Now that you’re expecting, it’s especially important to watch what you eat. Pregnancy makes you much more susceptible to infections and other illnesses and certain foods are best left uneaten. You don’t want to take any risks with exposing your baby to potentially harmful bacteria.
Here’s a list of foods to cut out of your diet because they often contain high levels of bacteria:
- Anything containing a raw or uncooked egg
- Say goodbye to sushi. Raw or smoked seafood is out of the question, especially uncooked oysters. Oysters sometimes contain bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus, which causes severe illness and death in some individuals.
- Avoid all types of sprouts even if they are cooked because they could contain E. coli or salmonella. This includes broccoli, sunflower, radish, alfalfa, and snow pea sprouts. Also avoid mung beans and soybeans.
- Self-serve salad bars – they are a breeding ground for bacteria
- Packaged salads (even if they are pre-washed), pasta salad, and coleslaw. Pre-washed salads may look clean but often contain bacteria such as salmonella-same with mayonnaise-based salads. If they were stored improperly or were sitting out for too long, you could get sick.
- Soft-serve ice cream and thick milk shakes
- Soft cheeses including ricotta, cottage, feta, and brie
- Pate and liver. Even though liver is high in iron, it contains high levels of vitamin A. And even though vitamin A is important for a healthy pregnancy, it’s harmful if you take more than the recommended amount
- Cold cuts such as ham and pre-cooked chopped chicken, because they could contain listeria.
Bacteria can be found in the most innocuous places but can cause major damage. If your baby is exposed, here’s what could happen:
This harmful bacteria lives inside of your own body in your intestinal track, and in the intestinal track of other animals. It’s often contracted by consuming foods contaminated with feces and can cause a miscarriage in some cases. It also causes nausea, headache, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. As long as you thoroughly cook your food, you should be safe.
Listeria is found in the soil, water, and sometimes plants, but it’s most often contracted through contaminated food such as packaged meat (like hot dogs or cold cuts), raw seafood, pates, or soft cheese. Listerosis, caused by listeria, is an extremely serious infection that if transmitted can cause miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, or infection in your baby. Symptoms can occur six weeks after listeria has already taken effect, but taking extra precautions with your diet can prevent it.
Toxoplasmosis is not a bacteria but it still causes major risks. This parasite, known as Toxoplasma gondii, can lead to brain damage and blindness in your baby. It can be found in undercooked or raw meat or can be transmitted through cat feces, so avoid changing the kitty-litter and you should be fine.
To keep your precious cargo healthy, follow these everyday food safety tips:
- Say goodbye to leftovers. Eat all cooked food within 12 hours.
- Always separate cooked and raw foods (like uncooked chicken), and never ever let them touch the same surface. To further reduce the risk of spreading salmonella and other harmful bacteria, make sure you don’t mix knives, plates, spoons, forks, or chopping boards when handling raw meat or eggs.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap and dry them before and after preparing food, especially if you have handled raw meat or eggs.
- Defrost food in the refrigerator overnight or use a microwave. Never leave it out on a countertop to defrost.
- Bacteria grows fastest between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep cold food below 40 degrees and hot food above 140 degrees, before you serve it.
- Avoid changing kitty-litter to prevent the spread of toxoplasmosis and E. coli. This time it’s best to let someone else do the dirty work.
- Wear gloves when gardening to ensure protection from any animal feces you might not see – if your neighbors have outdoor cats you could come in contact with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite.
Bacterial infections and other diseases can often be prevented from extra care at home. This includes exposing your baby to high levels of mercury, which can damage the nervous system. Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 – something you’ll definitely want to include in your diet – but they also contain mercury, which in high levels could impair your baby’s brain and nervous system development. Your baby is most at risk during your third and fourth months of pregnancy, so you must be very careful to avoid fish with high mercury levels. These fish include, but are not limited to:
- Southern bluefin tuna
- Orange roughy
Managing your diet during pregnancy can seem like a lot of work, but the few simple changes will pay off.