Friday, November 16, 2012

The big fat list of pregnancy no-nos: FOOD EDITION

When you are pregnant, there are so many rules to live by, and the list of foods to avoid grows longer by the minute! As is the case with all medical issues, there are conflicting opinions on foods that are safe to consume during pregnancy. Some doctors are more strict about this, whilst others take a more relaxed approach. You will be surprised that random strangers you meet will also offer their opinions too.  Many people believe a lot of the rules are over cautious and just create unnecessary hype and fear; essentially much ado about nothing. The reason for this belief is that many people break most of these rules and still have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. In addition many of these rules were not followed by our mothers and grandmothers and we all turned out just fine. My opinion is to proceed with caution and common sense. Some of the rules are more important that others, and have higher risks attached. Also keep in mind that just because someone gets away with something doesn't necessarily mean it is safe to do. I know people who smoke and are still healthy, but that doesn't mean smoking is a healthy habit. In the same way, even though some people may break certain rules and not experience any consequences doesn't guarantee that you will be as lucky. I personally wouldn't want to take any unnecessary risks that might affect the health of my baby.

Here is a list of foods to avoid or limit intake that my doctor gave me as well as a few others I picked up along the way.


I always thought this was a no brainer, because of course everyone knows that pregnant women shouldn't drink alcohol right? Wrong. I discovered during my pregnancy that  many pregnant women these days do drink lightly; a glass of wine here and there and believe that as long as they don't get drunk that they are okay. This new wave of accepting alcohol drinking during pregnancy is based on the theory that only excessive amounts of alcohol are harmful to the baby.  The first time I heard this from a pregnant lady my jaw hit the floor. Seriously? People are willing to take such risks with their baby?

The Surgeon General has clear warnings on alcoholic beverages that consuming alcohol during pregnancy is harmful to the fetus and can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) which range from "slight learning disability and/or physical abnormality, through full-blown Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can include severe learning disabilities, growth deficiencies, abnormal facial features, and central nervous system disorders"

The notion that small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis are safe during pregnancy is not proven because all reputable medical authorities agree that they can't say for sure the exact amount of alcohol that causes FASD and thus they don't know the exact amount that is considered safe.  The Surgeon General stated "We do not know what, if any, amount of alcohol is safe But we do know that the risk of a baby being born with any of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders increases with the amount of alcohol a pregnant woman drinks, as does the likely severity of the condition. And when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. Therefore, it's in the child's best interest for a pregnant woman to simply not drink alcohol."

So basically no one knows exactly how much alcohol is safe but people still want to play Russian roulette with the health of their baby and take a high risk guess that maybe a glass or two of wine won't harm them. Sorry but that makes no sense to me whatsoever.
My doctor follows the traditionally accepted rule of no alcohol during pregnancy. She told me to avoid it completely, which was easy for me since I don't drink alcohol anyway.

Consuming large amounts of caffeine can cause several complications such as birth defects, preterm labor and even miscarriage.  For this reason most doctors agree that caffeine should be limited to small quantities. Usually the amount considered to be safe ranges between 150 to 300 mg per day.  I avoided caffeine even before I was pregnant so I didn't have a hard time with this at all, my only source of caffeine comes from chocolate and the amounts are so minimal its not even worth counting.

Many people turn to decaffeinated beverages  such as decaf tea or coffee. But what my doctor explained to me was that decaf products can be worse then regular caffeinated products. This is because the chemical process they use to remove the caffeine leaves harmful chemical residue in the beverages.


