Invest in these food practices to have a safe pregnancy
Sushi, feta cheese, tuna salad, and tiramisu might be some of your favourite foods, which you enjoyed heartily before you got pregnant. But, now that you are expecting, you might be wondering if you can have these anymore. Well, the reason why these are usually listed as foods to avoid during pregnancy is because, they might contain raw ingredients that can put you and your unborn child at risk of infections. Food-borne illnesses can cause major complications during pregnancy and might even lead to premature delivery or miscarriage. Some infections like toxoplasma gondii and listeria might not show any apparent symptoms in the mother, but can infect the foetus. Thus, practising food safety is extremely important.
Common food contaminants
The main food contaminants that might cause an issue in pregnant women include:
- Toxoplasma gondii: It is a parasite that is present in unwashed vegetables, raw meat, and dirty cat litter. This causes toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis can cause premature birth as well as birth defects like blindness, intellectual disabilities, deafness, and low birth weight. Common symptoms include muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, fever, and headaches.
- Listeria monocytogenes: These are bacteria found in contaminated water, unpasteurized dairy products, and ready-to-eat foods. They can grow in the refrigerator too. These bacteria can cause listeriosis and lead to complications like stillbirth, miscarriage, premature delivery, and fatal infections in the baby. This illness is characterized by symptoms like fever, fatigue, and body aches.
- Mercury: This is a heavy metal found in certain types of fishes, such as surmai, shark, kalava and bhekti. The mercury levels are typically higher in older and larger fishes. Mercury can damage the baby’s nervous system.
Other common food contaminants include E-coli and salmonella.
Steps to prepare for and practice food safety
Following a few simple guidelines can help reduce your risk of food-borne diseases.
- Tips for seafood
Fish and seafood can be a healthy addition to your diet as they are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and proteins. However, avoid fishes that contain mercury like surmai or king mackerel, myli meen or swordfish, and kalava or grouper. Pomfret, hilsa, crab, shrimp, rawas or Indian salmon, and tilapia, are better options as they are low in mercury. All fishes and seafood should be well cooked too. Canned fish should be eaten only after it has been cooked.
- Tips for dairy and cheese
Do not drink unpasteurized milk as it may contain many different strains of bacteria. If you must drink milk, boil it before drinking it. All the dairy products you consume should also be made of pasteurized milk. While you can have hard cheese such as Swiss cheese and cheddar, avoid brie, camembert, feta and Roquefort.
- Tips for eggs
To reduce the risk of raw eggs during pregnancy, always cook the eggs properly before eating them. Eggs should be cooked until the whites and yolks are firm. As far as possible, use only pasteurized eggs. Also avoid foods that contain raw eggs, such as tiramisu, eggnog, eggs Benedict, raw butter, homemade ice cream, and homemade Caesar salad dressing.
- Tips for meat
Do not eat pre-made salads and sandwiches that contain chicken, meats or seafood. Meat is a good source of protein but must always be well-cooked before eating. Wash your hands with soap and water after touching eggs, raw meat, fish, or poultry. Even though the label of canned foods like deli meats and hot dogs might say that it has been pre-cooked, reheat the meats before eating them.
- Tips for vegetables
You should never eat stale food. Pregnancy-related complications can be drastically reduced by taking this one simple step. Always wash vegetables well before cooking them and keep raw vegetables and meats separate. Avoid eating raw vegetables. Instead, you can steam them or sauté them to get rid of any bacteria.
A few other tips for food safety
- Wash your hands with soap before eating anything
- Change dish towels every day
- Do not store food in open cans
- Check the safety seal before opening ready-to-eat foods
- Do not keep raw or cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours
- Always eat freshly cooked food
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours and do not keep them in the fridge for more than 2 days
- Do not drink unpasteurized juice
Apart from following the above tips to eat safe, make sure you stay away from processed foods as much as possible. These might contain sulphites as a preservative. And sulphites during pregnancy should be avoided if you have a history of allergic reaction to these. Such allergic reactions can cause breathing difficulties and in turn, affect your baby’s oxygen supply.