Food doubts during pregnancy? Here the basic guide

The arrival of a new life poses many changes in all aspects. Not only in our daily routine, but also when it comes to diet during pregnancy. It is normal for this to happen, since pregnant women live in a special situation where the care given to the food must be maximum. Even more in the area of ​​food security, that is: having safe foods that provide us with all the necessary nutrients.

Why do you have to be so careful with food during pregnancy, you ask? Well, because any food poisoning, however small, can affect the fetus, with serious consequences for its integrity and well-being. In fact, some foodborne infections are capable of inducing spontaneous abortions, malformations and, ultimately, the death of the future baby. Little joke with that.

There is a wide range of foods that can be problematic for the well-being of pregnant women, so they should be taken into account when preparing menus for this population group. The pathogens responsible for most food poisoning during pregnancy These are usually old acquaintances: Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes Where Toxoplasma gondii. The name of this last bug surely seems strange to you. Toxoplasma gondii is a microscopic parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, a disease traditionally linked to cats because it can be transmitted through their feces. This is why pregnant women are recommended not to clean their cat’s litter box and to be very careful in this regard. However, undercooked meat can also be a vector for toxoplasmosis.

Raw meat and cold cuts during pregnancy: ham, salami and chorizo

Generally speaking, eating undercooked or directly raw meat is one of the worst possible ideas because it is an ideal breeding ground for microorganisms. Especially if we refer to chicken meat, due to the usual presence of the bacteria Campylobacterthe bacterial agent most implicated in gastroenteritis in the world.

The only thing that loads pathogens in the home environment is heat, so we need to cook the meat thoroughly

As we said earlier, in pregnant women, food poisoning linked to the consumption of raw meat can be fatal for the future infant. Therefore, preparations such as carpaccio are totally prohibited because it is the best raw meat. At this point, it is interesting to note that marinades are not exempt from the ban: they do not prevent food poisoning because there is no cooking of the food. The only thing that loads pathogens in the home environment is heat, so meat should be cooked well to eliminate these bacteria. In this sense, care should be taken when handling and consuming meat viscera such as liver, brains, baby criadillas or kidneys. As long as they are well cooked, there will be no problem.

For the moment there is no reason to put your hands on your head, after all carpaccio is not a dish you eat every day. However, when it comes to sausages, things get complicated: Consumption of sausages such as ham, sobrassada, sausage or chorizo ​​is not allowed During pregnancy. The reason for this painful ban lies in the fact that the sausages mentioned above have not undergone the powerful and sanitizing action of heat.

In fact, according to Spanish legislation, these sausages are called “raw sausages” due to their technological production process. Another thing is the well-known turkey or chicken breasts, York ham, minced, bologna and other pink-colored meat derivatives, which used heat in their manufacture. There is no problem consuming the latter, but if in doubt, always check the labeling to verify the nature of the meat derivative.

Regarding sausages, there are many recommendations for pregnant women to justify their sporadic consumption, such as freezing the ham beforehand or cooking above 65°C. Technically, both practices are valid for loading the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Moreover, some studies suggest that after certain months of treatment, there would be no problem in pregnant women eating ham, since the risk of being infected with Toxoplasma gondii is considerably reduced. However, making this recommendation at this time is extremely risky, because no consensus yet nor is it a message from official health authorities: so far there are only isolated studies.

If we weigh the possible risks against the benefits, things are clear: it is better to avoid ham

On the other hand, we must bear in mind that there may also be other pathogens in the ham. It is difficult for them to grow there, but not impossible. Even if we kill Toxoplasma gondii It is not possible to cold kill other pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, which can also wreak havoc during pregnancy with diseases such as listeriosis. If we weigh the possible risks against the benefits, the question is clear: better to avoid ham. This is recommended by AESAN (Spanish Food Safety and Nutrition Agency) if you are not immune to toxoplasmosis. It doesn’t make much sense to freeze it first, but you can eat it cooked.

Beware of raw vegetables: it must be disinfected

It is very important to wash fruits and vegetables well under the tap to remove any dirt present. Also, if we are going to consume raw vegetables, it is recommended sanitize with food grade bleach to eliminate any pathogens that may be present on the skin of the vegetables. The disinfection method is very simple. It consists of immersing the vegetables for about 5 minutes with a teaspoon of bleach (4.5 ml) for 3 liters of water. Then we will rinse thoroughly with running water. It is important to identify this type of bleach because not just any bleach will do. It can also be found labeled as “suitable for drinking water disinfection”.

On the other hand, these cold soups made from vegetables such as salmorejo and gazpacho can be eaten as long as they are packaged, since they have been subjected to a thermal pasteurization process. Those found in supermarkets do not involve any risks. However, it is better avoid these homemade preparations or in restaurants where almost certainly no heat has been applied to preserve.

Say goodbye to sushi during pregnancy and be careful with certain fish

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Another very noisy pathogen is anisakis. This disgusting parasite surely sounds familiar to you, as it is very common to find it in fish of all kinds. For this reason, there is a health recommendation to freeze fish that is going to be eaten raw or undercooked at -20°C for at least 5 days at home. This also applies to preparations such as pickled and other marinated or smoked anchovies, for example smoked salmon.

It is advisable to avoid sushi, pickled anchovies and smoked salmon during pregnancy

Again, we have to balance the possible risks against the benefits, and to be fair, it’s best not to risk it. It is advisable to avoid sushi, pickled anchovies and smoked salmon during pregnancy. Because as cautious as they are, zero risk does not exist. And in this case we play more than a stomach ache. Recall that the fetus can suffer irreversible damage, so it is best to apply the precautionary principle. Moreover, we are faced with the same case as for Toxoplasma gondii. Although the freezing cold destroys the anisakis parasite, other pathogenic bacteria may remain present and will not undergo further heat treatment.

In addition to the issue of anisakioso, consideration must also be given to the mercury exposure involved in the ingestion of certain fish. This heavy metal can affect neuronal development in the fetus, and also later in young children. Fish species to avoid in pregnant women These are bluefin tuna, swordfish or emperor, shark species such as spiny dogfish, mako shark, spiny dogfish, spiny dogfish and blue shark, and also pike, as these are those big fish that store the most mercury. The typical canned tuna is not a problem if we consume it sporadically, although it should not be a regular source of fish. The recommendation for pregnant women is to consume between 3 and 4 weekly servings of fish, alternating between white and blue species and avoiding those mentioned above.

Other foods to avoid: soft cheeses, raw eggs and alcoholic beverages

Photo by Alexander Maasch on Unsplash

Finally, there are also other foods whose consumption is totally inadvisable during the gestation phase. Most of them again refer to the no heat treatment which guarantees the elimination of pathogens in food.

For example, raw milk and dairy products made from it, such as soft cheese such as brie, camembert, burgos, mozzarella or blue cheeses. Unless these indicate an elaboration from pasteurized milk, it is better not to eat them. On the other hand, preparations based on raw eggs should also be avoided due to possible contamination by Salmonella. This includes homemade mayonnaise and ice cream, mousses, meringues, tiramisu and other desserts made with raw eggs.

Finally, it is also totally inadvisable to consumption of alcoholic beverages due to the possible neurological damage that the fetus may suffer. This includes fermented beverages such as wine and beer, as well as distilled beverages such as rum, whiskey, and gin. In this sense, the recommendation is not based on the possible presence of pathogens, but on the fact that alcohol is a powerful toxin in itself. Don’t forget it even if you like to drink another cubalibre from time to time.