Pregnancy

From prawns to halloumi: what you can and can't eat when pregnant

September 16, 2021
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Short on time? Then the key things to know are:

  • Be alert to fish and shellfish in your diet: some fish can accumulate potentially dangerous pollutants, while undercooked or raw seafood is likely to be a source of harmful infections
  • Cheese and other dairy products made using unpasteurised milk have a high risk of containing Listeria, which poses a significant risk to your unborn baby
  • Meat should be cooked through during pregnancy, including cured meats such as pepperoni - undercooked meat carries a risk of contamination with toxoplasma which may cause complications for your baby
  • Alcohol should be avoided at all times
  • Caffeine should be limited to 200mg per day, approximately 2 cups of tea or coffee
  • British Lion eggs can safely be eaten raw or lightly cooked

When you are pregnant, you will inevitably discover that there are lots of rules when it comes to eating and drinking during pregnancy. It can be confusing to work out what guidance to follow!

Fortunately, the majority of foods can be consumed as normal, however there are few foods and drinks that should only be consumed in moderation or avoided altogether.

Here we share your go-to guide to what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy.

Seafood (including fish and shellfish)

There are a couple of reasons why you need to be alert to seafood during pregnancy including pollutants and potentially harmful infections.

Can you eat mackerel during pregnancy?

Some large marine fish may have been exposed to polluted waters, resulting in accumulation of mercury in these fish. Mercury and other pollutants have the potential to be harmful to both mother and baby. Fish that should be avoided include marlin, swordfish and shark. Tuna and oily fish such as mackerel may also contain low levels of mercury so should be limited to two portions per week.

Can you eat sushi when pregnant?

Raw and undercooked seafood are a potential source of infections such as Listeria and Salmonella. In addition to making adults unwell with diarrhoea and vomiting, these infections can be harmful to your baby. You should avoid eating raw or undercooked seafood during pregnancy - such as that used in sushi - unless you are certain it has been frozen first, as freezing kills the bacteria. Vegetarian sushi or sushi made using cooked seafood is safe.

Can you eat prawns when pregnant?

Aside from the exceptions noted above, most well-cooked fish and shellfish, including prawns and smoked salmon, can be safely eaten during pregnancy.

Cheese

Dairy products made using unpasteurised milk have a high risk of containing bacteria. Listeria in particular is associated with significant risks to your unborn baby. The process of pasteurisation involves heat treating food to kill bacteria, so pasteurised dairy products can be consumed safely.

Can you eat mozzarella when pregnant?

Soft pasteurised cheeses including mozzarella, ricotta, cream cheese, feta and halloumi can all be eaten during pregnancy.

Can you eat stilton when pregnant?

Hard pasteurised cheeses including cheddar, parmesan and stilton are also safe.

Can you eat brie when pregnant?

Soft, unpasteurised cheeses including brie and soft blues are at higher risk of containing Listeria and should be avoided unless it is clearly written on the packaging that it has been made using pasteurised milk.

Can you eat camembert when pregnant?

Camembert is usually a soft, unpasteurised cheese and a potential source of Listeria that should be avoided. However, if you cook soft unpasteurised cheeses thoroughly the heat will kill the bacteria and they can be eaten safely.

Meat

Can you eat steak when pregnant?

Meat is a great source of protein and can safely be eaten during pregnancy provided it has been cooked through. Undercooked meat may contain toxoplasma bacteria which may cause complications for your baby so should be avoided.

Can you eat pepperoni when pregnant?

Pepperoni, parma ham and chorizo are cured meats which have not been cooked and potentially contain bacteria. However, these meats can safely be eaten once cooked to a high temperature.

Can you eat pate when pregnant?

Pate is a potential source of Listeria and should be avoided when pregnant. Liver pate is a particular risk because liver contains high levels of vitamin A which can be harmful to your baby.

Drinks

Can you drink any alcohol during pregnancy?

Alcohol can cause complications during pregnancy and potential harm to the unborn baby. There is no known safe limit for alcohol consumption in pregnancy therefore guidelines advise that it is avoided altogether.

Can you drink coffee when pregnant?

High consumption of caffeine during pregnancy can cause restricted growth of the baby and low birth weights which are linked with other complications for the baby. Therefore, it is advised that pregnant women limit their daily intake of caffeine to 200mg.

Can you drink tea when pregnant?

Regular tea and coffee both contain caffeine. Limiting your intake to 1-2 cups of tea or coffee per day should keep you under the recommended daily limit of 200mg caffeine.

Can you drink green tea when pregnant?

Although it is considered a ‘herbal’ tea often associated with healthy diet choices, green tea often contains just as much caffeine as regular tea and should be limited in the same way. Soft drinks such as Coca-Cola also contain caffeine which should be considered within your daily intake. Remember that decaffeinated versions of tea, coffee and soft drinks are available and might be a sensible alternative to your usual cuppa.

Eggs

Can pregnant women eat eggs?

Eggs are a healthy and lean source of protein and can safely be eaten during pregnancy. Previously, guidelines advised that all eggs eaten during pregnancy should be cooked thoroughly so that the yolk is set, as eggs can be a potential source of Salmonella. However, British Lion eggs (those stamped with a red lion) are produced with high safety standards and can safely be eaten raw or partially cooked.

Can pregnant women eat mayo?

Mayonnaise is generally made using raw egg yolks. Where it has been made using British Lion eggs this can safely be eaten during pregnancy. If any food items such as mayonnaise or mousse are cooked using eggs other than British Lion eggs, they should be avoided.

Fruit

Can you eat grapes during pregnancy?

Fresh fruit and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre which are essential in a balanced diet, especially during pregnancy. However, it is important to remember that many fruits, such as grapes, contain high quantities of sugar, so should be consumed in moderation. Similarly, dried fruit and fruit juices tend to have a higher concentration of sugar which should be considered.

Can you eat pineapple when pregnant?

Despite what some old-wives’ tales might suggest, there are no fruits to avoid during pregnancy. You may have heard that pineapple can cause contractions and miscarriage but there is no scientific evidence to support this claim and pineapple can safely be eaten by pregnant women.

Navigating diet advice during pregnancy can be confusing but if you follow the advice above and maintain a sensible and balanced diet during pregnancy, this is the best start you can give yourself and your baby.

Looking for one-to-one support for your pregnancy concerns? Book a consultation with our private midwives who can provide specialist advice at a time that suits you.

Dr Alice Wood, Naytal Medical Advisor

Dr Alice is an experienced GP with a special interest in Women's health and emerging health technologies.

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