By Megan Powell
Caesar salad, sushi, smoked fish, brie. Just some of the many foods we’ve been told over the years that, as pregnant women, we shouldn’t eat.
Yet depending on the source, you’ll read different things. I’m a sucker for a good Caesar salad and I haven’t avoided it in this pregnancy, although my hubby does make a killer Caesar dressing without eggs.
I also love brie, and while I’m not gobbling it down on a weekly basis, I have had it a few times during this pregnancy.
I decided to do some deep digging recently to get to the bottom of the debate on what is truly safe or not safe to eat when pregnant.
Survey says . . .
It turns out that you’ll find different recommendations depending on where you look.
Some findings are universal, like avoiding raw shellfish, raw meat (because of the risk of contamination with bacteria, toxoplasmosis and salmonella), and fish high in mercury like shark, swordfish and king mackerel.
But ideas about avoiding other so-called “unsafe” foods in pregnancy, like deli meats and soft cheeses, vary a lot.
When I was pregnant with my first babe, I happened to mention to my family doctor the suggestion I’d read to avoid all soft cheeses. She basically scoffed at the idea, saying that listeria bacteria—which is the concern—is rare and can occur in many foods, including vegetables.
Remember the caramel apple listeriosis outbreak recently? And while the American Pregnancy Association and NHS Choices in the U.K. warn women to avoid all deli meats and soft cheeses because of the potential risks, Motherisk is much more liberal, saying that we mostly need to ensure that our food comes from from reputable establishments and is stored, handled and cooked properly.
This makes my brie-loving taste buds very happy indeed.
The truth about eggs, cheese, smoked fish and meat
So why did these foods become a no-no in the first place?
The big concern with all of the foods we’re often told to avoid during pregnancy stems from bacteria like listeria and salmonella, both of which can be very dangerous to the fetus.
Because eggs are most common cause of salmonella outbreaks, pregnant women are told to avoid anything containing raw eggs.
However, I discovered that our egg standards in Canada are actually really high and the chances of an egg containing salmonella are quite low. If you’re buying good-quality eggs from a reputable farmer or grocer, chances are quite slim they are infected.
The other issue is non-pasteurized cheeses, as they are more likely to contain listeria than pasteurized.
A lot of imported soft cheeses like brie and camembert are not pasteurized, but in Canada, regulations are different and pretty much any cheese you’ll find in your regular grocery or specialty store will be pasteurized.
So while I might be a bit more hesitant to scarf down loads of brie from an unknown source at a party, I’d feel safe picking up a pasteurized brie from a reputable cheese maker in Quebec.
I don’t eat meat, but even if I did, I’d steer clear of foods that are suspect like hot dogs (hello, nitrates) and iffy “meat-like” products (do you really want to take your chances on $1.99 Swedish meatballs while shopping for baby stuff?)
When it comes to smoked fish, like smoked salmon, there’s also mixed information. Again, the American Pregnancy Association plays it super safe by saying pregnant women should avoid all smoked fish, but other sources say it’s fine as long as it’s been cooked, frozen or canned.
So basically, don’t buy fresh smoked fish products, and you should probably be okay. All right, so I might be skipping out on eggs Florentine with spinach until this pregnancy is over.
Did I just make you more confused? Don’t worry, I’m still a bit confused, too.
What I’ve gathered from my research is to avoid raw foods, buy from a trusted grocery and use common sense (a.k.a. now’s not the time to try out that new street meat vendor down the street).
I might indulge in my beloved Caesar salad for my birthday at the end of the month (yes, my life is exciting) or eat some brie again if I can ensure it’s pasteurized, but otherwise I’ll likely play it safe for the rest of this pregnancy. Hey, I’m in the home stretch! You can bet I’ll be indulging in all these no-no items post birth though (other than hot dogs—yuck).
Follow along as Megan Powell prepares for her second baby—due this spring—while chasing her energetic 3-year-old and trying to squeeze in bathroom breaks and naps. Megan also blogs at henfamily.com
Cover photo: Pixabay