Foods to eat and avoid in pregnancy
Watch our video to discover which foods the ideal pregnancy diet includes, and also which foods you’re advised to avoid.
Why certain foods are off the menu in pregnancy
During pregnancy you’re advised to avoid certain foods which could be associated with an increased risk of food poisoning. As well as being unpleasant for you, food poisoning can increase the risk of premature delivery and infections in your baby.
For this reason, it is important to pay close attention to your diet when you're pregnant, taking extra care over food preparation and avoiding foods associated with the risk of listeriosis – a type of food poisoning.
“Avoiding foods that are more likely to cause food poisoning can help reduce any associated risks to your baby.”
Listeriosis is caused by listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found naturally in the environment, and present in soil and water. It can therefore be found on products that may have been exposed to soil or water, or those from animals carrying the bacteria like meats and dairy products, as well as in processed foods like soft cheese and cold cuts of meat.
Cross these foods off your pregnancy shopping list
The following foods carry the risk of listeriosis, and hence should be avoided during pregnancy:
- Raw and undercooked eggs that do not bear the British Lion mark
- Very rare or undercooked meat and fish - these foods should be well cooked with no pinkness
- Raw fish and shellfish, such as oysters - sushi is fine as long as it has been frozen and thawed before serving
- Raw or cured meat - like steak tartare and parma ham
- Unpasteurised milk, yogurt or cheese, including Brie, Camembert, or veined blue cheeses - Cheddar, cottage cheese and cream cheese are pasteurised which makes them safe. But always check the label1
In addition, these foods are best avoided in pregnancy due to the potential risks to your baby’s health:
- Swordfish, marlin and shark - these contain mercury which, if consumed in high levels, can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. Tuna also contains mercury, so limit your intake to four 140g (drained weight) cans or two fresh steaks (up to 170g each, raw weight) per week
- Liver and liver products like pâté - they contain vitamin A, which may harm your baby if consumed in excessive amounts1.
An update on eggs
If you're concerned about having to miss out on runny, fried or soft-boiled eggs when pregnant, you'll be pleased to know that the Food Standards Agency has recently changed its advice regarding raw eggs in pregnancy. Pregnant women (along with the elderly, infants and children) can now eat raw hen eggs as long as they bear the British Lion mark2.
Previously, women were advised to avoid raw or runny eggs in pregnancy due to the risk of salmonella. But a recent study found that eggs produced under the British Lion scheme now have a much lower risk of carrying the salmonella bacteria than in recent years, making them safe to eat raw.
Are nuts safe to eat when pregnant?
Unless you have a peanut allergy or a health professional specifically advises you against them, peanuts and foods containing them are now considered safe to eat in pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
This is because, after a review of scientific studies, there is no clear evidence to suggest a link between a mother eating peanuts and her child developing a peanut allergy.
Pay attention to food hygiene
Safe preparation of food is vital during pregnancy. Wash your hands before and after preparing food, and clean vegetables thoroughly. Always check that any ready meals, reheated food or restaurant dishes are piping hot all the way through before you eat them – don’t be afraid to send dishes back if this isn’t the case1.
Say “no” to alcohol
Any alcohol you drink reaches your baby through the placenta. While it is recognised that excessive alcohol intake during pregnancy can seriously affect your baby's development, there is no evidence to suggest how much is safe. That is why most midwives recommend avoiding alcohol altogether during pregnancy.
Reasons to avoid caffeine in pregnancy
Caffeine can pass into the placenta, which means your baby can experience the same buzz from a strong coffee as you do. It increases their heart rate and makes them feel more alert. Caffeine is also associated with the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy and low birth weight babies.
For this reason, pregnant women are advised to have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day – which is equivalent to around two mugs of instant coffee3.