What Foods Should I Avoid During Pregnancy?

fotolia_44184835Raw and undercooked meat (especially ground beef) - The potential risk is toxoplasmosis, a disease carried by infected cats.  Animals can become infected through their contact with cat feces.  Humans get the infection from eating infected lamb, pork or beef.  The most common way humans get the infection is by gardening, through contact with infected dirt.  The risk of fetal infection ranges from 1 per 1,000 to 1 per 10,000 births.  This is not a common problem, but is potentially severe.  Babies with toxoplasmosis can have blindness, deafness, hydrocephalus (water, swelling of the brain), small heads, enlarged liver and spleen and convulsions.  Bottom line – avoid eating raw and undercooked meats.

Raw seafood – there is a very small risk for hepatitis or other viruses, particularly with raw oysters.

Swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, shark and albacore tuna – these large predator fish feed on smaller fish, so they contain higher levels of mercury than other fish.  Mercury is a heavy metal and can be potentially damaging to the developing fetal brain. 

Unpasteurized soft cheese, particularly Mexican soft cheese - these cheeses may carry bacteria called listeria.  In this country, approximately 1 of each 3500 pregnant women acquires listeriosis.  The pregnant woman may become ill due to listeria, usually with gastrointestinal symptoms, but serious complication or death is unusual.  However, the fetus is likely to acquire the infection if the mother has it, and may suffer stillbirth or neonatal death.

Deli meats, hot dogs, luncheon meats – these also may become contaminated with listeria, a rare but potentially very serious problem (see unpasteurized cheese section above).  Listeria can grow even at refrigeration temperatures.  You can kill listeria by heating until steaming hot. 

Caffeine – limit caffeine intake such as coffee, soda, tea, chocolate.