Now that you are pregnant you are literally eating for two. While most of the emphasis on nutrition will be on providing your baby with all of the nutrients needed to support growth, there are some foods which can potentially cause harm to you and your baby.
Some of these foods are common and would ordinarily be eaten by most pregnant women. Some are an acquired taste that many would probably never try. The reason these foods could be harmful is that they carry mercury levels that are dangerous or they potentially could harbor bacteria, viruses or even parasites that your immune system cannot fight as efficiently as before you became pregnant. This is because during pregnancy your immune system changes to accommodate the growing baby.
Listeria monocytogenes bacteria
Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can develop into a potentially dangerous illness called listeriosis. Healthy people can almost always eliminate the bacteria before it escapes into the bloodstream. This segment of the population usually experience mild flu-like symptoms when infected. However, in a pregnant woman, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or preterm birth.
This bacterium has an unusual trait which makes it easy to inadvertently eat food tainted with these bacteria. Listeria can grow in low temperatures and in high salt and vinegar environments. Foods processed this way are typically found in the deli case at your market or in your own refrigerator.
Avoiding food borne illnesses
The good news is that listeriosis in pregnant women is very rare and there are simple steps that can be taken to avoid exposure. The most obvious and easiest measure is to avoid eating foods that potentially carry Listeria. Foods most associated with these bacteria are:
- Deli meats – sliced turkey, salami, pastrami, lunch meats and hot dogs
- Unpasteurized milk and milk products – soft cheeses like Camembert, Feta, Brie or any Mexican cheese such as queso fresco. Avoid blue veined cheese like Gorgonzola and Stilton. If the cheese is made from pasteurized milk it is safe to eat as the bacteria would have been killed during the process.
- It is safe to eat hard cheese – such as Cheddar as well as soft processed cheese and cheese slices. Other safe cheese varieties are mozzarella, cottage cheese and cream cheese. The key point is that the cheese must be made from pasteurized milk which is heated to a temperature of 161° for 15 seconds killing harmful bacteria.
- Refrigerated smoked seafood or pate – these are typically labeled as smoked, kippered, lox, nova-style, jerky and are made from salmon, trout, cod, tuna, mackerel and others.
Raw sprouts – bean, alfalfa, radish, clover or any other type of raw sprouts. Bacteria on sprouts originate from the seed and are impossible to wash away.
- Raw foods of animal origin – sushi, oysters, rare meat, homemade eggnog, raw cookie dough, cake batter etc. Use a meat thermometer to ensure an internal temperature of at least 165° is reached. These items can also carry parasites and other types of bacteria. Don’t eat raw dough of any kind.
- Certain varieties of large fish – shark, tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, and tuna have been found to contain high levels of mercury. This can interfere with your baby’s nervous system and brain during early development.
Food preparation best practices
Wash raw vegetables very thoroughly as well as all utensils, cutting boards and countertops used in food preparation.
Make sure that liquids from deli meat packages does not contaminate the interior of your refrigerator your work surfaces or utensils. Practice healthy hygiene habits of frequent hand washing with soap and hot water.
Since bacteria cannot thrive in high temperatures, during your pregnancy cook meat, eggs, fish to at least 165° and use a thermometer to measure internal temperature. If you want to eat hot dogs or any deli meats, make sure these foods are reheated to a safe temperature.
Keeping the refrigerator clean will ensure that Listeria bacteria cannot grow on other foods stored within. Using perishable foods quickly also reduces the chances of Listeria bacteria growth.
Eat a variety of healthy foods
Remaining healthy during your pregnancy will obviously help both you and your baby sail through these important 9 months of development. Eating a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables, protein and dairy along with supplements approved by your doctor will ensure that you are giving your baby a good start.