When discussing diet with our pregnant patients, two questions are typically asked. Can I eat Sushi? What about lunch meats? Here we have compiled a list with as clear and concise answers as possible. I hope to clarify certain misconceptions and give you a better idea of what food products are considered safe, what products have questionable safety, and what food products should definitely be avoided.
Certain food products can either contain chemicals which can cause harm to the developing fetus or potentially carry bacteria or viruses which can be harmful to both the mother and fetus. Providing you with some clarity will help you be better equipped to decide what is safe enough to eat. Here’s the scoop!
Coffee and caffeine: Coffee for many people is an important part of their diet. There are actually many recognized health benefits of coffee and caffeine; patients often have difficulty stopping coffee and caffeine cold-turkey. Don’t completely stop; just reduce your intake to two normal cups of coffee or caffeinated drinks per day. Studies clearly show that 200mg or less of caffeine has no ill effects on the developing pregnancy! No need to stop, just reduce the amount.
Sushi and Fish lovers: Sushi, as well as cooked fish, is an excellent source of protein and Omega 3. The major concerns with uncooked fish are that of infectious parasites, bacteria, hepatitis, and mercury content. The risk of infection in the United States is rare for most of the fish is fresh flash frozen, which kills most parasites and the potential infections are rarely life threatening; but when pregnant your immune system is altered and infections can be more severe. Given the low risks, but the potential severity of an infection while pregnant you will find conflicting opinions about the safety of eating sushi. I was unable to find any life threatening illnesses or developmental problems in the fetuses of mothers who eat sushi.
Large amounts of Mercury, on the other hand, can certainly cause damage to the developing brain of the fetus. Different fish contain different levels of mercury. Limiting total fish (cooked and uncooked) intake to 12 ounces per week of fish that is low in mercury is recommended by the Food and Drug Administration. Examples of high mercury concentrated fish are Tile fish, Mackerel, Yellow Tail Tuna. See the FDA website for a full list. (https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm083324.htm)
Avoid foods potentially carrying Listeria: Listeria is bacteria which can cause serious consequences in pregnancy. Listeria infections are capable of causing miscarriage, premature labor, and stillbirth. Processed lunch meat, hot dogs, meat and cheese spreads, and raw meats are more likely to carry Listeria. Examples are Spam, ham spreads, and cheese spreads made from unpasteurized milk. Although Listeria infection is uncommon (see article below indicating a risk of 1 in 83,000 servings of lunch meat), it is certainly advisable to limit or avoid these foods during pregnancy. If you find them an essential part of your diet, you should buy the freshest items, immediately refrigerate them, and cook them well before eating them. Well cooked food will eliminate the risks of listeria. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2939108/
Alcohol: Alcohol can definitely cause varying degrees of mental retardation and physical abnormalities, especially in the face. Since there are no clear studies, nor will there ever be, identifying the amount of alcohol necessary to cause problems, all organizations in the United States recommend eliminating alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. If you inadvertently had one or two drinks and didn’t realize you were pregnant don’t panic! Minimal isolated exposure to small amounts of alcohol is very unlikely to cause a problem! see our blog Avoid Alcohol during Pregnancy! Oops
As your physicians, we must make you aware of all the potential problems that you can encounter. Eating certain foods carries risks that may be very small. The perfect example is Sushi. Others carry greater risks. The ultimate decision as to what you eat during pregnancy must be yours.