Just when you feel like devouring the world on a plate (ideally between two loaves of bread), it seems like half your favourite foods are suddenly off the menu. When it comes to what you should avoid, advice varies from country to country, and from year to year (if not week to week). So we’ve scoured the latest UK guidelines to find out which foods you should be giving a wide berth, and which you can happily devour by the fistful. (Disclaimer: we mean “within reason”. Honest.)
Soft cheeses with white rinds Mould-ripened soft cheese, which have a tell-tale white rind – including brie and camembert – are a no-no. This includes mould-ripened soft goats’ cheese, such as chevre. Though you can eat them if they’ve been cooked. The concern is that because they are less acidic than hard cheeses and contain more moisture, these tasty morsels create an ideal environment for harmful bacteria, such as listeria, to grow in. Although try telling that to the French, who consume the stuff throughout pregnancy.
Soft blue cheeses such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and roquefort are also off-limits, unless cooked.
Hard cheese The good news is that you can still devour hard cheeses like cheddar, parmesan and stilton, even if they’re made with unpasteurised milk. That’s because hard cheeses don’t contain as much water as soft cheeses, so are less likely to become a breeding ground for bacteria. You can also still eat: cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goats’ cheese, and processed cheeses, such as cheese spreads.
Fish Most fish is extremely good for your health and the development of your baby, but some must be avoided or limited. Avoid shark, swordfish and marlin. Restrict tuna to no more than two steaks a week (about 140g cooked or 170g raw each), or four medium-sized cans a week (about 140g when drained). This is because the high levels of mercury contained in the fish. Also, you should avoid having more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, because it can contains pollutants. Just to keep you on your toes, you must also make sure you don’t avoid these oily fishes altogether as they’re integral to baby’s optimum development. (FYI: fresh tuna is an oily fish, so if you eat two fresh tuna steaks in one week, you shouldn’t eat any other oily fish that week.) Happily, there is no need to limit the amount of white fish and cooked shellfish you eat when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, apart from shark, swordfish and marlin.
Sushi Counterintuitively, you are allowed to eat sushi when you’re pregnant but only if it’s been frozen first. So the stuff that is usually considered the best quality – using fresh fish straight from the water – is now off-limits. While your bog-standard supermarket variety is fine. The logic is that occasionally wild fish contains small parasitic worms that could make you ill. Freezing kills the worms and makes raw fish safe to eat. So now you know. Although tell that to the Japanese.
Shellfish including mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams, should be eaten cooked while you’re pregnant, as they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. Cold pre-cooked prawns are fine, though.
Meat All meat and poultry, including joints and steak, should be cooked so that it’s steaming hot with no trace of pink or blood. The problem here is the potential for Toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by parasites found in raw and undercooked meat among other things. FYI: Many cold meats, such as salami, Parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni, are not cooked, they are just cured and fermented, so best to check the instructions on the pack to see whether the product is ready to eat or needs cooking first. Pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef are safe to eat in pregnancy according to British guidelines. Though rule-setters in other countries, including the US, would beg to differ.
Liver It seems odd to discount a food on the basis that it has too many vitamins, but the advice is that liver or liver-containing products such as liver pâté, liver sausage or haggis, are packed with a lot of vitamin A, too much of which can harm your baby. For the same reason, don’t take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A.
Pate is off limits – even the vegetable variety – as it could contain listeria.
Eggs You can still eat eggs, though only if they are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid, to prevent the risk of Salmonella. While Salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, it can give you a severe bout of diarrhoea and vomiting. So the rule is to avoid homemade mayonnaise, which is a stupid concept anyway.
Milk and yogurt Pasteurised or Ultra-Heat Treated (UHT)long-life options are advised. Unpasteurised is not.
Ice-cream is also allowed. PHEW. Although homemade varieties should be made without egg.
Peanuts are officially OK! The Government used to advise women to avoid eating peanuts if there was a history of allergy in their child’s immediate family, but the advice has now changed after research failed to show a link between eating them during pregnancy and baby developing a peanut allergy.
Alcohol The truth is that experts are still unsure about how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy – so, to err on the side of caution, some say it’s best not to drink at all. If you do decide to have the odd tipple, the advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is stick to one or two units of alcohol – that is equivalent to one small glass of wine – once or twice a week to minimise the risk to your baby.
Caffeine High levels of caffeine has been linked to miscarriage, and low birth weight in babies. The smell of a cup of coffee may well make you want to hurl right now. If not, the recommendations are that you can drink caffeine but only in moderation. That is no more than 200mg a day. Consider that one mug of filter coffee contains 140mg; one mug of tea, 75mg; one can of cola, 40mg; one can of energy drink, 80mg; one 50g bar of plain (dark) chocolate, around 50mg; one 50g bar of milk chocolate, around 25mg. You do the math (we’re not very good at it).