You can also eat eggs scrambled or over hard to ensure they’re cooked all the way.

Soft Cheese and Raw Milk

Why are they a concern? Listeria.
What nutrients could I be missing? Protein, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B12.
How can I consume them safely?

  • The odds of contracting listeria from soft cheese have been estimated by the FDA to be about 1 in 5 million.[4]
  • We recommend ensuring that any soft cheese you consume is sourced from happy animals. Organic cheeses from grass-fed animals will be safer than cheeses made from conventionally raised animals.
  • Heating cheese will help kill unwanted bacteria.

Ultimately, there is no concrete answer to guaranteeing which foods are determined to be safe or unsafe during pregnancy.

Nearly 22 percent of foodborne illnesses in the United States can be attributed to green leafy veggies[7], but the odds of reading a prenatal book that tells a pregnant woman to avoid salad are slim to none.

If there are foods on this list you’d rather avoid, that is totally fine! No matter what, it’s important to do some homework, find out where your foods are coming from and talk to your doctor. This way, you can ensure you’re not missing out on foods you love or foods that provide the essential vitamins and minerals for a happy, healthy pregnancy. We have WAG coaches who would love to support you through this vital time!


Resources:

  1. Nichols, L. (2018). Real food for pregnancy. (n.p): Lily Nichols.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2014). Eating fish: what pregnant women should know. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm393070.htm
  3. Iwamoto, M., Ayers, T., Mahon, B.E., & Swerdlow, D.L. (2010). Epidemiology of seafood-associated infections in the United States. Clin Microbiol Rev, 23(2), 399-411. doi: 10.1128/CMR.00059-09
  4. Tam, C., Erebara, A., & Einarson, A. (2010). Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy. Can Fam Physician, 56(4), 341-343. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2860824/
  5. Ebel, E., & Schlosser, W. (2000). Estimating the annual fraction of eggs contaminated with salmonella enteritidis in the United States. Int J Food Microbiol, 61(1), 51-62. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11028959
  6. Mie, A., Anderson, H.R., Gunnarsson, S., Kahl, J., Kesse-Guyot, E., Rembialkowska, E., ... Grandjean, P. (2017). Human health implications of organic food and organic agriculture: a comprehensive review. Environ Health, 16(1), 111. doi: 10.1186/s12940-017-0315-4.
  7. Painter, J.A., Hoekstra, R.M., Ayers, T., Tauxe, R.V., Braden, C.R., Anguloa, F.J., & Griffin, P.M. (2013). Attribution of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths to food commodities by using outbreak data, united states, 1998-2008. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 19(3). DOI: 10.3201/eid1903.111866

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