Foods and Drinks to Avoid in Pregnancy

by Annabel Leather

There are some foods which you need to be extra careful with during pregnancy due to the possible risk to your baby.

Alcohol

UK guidelines advise that all pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol at all.

Caffeine

UK guidelines recommend no more than 200mg of caffeine per day. But where is caffeine and how much is in different items?

Caffeine is not only found in tea and coffee but also in dark chocolate, coca-cola, energy drinks and certain cold/flu medications. Caffeine content in coffee varies depending on the type of coffee beans, serving size and brewing method. Some companies display their caffeine content online.

The average caffeine content of certain substances is below:

  • Tea (black and green) - 45-70mg per 240ml cup.
  • Coffee (instant) - 95mg per 240ml cup.
  • Coffee (brewed) - 135mg per 240ml cup.
  • Coffee (expresso) - 80mg per 60ml serving.
  • A Starbucks latte - 150mg per Tall drink.
  • Energy drinks - 160mg per 500ml can.
  • Dark chocolate (70%) - 40mg per 50g
  • Coca-Cola original has 32mg per can. Diet Coke has 42mg per can.

It is best to aim for no more than two mugs of coffee or three cups of tea per day, but be careful if you are drinking energy drinks or coco-cola too. Instead, try and choose decaf versions (which taste practically the same!) or fruity teas.

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Soft-serve ice cream

Soft-serve ice cream which comes from an ice cream van machine or kiosk has a risk of listeria so is best avoided. Soft ice cream from a supermarket is however fine to consume.

Eggs

Up until a couple of years ago the advice for pregnant women was to ensure the egg yolk was completed cooked through and solid. New research shows that eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice i.e. eggs with a red lion stamp, are very low risk for salmonella and should be safe to eat if partially cooked. If you buy eggs without this stamp on e.g. from a local farm you MUST cook them through thoroughly. Non-hen eggs such as duck, goose or quail should be cooked thoroughly. The risk of salmonella could cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting.

Raw shellfish/meat

Avoid raw shellfish and raw/undercooked meats or chicken due to the risk of salmonella. Also, all types of pate should be avoided. Always wash your hands after handling raw meats and store raw and cooked foods separately.

Fish

Due to the high contaminant of mercury, you should avoid shark, marlin and swordfish during pregnancy. Limit canned tuna to four cans per week. Eat oily fish (e.g. fresh tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines) to no more than twice per week.

Vitamin A

Avoid all supplements which contain Vitamin A. This includes fish liver oils. Also avoid liver and liver products such as pate.

Soft ripened cheese

Cheeses such as Camembert, Brie, goats’ and sheep’s milk cheese should be avoided. Care should be taken with mould-ripened cheeses too. Processed cheese spread and cottage cheese are likely to be free from contamination.

Other tips for food safety:

  • Always cook ready-prepared meals thoroughly to kill any bacteria.
  • Make sure your fridge and freezer are at the correct temperature.
  • Keep pets away from kitchen surfaces and make sure all surfaces are cleaned down.
  • Fruit, vegetables and salad should be washed before use.
  • Use separate cooking board for raw meat. Wash hands, surfaces and utensils after cooking raw meat.
  • Always wash your hands before and after preparing food.
  • Don’t eat food after the ‘use-by’ date.

References

B Thomas, J Bishop. Manual of Dietetic Practice (2011) 4th Edition. Blackwell publishing. Chapter 3.1, Pregnancy

National Health Service (NHS) [Internet]. Burnley, UK: Department of Health. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/ Accessed July 2020

BDA (2019) Pregnancy & Diet. British Dietetic Association Food Fact sheet. Available at https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/pregnancy-diet.html. Accessed July 2020


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Written by

Annabel Leather

Registered Dietitian
Hi, my name is Annabel and I am a Registered Dietitian. I have been working in the NHS for the last 5 years in different specialities ranging from oncology to gastroenterology to renal medicine. I also have covered inpatient maternity units & worked with gestational diabetes. I started my Instagram page (dietitian_annabel) to help put right all the confusing and incorrect nutrition information that is abundant online; I include only evidence-based trustworthy nutrition information and advice that is easy to understand. Bringing a new baby into the world is hard enough without having to find fact from fiction with what you should or should not be eating! Nutrition aside, I love experimenting with different baking ideas, drinking copious amounts of tea & have a new love of plants & gardening.

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