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Pregnancy

      Foods to avoid when pregnant

      Read time: 8 minutes

      Unfortunately, some of your favourite foods may be off the menu during your pregnancy as they can carry toxins or increase the risk of food poisoning.  Find out which foods you should avoid as well as foods and drinks to be mindful of during your pregnancy.  

      What not to eat when you’re pregnant

      Knowing which foods to avoid when you’re pregnant is just as important as getting the right balance of nutrients. Certain foods can carry an increased risk of food poisoning, while others contain toxins that are best avoided.

      Foods to avoid when you’re pregnant

      As well as being unpleasant for you, food poisoning can put your baby’s health at risk1. For this reason, it’s important to pay close attention to your diet when you're pregnant, taking extra care with food preparation and avoiding foods associated with the risk of listeriosis – a type of food poisoning2.

      Listeriosis is caused by listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found naturally in the environment, and present in soil and water2. It can be found on products that may have been exposed to soil or water, from animals carrying the bacteria like meat and dairy products, as well as in processed foods like soft cheeses and cold cured cuts of meat2.

      The following foods should be avoided during pregnancy1:

      • Rare or undercooked meat – meat should be piping hot and well cooked through because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis1. Find out more about eating meat during pregnancy.  
      • Raw shellfish such as oysters3 – Find out more about eating shellfish during pregnancy.  
      • Cured meat - like salami, chorizo, pepperoni or Parma ham, unless they’ve been cooked. Find out more about eating cured meat during pregnancy.  
      • Unpasteurised milk, yoghurt or cheese – including Brie, Camembert or veined blue cheeses. Find out more about eating dairy and cheese during pregnancy.
      • Swordfish, marlin and shark – these contain mercury which, if consumed in high levels, can damage your baby’s developing nervous system3. 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 week3. Read more about eating fish during pregnancy.  
      • Liver and liver products like pâté – these contain vitamin A, which may harm your baby if consumed in excessive amounts1. Read more about vitamin A in pregnancy.  

      Other foods and drinks to be mindful of

      Eggs

      If you're worried that you may have to miss out on runny, fried or soft-boiled eggs when you’re pregnant, you'll be pleased to know that the advice regarding raw or partially cooked eggs in pregnancy has recently changed. Pregnant women can now eat raw or partially cooked eggs as long as they bear the British Lion mark1. Learn more about eating eggs in pregnancy.  

      Alcohol

      Any alcohol you drink reaches your baby through the placenta4. While it’s well known that excessive alcohol intake during pregnancy can seriously affect your baby’s developments, there is no evidence to suggest how much is safe. Learn more about drinking alcohol in pregnancy.  

      Caffeine

      Caffeine passes through to the placenta, so your baby gets the same buzz as you do, as well as raising their heart rate and making them more alert. Learn about caffeine in pregnancy as well as the different foods and drinks that contain it.

      Saturated fat

      Some fats are essential for the growth and development of your baby, while others can affect your health and should be limited in your pregnancy diet5.

      Ideally, no more than 35% of your daily calorie intake should come from fat6. Many people eat within this limit but there is a tendency to consume too many saturated fats and not enough of the healthier types5.

      Saturated fat can increase the level of cholesterol in your blood, which is linked to an increased risk of heart disease5. Eating too many saturated fats can cause unnecessary weight gain during pregnancy, too5.

      The Department of Health recommends that saturated fats should make up a maximum of 11% of your energy intake, which is equivalent to around 20g6.

      These foods are high in saturated fat:

      • Fatty cuts of meat
      • Full-fat dairy foods
      • Cakes
      • Biscuits
      • Crisps
      • Cream and ice cream

      Trans-fats

      Trans-fats are artificially created fats used in the manufacture of foods. They increase shelf life and the flavour-stability of foods7. Small amounts of trans-fats are found naturally in meat and dairy products, as well as in products containing hydrogenated vegetable oil. Margarine, microwaved popcorn and some brands of crackers can contain trans-fats, so it’s best to check their labels for ingredients. Trans-fats can also raise cholesterol levels which increases the risk of heart disease6.

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      Are peanuts safe to eat when you’re 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 during pregnancy and while breastfeeding1. 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 allergy1.

      Food hygiene tips

      Safe preparation of food is vital to prevent food related illnesses during pregnancy. Best practice is to always wash your hands before and after preparing food, and to clean fruit and vegetables thoroughly. Always ensure that any ready meals, reheated food or restaurant dishes are piping hot all the way through before you eat them, too1.

      1. NHS. Foods to avoid during pregnancy [Online]. 2017. Available at: www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/917.aspx?CategoryID=54 [Accessed February 2020]
      2. NHS. Listeriosis [Online]. 2017. Available at:  www.nhs.uk/conditions/listeriosis/ [Accessed February 2020]
      3. NHS. Fish and shellfish [Online]. 2018. Available at: www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/fish-and-shellfish-nutrition/ [Accessed February 2020]
      4. NHS. Drinking alcohol while pregnant [Online]. 2020. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/alcohol-medicines-drugs-pregnant/ [Accessed February 2020]
      5. NHS. Fat – the facts [Online]. 2017. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Fat.aspx [Accessed February 2020]
      6. British Nutrition Information. Fats Explained [Online]. 2017. Available at: www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/helpingyoueatwell/fats.html?limit=1&start=2 [Accessed February 2020]
      7. NHS. Trans-fat [Online]. 2008. Available at: www.nhs.uk/news/food-and-diet/trans-fats/ [Accessed February 2020]

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