The only pregnancy food article you ever need to read

Pregnancy restrictions vary across the globe

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When it comes to pregnancy food restrictions, women around the world get a lot advice on what to eat, and more often what not to eat. The sources could be their doctors, parents/neigbhours/friends and online articles, like this one. However, it seems as though this advice is different from region to region and country to country, and often there are contradictions. Right? Wrong!

Looking at credible, reputed sources, such as government health sites, shows that dietary precautions for pregnant women are quite similar in the US, the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. That is certainly not a scientific or complete sample of sources, but they are updated frequently and based on research.

So why is there a perception that restrictions are confusing and differ from country to country? “It is hard to understand because we’re all looking at the same evidence”, says Lisa Houghton, senior lecturer in the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Otago, New Zealand. However, evidence can still be interpreted differently, peoples beliefs and culture can influence opinion, and sometimes well-meaning sites can still misinform people.

The case of the raw milk

The question of whether to consume raw milk is an example of all three factors. The US government’s Centers for Disease Control advises against consuming raw milk and products made from raw milk. However, some people look at the evidence and dispute this recommendation and claim that the CDC is committing a fraud. These critics in turn have their own critics too. This has been going on for years, and reading all the arguments makes no-one the wiser.

Culture and beliefs can play a role too. For example, some of those who criticize the CDC’s recommendation to only consume pasteurized milk also have a strong interest in “natural” health and nutrition. That makes it harder for them to neutrally judge all the evidence. And here is an example, not milk related, of a cultural belief being spread without evidence: “Although not scientifically proven, including large quantities of nutmeg in your meals can be detrimental.”

That brings up the third reason that misinformation exists, which is that the Internet has no verification system. For example, one site states that raw milk is safe to consume after being frozen for two weeks. It mentions no source for this information. However, not only does freezing not kill bacteria, but it is often used as a way to preserve it for research purposes!

Get to the point, I’m hungry!

So, with all that, what foods are pregnant women advised to stay away from, and why? Most of the recommendations are against food that could contain bacteria or parasites. Food can either become contaminated at the source, along the way as it is being processed and packaged, or as it sits around waiting to be eaten. Pregnant women have a lower immunity level due to the additional hormones their bodies produce, so they are more at risk in this situation.

  1. Raw food from animals. Bacteria and parasites that are harmful to people can be found in meat, seafood (fish and shellfish) and eggs, all of which are consumed raw in many places. Therefore, all the countries mentioned above recommend that pregnant women avoid uncooked or raw forms of these foods. Smoked meat and fish are also considered raw because they are not heated enough to kill germs.
  2. Unpasteurised milk and products made from unpasteurized milk may contain the bacteria Listeria. Pregnant women may be more vulnerable than others to infections from Listeria and that could complicate the pregnancy and harm the baby. Several soft-textured French cheeses use unpasteurized milk, but even in France pregnant women are advised not to eat them. Yogurt (dahi), lassi, paneer, turmeric milk, and any other dishes which contain unpasteurized or boiled milk carry a risk of infection. Raw milk has also been associated with increased risk of catching Tuberculosis.
  3. Raw vegetables that might be contaminated. Vegetables that grow close to the ground, like lettuce and spinach, or those that go through a processing plant, like sprouts, can come into contact with germs. Sometimes washing them at home doesn’t get rid of all the germs, so they are considered safe to eat only if cooked.
  4. Unpasteurized commercially sold fruit juices. Fruit juices that have not been pasteurized and sealed in airtight containers before being sold can pose a risk because they could be contaminated by bacteria.
  5. Premade foods, salads, leftovers. Sandwiches and samosas sitting in a display counter at a coffee shop or canteen, processed meat products and food at home that’s ben exposed to room temperature for a while can all be breeding grounds for bacteria to multiply. So if you have no option but to eat them, they should first be heated to a minimum temperature of 165 F (75 C).
  6. Fish. Many fish contain high levels of mercury, which is toxic to both adults and babies in the womb. On the other hand, eating fish may benefit your baby and some fish are also very good sources of so-called Omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. Therefore the recommendation is to consume up to 340 grams per week of the following fish: shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish, canned light tuna, pangasius, tilapia, cod, clams and crab. Stay away completely from swordfish, shark, king Mackerel, tilefish (golden tilefish).
  7. Everything else. Every woman is different and depending on the individual, there may be specific concerns with the amount of sugar, specific vitamins, or iron, which a doctor may recommend more or less of. No guide can provide such personalized information, so please do consult a doctor regularly and share any concerns with her/him.

That said, if a relative or trusted source tells you to avoid papaya, pineapples, paprika or some other food while you are pregnant, there may be no harm in following such advice. It is up to you. Just make sure that you are getting the nutrition you need from other foods.

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Disclaimer: Medical content and advice published on this site is provided for information purposes only and is not a substitute for a consultation with a licensed physician or the reader’s discretion. Although verifies all information with reputable sources, the contributors and publishers accept no responsibility for any actions taken by readers based on the information provided here. recommends that you always consult a licensed medical professional in health matters.

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