Unsafe Foods in Pregnancy
Early this morning I was invited to a television interview of The AM Show. This was to discuss some eye-opening research that has just come out here in New Zealand regarding current knowledge of unsafe foods to consume during pregnancy.
The research, published this month in the New Zealand Medical Journal, surveyed 205 pregnant women in New Zealand. Half the participants were recruited from a hospital antenatal clinic and half via Facebook. The key finding was that the majority of the participants reported consuming foods that are considered unsafe to eat while pregnant.
I will highlight these foods below but wanted to explain first why this was a concern. When you are pregnant your immune system is comprised which increases the risk of food borne illnesses. What we know is that while this is not generally life-threatening to the mother it almost always gets passed to our unborn baby. They have a very underdeveloped immune system and this can have a very serious outcome, including late-term miscarriage and still birth.
In particular, pregnant women have an increased risk of contracting listeriosis from the bacteria listeria. They are 18 times more at risk of this in the third trimester. It is important that I say overall in New Zealand in the last 20 years there has only been 147 cases of listeria that required hospitalisation for pregnant women (1997-2016).
However, what this research really highlights is the need for much clearer guidelines on this and more importantly practical suggestions for meal and snack ideas which are realistic for pregnant women. In addition, ideas which are suitable for a number of different cultures and are budget friendly. I have some below which I hope helps!
Below is the list of foods that are regarded as unsafe to eat in pregnancy. You can see the biggest challenge is food that is bought out rather than what is prepared at home:
*Uncooked (raw), smoked or ready-to-eat fish or seafood eg. oysters or sushi
*Cakes, slices and muffins that have added cream or custard
*Raw eggs eg, in smoothies, homemade mayonnaise and dressings and homemade ice-cream or mousse.
*Pate that you have purchased from a shop
*Salads, including fruit salad that have been made a shop or cafe
*Unpasteurised (raw) milk and cheese
*Soft serve icecream (like from Macdonald's)
*Dressings from a cafe eg, hollandaise
*Soft or semi soft cheese eg, brie or camembert, feta, mozzarella
*Cold ham or other precooked meat like chicken
From the finding of this new study the unsafe foods most commonly eaten were: cheese which is soft or semi-soft, salads including fruit salad that have been made at a cafe or shop, dressings also served at a cafe or shop and cakes, slices and muffins which have added cream or custard.
You can see clearly from this list that it can be very confusing. Some of these 'unsafe foods' are highly nutrient dense (healthy). This can make the balance between healthy eating and safe eating in pregnancy challenging....more so as you are exhausted and often have other side effects such as morning sickness or heartburn too.
I have been pregnant five times and carried three babies to full term. I had two early miscarriages. I understand first hard that it is not always easy to eat well in pregnancy here are some of my top tips!
*If eating out a bakery can seem like a cost-effecitve and fast option. Many bakery foods however fall in the list of unsafe foods - I would recommend a quiche or a frittata and make sure it is heated well. If buying these from a cafe just ask when they were cooked first - generally they are cooked on the day but it pays to check.
*Have a snack box either with you, in your desk at work or in the car. Often in pregnancy especially toward the end you cannot eat a big meal but need lots of snacks. If you have a lot of morning sickness this is also the same. Some ideas are:
- Wholegrain crackers
- Roasted chickpeas
- Kumera chips (far more nutrient dense than your standard chips)
- A museli bar - go for a baked oat bar (a little bit of chocolate is ok! Safe and more nutrient dense than a cake) or a nut bar.
- Bliss balls
- Little bag of popcorn
- A whole-grain sandwich with peanut butter or almond butter
- A can of tinned tuna (and a spoon!) can go well with some crackers. I know you might not feel like it all the time but I will always advocate for fish intake that is safe and this gives a practical fast lunch option.
Of course you can make some homemade baking but I know you might not always have time and energy for that so I wanted to give some ideas which require little preparation and can keep for a while.
If you are struggling with your food during pregnancy I do special pregnancy nutrition consultations and create full indiviuaised plan for you! You can book this right online here and I do these either via Skype or in person at my Auckland Clinic.
I also have a great ebook (also available as a handbook) with simple wellbeing tips during both pregnancy and early postpartum - this includes both nutrition and safe exercise suggestions. You might also like our online Mum Squad for extra support too.
You might also like to check out my Toasted Muesli - this is all made for you and can make a good at home/work option that is just there. I would often have this for lunch even!
As I said above, I understand first hand it is not easy to eat well during pregnancy especially with the added restrictions of unsafe foods and the huge physical load of growing a baby. I hope this has helped give some places to start!
*Walls, Jeffs, Williman et al., (2020). Pregnant women's knowledge of, and adherence to, New Zealand Food Safety in Pregnancy guidelines. New Zealand Medical Journal, 133.
*Ministry of Health (2008) Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: A background paper. Available from: https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/food-and-nutrition-guidelines-healthy-pregnant-and-breastfeeding-women-background-paper