STEER CLEAR OF THESE 10 FOODS
To protect your and your baby’s health, make sure to avoid these top 10 food nasties – better yet, cut these pages out and stick them on the fridge, writes Melany Bendix
1 UNPASTEURISED DAIRY PRODUCTS
Say goodbye to all your soft, smelly cheeses, such as brie, camembert and blue cheese – feta, too, if it hasn’t been pasteurised. That’s because unpasteurised cheeses, milk and other dairy products are more likely to grow bacteria such as listeria (see also p46). Pregnant women, as well as newborns and people with vulnerable immune systems, are more susceptible to getting infected by this nasty little germ. It can cause an illness called listeriosis, which is usually mild for you (causing flulike symptoms) but it can harm your baby and, in rare cases, even lead to miscarriage or death. Here’s the good news: nowadays many soft cheeses and feta are made with pasteurised milk, in which case they are perfectly fine to eat. Always check the label to be sure and practise this golden rule: if in doubt, leave it out.
2 FISH HIGH IN MERCURY
Bigger fish live longer and are higher on the food chain, and the more other fish they eat, the more mercury is accumulated in their meat. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can build up in your bloodstream and can damage your baby. However, seafood is a great source of protein, iron and zinc – all crucial for your baby’s growth, while Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish help your baby’s brain development. So eat fish in moderation, just make sure it’s the kind that’s low in mercury and high in Omega-3 acids, such as anchovies, herring, sardines and trout. An ongoing study by marine scientist Brent Newman at the CSIR found swordfish, kingklip, Cape salmon and yellowfin tuna to be the South African fish with the highest mercury contents. UK guidelines allow up to four tins of tuna a week for pregnant women.
3 SUSHI (BUT NOT ALWAYS)
In Japan and other eastern countries sushi is considered healthy in pregnancy. But in the West it’s previously been advised against because raw fish such as salmon can contain small parasitic worms, which have the potential to make you quite ill (nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting) and in very rare cases can be fatal. So should or shouldn’t you eat sushi? The latest word from the UK’s National Health Service’s advisers is that eating sushi while pregnant is “usually safe”.
Follow these basic rules and you should have no trouble
If it’s raw fish, make sure it’s been frozen first, as this should kill off worms. If it’s cured fish, such as smoked salmon, it doesn’t need to be frozen because smoking, pickling and salting should kill off worms. If it’s shellfish, only eat it if it’s been well cooked.
4 RAW SHELLFISH
Raw shellfish, such as oysters, mussels, scallops, clams, shrimp, crabs and crayfish, may contain bacteria, viruses and toxins that can make you quite ill. If you eat shellfish, always make sure it’s been thoroughly cooked.
5 RAW OR UNDERCOOKED EGGS
Raw or undercooked eggs may carry the salmonella bacteria. Salmonella poisoning is unlikely to harm baby, but it will make you unpleasantly ill with vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, headaches and high temperatures. So lay off the eggs benedict and – get ready for horrible news – avoid foods such as meringues, chocolate mousse and tiramisu, which all contain uncooked eggs. Most commercial mayonnaises are made with pasteurised eggs and are okay to eat, but check the label to be sure.
6 PROCESSED OR DELI MEATS Polony, salami, ham, hot dogs... they all carry a risk of listeria. Rather be safe than sorry and either avoid these meats or heat them to over 73°C to kill off any bacteria. 7 LIVER Too much liver and foods rich in liver, such as pâté and some sausages, are a no-no, because they contain high levels of retinol, which is a type of vitamin A. Too much retinol can build up in your body, which can be harmful to baby. But don’t avoid vitamin A completely – it’s important to keep your skin, eyes and immune system healthy. Get it in good amounts by eating a balanced diet that includes butter, eggs, cheese, oily fish and vegetables such as carrots and broccoli. 8 RAW AND UNDERCOOKED MEAT AND POULTRY Say goodbye to rare steaks – undercooked meat and poultry has a risk of carrying listeria, salmonella and the toxoplasma parasite (also found in cat litter). This last one can lead to toxoplasmosis, which is a flu-like illness that may be mild for you, but potentially serious for baby, even causing miscarriage or death. 9 LIQUORICE Liquorice in its pure root form is a uterine stimulant that may lead to premature contractions, while a 2013 study found that overconsumption of natural liquorice (the sticky black kind) might also be dangerous during pregnancy. The study, conducted in Edinburgh and Helsinki, where eating this kind of liquorice is as common as eating chocolate, found it can decrease the strength of the placenta, which in turn can allow harmful hormones into your baby’s system. A few Liquorice Allsorts now and then is unlikely to cause problems. 10 SUGAR Various studies show that moms who consume excessive amounts of sugar during pregnancy give birth to babies “addicted” to sugar, which puts them at risk of health problems such as diabetes. Excessive sugar intake also increases your risk of gestational diabetes. Remember, you don’t have to be diabetic or even prone to diabetes to suffer from gestational diabetes, so reduce your risk by laying off the sugar! YP