What Not to Eat
You’ve just discovered you’re pregnant?? Congratulations!!! You’ve made the announcement and here it comes: all the advice from everybody and her Nonna. I know… I know. Its okay – just smiles and nods. You’re here now, and I’m giving you the straight goods from authorities such as the Mayo Clinic, the FDA, and the CDC. I know you love your mom and I’m sure that lady in the blue coat at Zehr’s was very nice, but even though they each gave birth to five babies and all of them survived just fine, the bottom line is, they’re not more knowledgeable than the Mayo Clinic.
First off, relax. Yes, some foods on this list will sting a bit (oh, my sweet, sweet caffeine!) but there are others that you won’t even notice (how much unpasteurized Brie or raw fish have you actually eaten in the past day…month…year? Ever?).
The reason these are foods to avoid are twofold: first off, some of these foods contain pathogens that, while totally (or mostly) harmless to a healthy, normal adult, are not so harmless to a pregnant woman. Changes that result from hormonal activity can suppress the immune system meaning that if pregnant you and five other non-pregnant women ate the same thing, it’s more likely that you’d get sick than they would. If you all got sick, they’d have a bit of diarrhea or gut rot, you’ll be bent over the toilet vomiting up your dinner from last Tuesday. During pregnancy, catching food poisoning can cause weight loss, dehydration, and even miscarriage.
The second problem is that these foods can contain substances that could drastically affect your developing baby. Granted, it’s not a 1:1 correlation – if you eat it, your baby “will” be affected – but the consequences are so dire that if there’s even a slim chance, you don’t want to risk it. It’s only for a few months so tough it out and don’t roll the dice with your baby’s safety.
Here’s the list of top culprits, in no particular order:
Eggs in North America are often contaminated with salmonella. Salmonella can cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Things to watch out for include: fresh-made Caesar Salad dressing, fresh-made egg nog, raw cookie dough and cake batter, and soft-cooked or sunny-side-up eggs — basically, any food product that doesn’t have the egg cooked all the way through, both the white and the yolk.
Sashimi: Sashimi is what people really mean when they’re thinking of sushi. Sashimi is the uncooked fish; sushi, the food concept, means bite-sized packets of various fruits, vegetables, and proteins, packed with rice and wrapped in nori (seaweed). As long as everything in it is cooked, you can have your sushi (especially if you make it yourself) but avoid any protein item that’s uncooked.
Large, predatory ocean-dwelling fish: such as swordfish, albacore tuna, and shark tend to have high levels of mercury in their systems. This is a heavy metal your body cannot metabolize efficiently so it does build up over a lifetime – you might want to just skip eating these altogether if you’re going to get pregnant at any point in your life. The danger increases if you lose weight in preparation for pregnancy or while you’re pregnant: mercury is stored in body fat, so if you burn off the fat, the mercury is released into your system. Too much mercury can affect not only your baby but you: your baby is at risk of brain damage and abnormal hearing and vision. You risk damage to your lungs, kidneys, vision, hearing, and nervous system.
Smoked fish: such as lox, kippered, or jerky should be avoided as Listeria is a common contaminant. If they’re part of a cooked meal or if they’re canned or otherwise shelf safe, then they’re okay. Listeriosis is an evildisease: it usually presents itself as a mild illness but even if the only symptom is a high fever before or during labor, it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, or a baby needing a lot of medical intervention to keep him or her alive in the early days.
Raw or Unpasteurized Juice: If the juice has not been pasteurized, then harmful bacteria and toxins might still be present and the sugars in the juice provide an excellent medium for them to proliferate. Not only raw juice, avoid all canned, jarred, or bottled food items where the lid’s bulging or that doesn’t give an audible “pop!” when you first crack the seal. If the food or juice item, even if it’s properly pasteurized, etc, does not smellabsolutely perfect, just skip it.
Locally-caught fish: I know – big surprise, eh? But given the insanely high level of groundwater contamination from industrial pollutants, you’re better off not to eat it at all – everything from heavy metals, PCBs, and pesticides, to E. coli and parasites from raw sewage, it’s all in there and it’s nothing you want to feed to your unborn baby. If you really can’t live without your finny fodder, either buy the equivalent breed from the fish counter at your favorite grocery store or contact your local health department or Environmental Protection Agency or Ministry of Natural Resources to determine which fish are safe to eat in your area.
Pâté: Just like smoked fish, meat pastes that need to be refrigerated may contain listeria. If they’re canned or otherwise shelf-safe, you’re okay to dig in with the Melba toast.
Liver: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that, like others, must not be mega dosed. Water soluble vitamins, such as B and C are okay – if you overdose, you pee away the excess. Fat-soluble vitamins, however, build up in your system and can affect your baby. Consuming more than 10,000 IU of vitamin A, especially during the first seven weeks, can cause serious birth defects of the head, heart, brain, and spinal cord. Liver is insanely high in vitamin A: one serving of liver (three ounces, the size of a deck of cards!) has 27,185 IU of Vitamin A while a serving of cooked chicken liver has 12,325 IU. A woman who thinks she’s going good things for her baby by eating liver daily, especially when it’s added to the vitA in her prenatal vitamins, can be causing the very thing she’s trying to avoid.
Quit air-punching: you actually do have to eat them. You must wash them, however, as vegetables – especially ground veggies like carrots and potatoes – could’ve been grown in dirt contaminated with Toxoplamosis. Toxoplasmosis is another baddie that presents as a mild-to-middlin’ ailment but has devastating consequences on your baby or on the pregnancy as a whole. Just scrub them, okay?
On the to-be-avoided list: raw sprouts, especially alfalfa sprouts, raw clover, radish, and mung beans should be avoided as they can harbor salmonella or E. coli.
Your pregnancy should be a time of joy and hope, as well as morning sickness and crazy cravings – but it also needs to be a time of vigilance. You’re cooking up a baby now – make sure you use only the finest ingredients!