By: Kerry Bazany

For most women, discovering that they are pregnant is a joyous event. Each time that I found out I was pregnant; I was thrilled, and also anxious. Almost instantaneously, I became hypervigilant about what foods I was eating, always cognizant of the fact that everything I ingested passed through the placenta to the unborn baby.

You (And Your Baby) Are What You Eat

When food is ingested, then digested, by the mother, the nutrients derived are fatty acids, simple carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. They are subsequently extracted by the placenta and transported via fetal circulation to all of the baby’s organs. Those metabolic end products that are not needed return to the mother’s circulation via the placenta as well. It really is a marvelous and intricate system, and is evidence that everything you eat indeed reaches your unborn baby.

Speaking of the placenta, it produces a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) that is strongly connected to morning sickness that can occur during early pregnancy. Thankfully, I did not experience much of this during my pregnancies, but I did wonder how it could affect the baby, e.g. how is it getting the proper nutrients if the mother is always throwing up? Even if you don’t gain any weight during the first trimester, it isn’t a problem as long as you’re able to stay hydrated and can keep some food down. In most cases, your appetite will return and you’ll start gaining weight that, thankfully, comes off soon after the baby is born. Additionally, prenatal vitamins usually do the trick insofar as providing vitamins and minerals.

As an expectant mother, you’re most likely trying to get your hands on everything baby-related, and this is a wonderful thing to do. I found that my obsession with my pregnancy kept me from succumbing to those “I-have-all-these-unwanted-hormones-raging-through-my-body-and-I’m-about-to-kill-someone” days. However, the importance of giving your baby the best possible start really does begin with what you put in your body for the duration of your pregnancy.

Foods to Absolutely Avoid and Why

  • High-mercury fish: Mercury is perhaps the most well-known of the foods to avoid because of its high toxicity. It does not have a safe level of exposure and is dangerous to the nervous and immune systems as well as the kidneys. High mercury fish include shark, swordfish, King mackerel, and tuna (especially albacore tuna).
  • Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections. These include norovirus, VibrioSalmonellaListeriaand parasites. That’s bad news if you adore sushi.
  • Eating undercooked or raw meat increases the risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites, including Toxoplasma, E.coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. These bacteria can lead to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including mental retardation, blindness, and epilepsy.
  • Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella, the symptoms of which only the mother experiences, such as fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. This type of infection can cause cramping in the uterus that can result in premature birth. Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include lightly scrambled eggs, poached eggs, Hollandaise sauce, salad dressings, and homemade ice cream. However, many commercial products are manufactured with pasteurized eggs, so read the labels, and always ensure that your egg products are thoroughly cooked.
  • Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts, may be contaminated with  Unlike other vegetables, the Salmonella bacteria can infiltrate the sprout seeds and are almost impossible to wash off. However, as with most foods, they are safe to eat after cooking.
  • Unwashed, unpeeled fruits and vegetables can contain Toxoplasma, E.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. Contamination can occur during production, harvesting, processing, storage, transportation or retail presentation. Always ensure that your produce is thoroughly rinsed and preferably cooked before consuming.
  • Caffeine and unpasteurized fruit juice: I was never a big fruit juice fan, but limiting my intake of caffeine presented a challenge while I was pregnant. I adored my morning coffee and midday Pepsi! However, caffeine is quickly absorbed and passes just as quickly into the placenta and baby. Also, the unborn baby does not possess the main enzyme required to metabolize caffeine and high levels of the substance can build up. High caffeine consumption during pregnancy has been demonstrated to inhibit fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight.

Below is a chart that includes the foods to avoid during pregnancy: some of which have been mentioned above. For a comprehensive check list of these foods and other foods that you should be careful to consume rather than avoid, please refer to:

Don’t Eat These Foods Why What to Do
Soft CHEESES made from unpasteurized milk, including Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, and queso fresco May contain E. colior Listeria. Eat hard cheeses, such as cheddar or Swiss. Or, check the label and make sure that the cheese is made from pasteurized milk.
Raw COOKIE DOUGH or CAKE BATTER May contain Salmonella. Bake the cookies and cake. Don’t lick the spoon!
King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish (Gulf of Mexico), and tuna (big eye) Contain high levels of mercury, but there are many other choices of fish that have lower levels of mercury. See this fish advice chart that has 36 “best choices” and 19 “good choices” of fish to eat while pregnant.
Raw or undercooked FISH (sushi) May contain parasites or bacteria. Cook fish to 145° F.
Unpasteurized JUICE or cider (including fresh squeezed) May contain E. coli. Drink pasteurized juice. Bring unpasteurized juice or cider to a rolling boil and boil for at least 1 minute before drinking.
Unpasteurized MILK May contain bacteria such as CampylobacterE. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. Drink pasteurized milk.
SALADS made in a store, such as ham salad, chicken salad, and seafood salad. May contain Listeria. Make salads at home, following the food safety basics: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Raw SHELLFISH, such as oysters and clams May contain Vibriobacteria. Cook shellfish to 145° F.
Raw or undercooked SPROUTS, such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, and radish May contain E. colior Salmonella. Cook sprouts thoroughly.