Foods to avoid when trying to conceive
Bye bye brie
What to limit and what to avoid completely
Nutrition and lifestyle choices can influence your chances of conceiving and your baby’s development once you do become pregnant. In fact, nutrition at this critical stage can also have an impact on your developing baby and their long-term health1.
For these reasons, you and your partner may wish to pay special attention to your conception diets, and find alternatives for the foods best avoided when trying to conceive.
Your conception diet – what’s on or off the menu?
Foods to avoid when trying for a baby are the same as those you should avoid or limit when you're pregnant1. So finding alternatives now will stand you in good stead.
The main difference between a conception and pregnancy diet is that your partner’s nutritional intake counts at this stage too. So, you might both want to make adjustments to your eating habits.
Food and drink to avoid when trying to conceive
While trying to conceive, a healthy, pregnancy-safe diet is recommended. Alcohol, foods that could contain listeria, and others containing contaminants like mercury are best avoided from now onwards. This is because they can have an effect on your fertility and your developing baby.
In a study of couples planning their first pregnancy, a link was found between a woman’s alcohol intake and decreased fertility. This even applied to those who had five or less drinks a week2.
Because of this, the Food Standards Agency advises avoiding alcohol completely while trying to get pregnant. However, if you choose to drink, you should limit your alcohol intake to one or two units, once or twice per week3.
Foods that might contain listeria
Some foods carry the listeria bacteria, which can cause listeriosis. This has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, so you're advised to avoid the following foods:
- Soft, ripened cheeses like brie, camembert and some goats’ cheese
- Blue veined cheeses like Danish Blue and Stilton
- All unpasteurised dairy products
- All types of pâté, including vegetable
Foods that might contain contaminants
Some types of fish contain high levels of mercury which can damage your unborn baby’s developing nervous system5. For this reason you should:
- Avoid shark, marlin, and swordfish
- Limit tuna to no more than four medium-sized tins or two fresh tuna steaks a week
- Limit oily fish (mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout and fresh [not tinned] tuna), sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut, rock salmon and brown crabmeat to two portions per week
Sources of vitamin A
It is recommended that you avoid supplements containing vitamin A (or retinol, the animal form of vitamin A) and food sources such as liver, liver pâté, liver sausage and haggis6.
Caffeine – how much is safe?
A coffee or an energy drink might provide a pick-me-up, but caffeine consumption has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and having a low birth weight baby. While the risk is small, you're advised to limit your caffeine intake to 200mg a day5.
A guide to caffeine content: (approximate mg per serving)
- One mug of instant coffee = 100mg
- One mug of filter coffee = 140mg
- One mug of tea = 75mg
- One can of cola or half a can of energy drink = 40mg
- One 50g bar of dark chocolate = 50mg
- One 50g bar of milk chocolate = 25mg
Switching to decaff tea and coffee can cut down your caffeine intake. But be aware that they still contain small amounts of caffeine.
Focus on dads-to-be
When trying to conceive, the general advice for prospective dads is to eat a varied diet and maintain a healthy body weight.
In addition to this, they are advised to limit their alcohol intake to less than fourteen units a week spread evenly over three days or more. This is because excessive consumption – more than three–four units a day (or 1.5–2 pints of beer or lager) – can reduce sperm quality8.
Ways to help increase your chances of conceiving:
- Maintain a varied diet and healthy weight
- Limit or exclude alcohol from your diet (both partners)
- Cut down on caffeine
1. Preconception and Pregnancy [Online]. Available at: www.bathnes.gov.uk/sites/default/files/banes_maternal_and_child_nutrition_guidelines_digital_june_2013_section_2.pdf [Accessed May 2014]
2. Jensen et al. Does moderate alcohol consumption affect fertility? Follow up study among couples planning first pregnancy. BMJ 1998;317:505-510.
3. NHS UK. Healthy eating [Online]. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/healthy-eating/Pages/Healthyeating.aspx[Accessed May 2014]
4. Food safety.gov. Listeria [Online]. Available at: www.foodsafety.gov/poisoning/causes/bacteriaviruses/listeria[Accessed May 2014]
5. Patient UK. [Online]. Available at: http://patient.info/ [Accessed May 2014]
6. NHS UK. Foods to avoid in pregnancy [Online]. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/foods-to-avoid-pregnant.aspx [Accessed May 2014]
7. NHS UK. How can I improve my chances of becoming a dad? [Online]. Available at: www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1909.aspx [Accessed May 2014]
8. Langley-Evans SC (2006) Developmental programming of Health and Disease. Proc Nut Soc 65; 97-105.reference text
Last reviewed: 4th July 2016
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