Does the list of all the “risky foods” during pregnancy make you feel like you have to cut out a large portion of your diet? There are certainly legitimate reasons for concern given some foodborne illnesses, such as listeria, can cause serious pregnancy complications. However, if you eliminate all foods that are potentially “risky,” you could be missing out on a lot of important nutrients. In this piece, Registered Dietitian and ProNatal Advisory Board Member, Madison Milmeister, discusses the importance of focusing more on food safety than cutting out so many nutrient-dense foods. Here are her tips for mitigating the risk of foodborne illness without missing out on important nutrients.
10 Tips to Promote Food Safety
First, to give you some peace of mind, your absolute risk for getting foodborne illnesses is extremely low. For example, the odds that you get eggs containing Salmonella is estimated to be about 1 in 12,000 to 1 in 30,0000 (6). That said, it is still important to take appropriate precautions, such as the following:
- Obtain your foods from trustworthy sources. For example, don’t grab an egg salad sandwich from the gas station.
- Stick with hot foods at a buffet. Ensure foods have been kept properly heated. Also, only consume perishable foods that have been directly chilled on ice, like cheeses and cooked shrimp.
- Don’t buy pre-cut vegetables and fruit. They are more likely to be contaminated with foodborne pathogens.
- Heat deli meats up to steaming hot. If you have questions about some foods (like deli meats), heat the foods up to above 165° Fahrenheit to kill any potentially harmful bacteria.
- Wash your hands carefully. Wash before cooking, after touching raw meat or seafood, and after cooking.
- Wash surfaces carefully. Clean your counters before and after cooking. If you are chopping raw meat, do not use the same surface to place foods on that you’ll be eating without cooking to a steaming temperature.
- Do not defrost foods at room temperature. Defrost in the refrigerator instead.
- Cook meats thoroughly. Buy a meat thermometer to ensure your meats are properly cooked through (especially chicken). Cook steaks to at least a medium temperature and ground beef should be to medium well or higher.
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours: Make sure food has cooled properly first. Eat your leftovers within 3 days and reheat them to the point of steaming.
- Trust your gut. If it smells funny, looks funny, tastes funny …. Don’t eat it
Notes on Specific “Risky” Foods
Interestingly, while we mostly think of animal products as carrying the biggest risk, fresh produce is just as likely — if not more likely — to make you ill from foodborne pathogens. The CDC’s FoodNet (a program designed to monitor foodborne illnesses in the United States) data analysis from 1998-2008 shows that 46% of foodborne illness during that timeframe was actually acquired from produce products. Compare that to the 22% from the illnesses meat and poultry products caused (7). However, doctors typically don’t tell women to eat less salad or take extra care when washing produce while pregnant. To mitigate risk, try not to buy pre-cut fruits or veggies and wash all produce very carefully.
Soft, pasteurized cheeses
Contrary to what you may have heard, soft pasteurized cheeses contain a very low risk of contamination (9). In fact, they are great sources of calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and zinc. However, if you want to be extra cautious, try heating them up to a steamy temperature and spreading it on a low-carb cracker, topped with some fresh cut fruit.
Focus on low mercury fish, such as salmon (preferably wild caught), herring, sardines, cod, catfish, mackerel (not king mackerel), anchovies, and cooked shellfish. These are great sources of omega 3s, especially DHA (great for your baby’s brain development), iodine, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and glycine.
Avoid high mercury fish, like fresh tuna, canned tuna, halibut, grouper, king mackerel etc. Also avoid shark, whale meat and raw shellfish.
This can be a personal choice. Most people eat sushi in very moderate amounts, which lowers the risk right off the bat (10). For the most part, infection (if it occurred) caused by the type of bacteria found in sushi is limited to the gastrointestinal tract and does not pose high risk to the fetus. If you do choose to eat sushi during pregnancy – make sure to eat it from a trusted, reputable source.
Get more info on pregnancy nutrition
To receive more information on pregnancy nutrition (including guidance maximizing your pregnancy diet, sample meal and snack reccos, tips for combating nausea and constipation, prenatal vitamin guidance, and more), check out our prenatal self-guided training programs. These comprehensive training programs include weekly workouts, nutrition guidance, childbirth preparation, access to a private support network, and many other resources to help you experience a healthy pregnancy and birth.
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For additional resources to help you exercise safely and effectively during pregnancy, explore our training programs and services. You’ll find a variety of offerings tailored to different needs — from education, to self-guided programs, to the ability to work with an expert coach.
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About the Author
Madison Milmeister is a registered dietitian – and mother — who specializes in fertility and pregnancy nutrition. She holds an undergraduate degree in Nutrition Science and a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition. She is currently completing a Master of Education at Columbia University with thesis work that highlights the important role of diet in human fertility. Madison loves working with and inspiring women to pursue peak health early on in their pregnancy journey because she wants to help create a healthier next generation, indefinitely. Her research and practice have led her to the motto, “A person’s health starts with the effort of their parents.” Have questions for Madison? Reach out to her at email@example.com.
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