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Foods to Eat & Avoid When Pregnant

8 min read | 31 July 2022

The moment you find out you’re pregnant is bound to be one of the biggest and most memorable moments in your life, filled with so many emotions – for some it’s pure joy and excitement, for others it’s shock and apprehension, and for many it’s a mix of everything.


Amid all those emotions comes the inevitable question: what do I need to change about my lifestyle now that I’m pregnant? And, even more specifically: which foods do I need to start avoiding now that I’m pregnant?

If you’ve just found out you’re pregnant, don’t be surprised if food and food safety takes up a lot of space in your head, particularly if you’re in your first trimester! In the early days of being pregnant, mums-to-be often find they’re having to balance cravings and nausea with getting all the nutrients they need for themselves and their growing baby - all while avoiding any foods that could potentially cause harm or illness.

To further complicate things, pregnancy-related hormonal changes lower your immune system which can make it harder to fight off illness and infection. It’s for this reason that avoiding illness caused by food, including salmonella, listeria and toxoplasmosis, is extremely important throughout pregnancy.

The good news is that knowing which foods are best to eat and which foods to avoid during pregnancy is easy once you understand a few simple rules of thumb. The Food Authority of New South Wales lists four golden rules of food safety:

1. Keep it cold

Any food that needs to be kept cold should be put in the fridge straight away, and the temperature inside the fridge should always be below 5°C. It’s also important not to eat any food that’s been left out for 2 hour or more.

2. Keep it hot

Make sure you cook and reheat foods to at least 60°C and ensure there’s no pink left in cooked meats.

3. Keep it clean

Wash and dry your hands before preparing or eating food, and don’t forget to separate raw and cooked foods in the kitchen.

4. Check the label

Don’t eat food past its ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date and follow food storage and cooking instructions closely.

With that said, what are the specific foods you should avoid? And what are the best foods to eat when pregnant? Read on to learn more.

Foods to avoid (and enjoy!) when you’re pregnant:

Meat

  • ENJOY:

    All cooked meats, including beef, pork, chicken and mince - they’re a great source of protein and iron. Just remember that all meat should be cooked thoroughly to at least 71°C (at least medium, without any pink left) and eaten while hot.

  • AVOID:

    Raw, cold or processed meat, which has a risk of toxoplasmosis, a bacteria that is often found in raw meat.

Fish & Seafood

  • ENJOY:

    All cooked fish and seafood with low mercury levels and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These include mackerel, Atlantic salmon, canned salmon and tuna, herrings and sardines. Other seafoods which are low in mercury include snapper and trout, trevally, whiting, all squids and octopus and all prawns, lobsters and bugs.

  • AVOID:

    Raw seafood, including sushi and ready-to-eat chilled peeled prawns, which can expose you and your baby to harmful bacteria. It’s also best to limit your intake of fish with higher levels of mercury, like catfish, orange roughy (deep sea perch), shark (flake) or billfish (swordfish, marlin).

Fruit & Vegetables

  • ENJOY:

    Home-made salads, whole fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and frozen vegetables that have been cooked.

  • AVOID:

    Pre-packaged salads, which have a high risk of listeria toxicity. More specifically, rockmelon and bean sprouts have been linked to many foodborne illnesses, including listeria and salmonella, and should be avoided.

Cheese

  • ENJOY:

    Hard cheeses, including cheddar and tasty cheese, as well as cream cheese, cottage cheese and processed cheese that’s been stored in the fridge.

  • AVOID:

    Soft and semi-soft cheeses like brie, camembert, ricotta, feta, bocconcini and blue cheese (unless they’ve been thoroughly cooked to at least 75°C and eaten soon afterwards) as these may contain listeria bacteria.

Dairy

  • ENJOY:

    Any pasteurised dairy, including milk, cream, yoghurt and packaged frozen ice cream - the calcium in dairy foods is essential for keeping bones healthy and strong.

  • AVOID:

    Any unpasteurised (raw) dairy products or soft serve ice cream, as these can contain listeria or other bacteria like E. coli.

Eggs

  • ENJOY:

    Eggs cooked to at least 71°C – think fried eggs (without runny yolk), scrambled eggs and quiche. Eggs are rich in iron, which is very important in pregnancy.

  • AVOID:

    Raw eggs in food, for example home-made mayonnaise, aioli, chocolate mousse and cake and pancake batter, as there is a risk of salmonella in uncooked eggs.

Other foods to be mindful of when pregnant:

  • Leftovers:

    To be on the safe side, leftovers should be stored covered in the fridge and eaten within a day, and always reheated to at least 60°C.

  • Canned foods:

    Canned foods are fine to eat, but it’s important to store unused portions in the fridge in clean, sealed containers and eat within a day.

  • Pre-packaged sandwiches:

    Like pre-made salads, pre-packaged sandwiches are at risk of bacteria as they may not be fresh and may not have been stored at the correct temperature. Further to that, cold meats should also be avoided, which rules out a lot of pre-packaged sandwiches! The NSW Food Authority therefore recommends avoiding pre-prepared sandwiches and wraps.

  • Pate:

    There are risks with pate due to the way it’s made and stored, so it’s best for pregnant women to avoid pate altogether due to the risk of listeria infection.

Find out more about the foods you should eat or avoid on the Food Authority NSW website.

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