WellVine Nutritionist Katharina Demystifies the Foods You Should Avoid During Pregnancy

We've recently partnered with our friends at WellVine – the first on-demand healthcare app for pregnancy, baby and mum – to bring you help on breastfeeding, mum and child nutrition, and sleep.

WellVine Nutritionist, Katharina Howard, shares her advice on what food to avoid during pregnancy.

One of the first things you are told when you become pregnant is that there is a whole list of foods and drinks you should avoid. No more alcohol, coffee or runny eggs…the list seems to keep growing…but why are we told to stop eating many of the foods we love and is it always necessary?

We look at the seven main reasons we are told to avoid different foods and uncover the risks and myths…

1. To prevent listeria infection

Listeriosis is a rare infection that can occur after eating food contaminated with listeria bacteria. It is usually pretty harmless but during pregnancy it has been linked with miscarriage and stillbirth.

To avoid contracting listeria it is best to avoid eating mould-ripened soft cheese (e.g. Brie, Camembert, goats cheese), soft blue veined cheese (e.g. Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Danish blue), pate (including vegetable pate) and sprouted beans and seeds. The good news is that hard cheeses are all perfectly safe to eat, as are soft cheeses that have been pasteurized because the process of pasteurization kills listeria.

2. To avoid overdosing on vitamin A

Whilst vitamin A is an essential part of a healthy diet eating too much of it during pregnancy can result in birth defects. This is why we are told to avoid eating liver during pregnancy as liver contains high levels of Vitamin A. It is also why we are told to stick to multivitamins specially formulated for pregnancy, as regular multivitamins can be too high in vitamin A.

3. To avoid contracting salmonella

Salmonella is a form of food poisoning. It is unlikely to harm your baby but it causes diarrhoea and vomiting and can make you feel very unwell. Traditionally we have been told to avoid runny eggs during pregnancy because eggs can be a source of salmonella. The good news is that, providing you choose eggs with the British Lion Mark stamp, the likelihood of contracting salmonella from an egg is extremely low. This is because eggs marked with this stamp have been laid by chickens vaccinated against salmonella. Currently the NHS guidelines continue to advise against eating any undercooked eggs but recent media reports in all the major newspapers have suggested this will soon change. It is still a good idea to avoid raw eggs in home-made/ restaurant made products such as mayonnaise and ice cream because it is difficult to know from where these eggs have been sourced.

4. To avoid contracting toxoplasmosis

Undercooked or raw meat, uncooked cured meat (such as salami), unpasteurised milk, soil and untreated water can all contain a parasite called toxoplasmosis. Although infection with toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is rare, because many people will have developed immunity to it after contracting it earlier in their lives, it is important to try to avoid becoming infected during pregnancy because the infection can harm the baby. This is why we are told to avoid undercooked meats and why it is important to ensure salads and fruits are thoroughly washed before you eat them.

5. To prevent foetal alcohol syndrome

Drinking too much alcohol during pregnancy can cause stunted growth, facial abnormalities and learning difficulties. There is much debate about how much is ‘too much’. It is probably safe to have the occasional small beer or one small glass of wine; many mothers-to-be prefer to avoid alcohol to be on the safe side. 

 6. To avoid mercury poisoning

The majority of fish is safe to eat during pregnancy and fish is a great source of protein and essential fatty acids.  Unfortunately, our seas have become polluted with mercury, which has entered the food chain. Mercury is present to some level in many fish, but the larger fish have more concentrated amounts because they feed on the medium sized fish, who feed on the smaller fish and so on. It is therefore best to avoid eating shark, swordfish, marlin or too many tins of tuna or fresh tuna steaks during pregnancy.

7. To reduce risk of low birth weight and miscarriage

Consuming too much caffeine has been linked to an increased risk of low birth weight and miscarriage. It is fine to drink your favourite cup of tea or the odd latte, just don't overdo it and where possible stick with decaffeinated options. Current guidelines suggest limiting caffeine intake to 200g per day. The following list gives you an approximate idea of how much caffeine is contained in some popular foods:

 

 1 mug instant coffee = 100mg • 1 mug filter coffee = 140mg • 1 mug tea = 75mg • 1 can cola = 40mg •      1 x50g bar of plain chocolate = 50mg • 1 x 50g bar milk chocolate = 25 mg

We hope this article has explained the reasons behind avoiding certain foods during pregnancy and taken away some of the fear and anxiety that many of us experience at this time.

WellVine is a new way to connect to highly experienced family health specialist via online video calls – anytime, anywhere. Its network of experienced UK-based health specialists focus on the health of mum and baby, and include Lactation Consultants, sleep consultants, and maternal and children’s nutritionists. New and expectant parents love WellVine for the convenience and peace of mind it offers. WellVine is a trusted health partner for parents on the journey from pregnancy to parenting.

Katharina is an experienced WellVine nutritionist specialising in early childhood and pregnancy nutrition.  She is passionate about the role of food and diet in preventing ill health, improving mood, behaviour and sleep. A graduate of Oxford University, Katharina also has a Masters degree with distinction in Applied Human Nutrition from Oxford Brookes University. She has spent the past seven years specialising in perinatal and early childhood nutrition, teaching in children's centres and primary schools throughout Oxfordshire.

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