  • Fish with Mercury My doctor explained to me that larger fish tend to be high in the contaminant mercury which, when consumed during pregnancy can affect the development of the brain and nervous system of the baby. The fish that have the highest levels or mercury are: Swordfish, Shark, King Mackerel, Tile fish and Fresh Tuna as well as canned albacore tuna. She advised me to avoid these completely.  The sea food that are lowest in mercury are tilapia, cod, pollock, salmon, catfish, shrimp & crab; these she said were okay to be eaten but in smaller quantities, ie no more than 12 ounces per week. Honestly it was a bit much for me to remember how much was safe to eat and which ones were safe to eat. I just avoided most fish. I had sardines once and that was about it.
  • Raw seafood I was also told to avoid raw fish, raw shell fish and refrigerated smoked seafood like lox. The American pregnancy association explains that this is because of the risks of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella. It makes sense that uncooked seafood has a higher chance of being contaminated. Everyone who eats raw fish is at risk but the risks are higher for pregnant women and the consequences are worse due to the fact that there are so many restrictions on the type of medication that is safe to take while pregnant, and illness during pregnancy can pose risks to the baby.  I don't eat shell fish so I was fine with that  but  I love tuna and salmon sushi!! Nothing like a spicy tuna roll to brighten up my day. I hated not being able to eat sushi. I would go to sushi bars with my friends and drool longingly at most of the options. I did eat some vegetable rolls but I realized they were rolling the veggie sushi on the same counters as the raw fish so I stopped eating them.  A lot of people argue that the women in Japan eat sushi while they are pregnant and are fine, this may be true, but I'm sure their fish is fresher and probably taken care of better than ours. Either way I just wanted to err on the side of caution.


Again it makes perfect sense that meat, poultry and eggs that aren't properly handled or cooked may easily get contaminated too. She advised me to:
-Avoid processed deli meats and hot dogs, unless they are steaming hot.
-Thoroughly cook eggs before eating, no consumption of raw egg or products containing raw eggs like cookie dough. I know several people who have eaten raw cookie dough while pregnant, most of them were fine except one who got violently ill from salmonella. That was all it took to convince me to stay the heck away from raw egg.
-Avoid raw poultry that has been pre-stuffed.
-Avoid refrigerated plates and meat spreads.
-Fully cook all meat and poultry before eating. I personally like my meat well done anyway so this was not an issue for me at all.


Any dairy products such as soft cheese, milk, or even ice cream shouldn't be consumed unless its pasteurized. Most dairy products found in a regular supermarket are pasteurized, you usually have to go out of your way to get fresh unpasteurized dairy, so this is not really an issue. I still did avoid soft cheese especially at restaurants since I couldn't be sure if they were using fresh or pasteurized ingredients.

In addition to the list my doctor gave me,  I also avoided:

During my pregnancy there was a listeria outbreak in romaine lettuce, which reinforced the warnings that pregnant women shouldn't eat prepared salads like the ones available in supermarkets that have been sitting around for a while. They are more likely to become contaminated. This rule made a lot of sense to me because some of those prepared salads don't even look very fresh, they aren't always washed as thoroughly as I would like and the leafy greens often look droopy and wilted.  I stuck to home made salads, or freshly made salads from reputable restaurants but nothing from fast foods or supermarkets. The same rule applies for pre-cut fruit platters.

It was really worrying that there was also a listeria outbreak reported in fresh cantaloupe during my pregnancy and just a few months ago another batch of fresh cantaloupe were recalled due to possible salmonella contamination.  As a pregnant woman trying hard to eat healthy, its disturbing when foods such as fresh fruit somehow manage to be contaminated.


It sounds bizarre saying soft serve ice cream is off limits, but the reason for this is not the ice cream itself but instead the machines used to house and dispense the ice cream. These machines can easily be contaminated with listeria if not cleaned properly

"According to Baby Center, the bacteria can affect the placenta, amniotic fluid or fetus if the mother becomes infected. Approximately a third of the 2,500 cases of listeria infection each year occur in pregnant women. An infection can lead to complications, including premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth and skin sores, respiratory infections or meningitis in the newborn." Source
I was at a local fast food place and I watched as they opened up their soft serve machine to refill it. It was so gross!!! At that point I really understood the rule regarding soft serve machines and why this can pose a risk for pregnant women. I tried hard to follow this rule and also to avoid shakes from fast food places in general, but I kept craving it! I would literally wake up in the middle of night dreaming about soft serve.  In the last trimester I gave up and had a few small frosty shakes from Wendy's.  Much to the horror of my parents, the day after the baby arrived I sent my husband out to get me a large chocolate shake from McDonald's. So yummy!


My doctor advised me to avoid teas with goldenseal, black or blue cohash, ephedra, dong quai, feverfew, juniper, pennyroyal, St John;s wort or thuja. This is because a lot of these have labor inducing properties and can cause uterus contractions leading to a pre-term labor.


  1. Now I have never heard the soft serve one but it makes a lot of sense.

  2. Wow didn't know about the soft serve ice cream. Makes sense though.

  3. what a list! had no idea the soft serve icecream was on there too but makes sense.