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Pregnancy Q&As

  1. Expert: Daina Kalnins, MSc, RD
    August 25th, 2008
    What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?
    Eating a healthy, balanced diet is especially important during pregnancy, but there are a few foods pregnant women should know to avoid:

    1. Soft, unpasteurized cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Feta, Gorgonzola, and blue cheeses (if these types of cheese are labeled "pasteurized," then they are safe to eat).

    2. Hot dogs and pre-packaged deli meats, unless reheated until they're steaming.

    3. Cold pâté and smoked salmon, unless it's fully cooked (such as in a casserole).

    Why these foods are risky during pregnancy: Soft, unpasteurized cheeses, deli meats and smoked salmon may contain a bacteria called Listeria. Symptoms of listeriosis include flu-like nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and achy muscles and can occur two to 20 days after eating the contaminated food. This infection can cause miscarriage or be passed on to the fetus, leading to infection or blood poisoning.

    4. Raw meats and fish (such as raw mussels, clams, oysters and sushi) and raw eggs (often found in homemade Caesar salad dressing, mayonnaise, custard, mousse or hollandaise sauce).

    Why these foods are risky during pregnancy: Raw meats, fish and eggs may be contaminated by salmonella, E. Coli or toxoplasmosis, which can put both mother and baby at risk.

    5. Fish that contain high levels of mercury (such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tuna and tilefish). Canned light tuna is safe at about two cans per week while canned albacore tuna should be limited to 6 oz per week.

    Why these foods are risky during pregnancy:
    Methyl mercury can cause harm to the fetus and mercury consumed during pregnancy has been linked to developmental delays and brain damage.

    6. Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate.

    Why it's risky during pregnancy: High levels of caffeine may cause low birth weight or premature delivery. Some studies have linked high caffeine intake to an increased risk of miscarriage, so you may want to avoid caffeine in the first trimester and then limit it to about two cups of coffee or two to three cups of tea per day (a maximum of 300 mg/day).

    7. Herbal teas (especially chamomile).

    Why it's risky during pregnancy: Chamomile has been shown to have a harmful effect on the uterus and thus may pose a risk to the fetus. Safe herbal teas include citrus peel, ginger, lemon balm and rose hip.

    8. Alcohol.

    Why it's risky during pregnancy: No level of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy. Drinking puts a baby at risk for developing fetal alcohol syndrome and even moderate drinking has been found to impact a baby's brain development.
    Daina Kalnins is a registered dietitian at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She has co-authored several books on healthy eating and nutrition in association with the Hospital for Sick Children, including Better Baby Food (the second edition was just released in summer, 2008) and Better Food for Pregnancy. Her latest book, YUM, is about nutrition and the importance of good food choices for children aged eight to 13.