Unsafe eggs, fish, meat, and seafood for pregnant women

Photo by Nathaniel Yeo on Unsplash

Written by Dr. Shyam Sundar Gupta, PhD, Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ajay Kumar Tiwari, MD (Ay.)

The consumption of eggs, fish, meat, and seafood are good and healthy for pregnant women, but it should be carefully selected before eating. Cold, raw, soft cooked, undercooked eggs, fish, meat, and seafood should be avoided due to causing illness and birth defects in pregnant women.

1. Raw or soft cooked eggs

An expected 0.01% of all shell eggs have Salmonella enteritidis.  The salmonella infection may induce the illness or fatality in the fetus and the mother during pregnancy (1). The pasteurized eggs are free from Salmonella enteritidis and can be used safely during pregnancy. Pregnant women should make sure that their foodstuffs containing raw eggs are taken from the reputed and well-established store and consumed in time (2). The foods that contain raw or half cooked eggs must be avoided and these are Eggnog, Home-made Caesar salad dressing, Bearnaise sauce, Hollandaise sauce, and Aioli sauce, mayonnaise, ice cream, custards, and desserts such as mousse, meringue, and tiramisu. Pregnant women must eat a well-cooked omelet, and eggs that contain solid yolks.

2. Fish having high mercury

Mercury is toxic in nature and affects the developing fetuses and infants (3). The nervous system of the fetus is affected mercury by passing through the placenta (4). Therefore, fish like Swordfish, King Mackerel, Shark, and Tilefish must not be taken due to having a high level of mercury. The fish like Tuna, Shrimp, Salmon, Crab, Haddock, and Scallop contain a low quantity of mercury and can be consumed safely (5, 6). Women should take help from a good dietitian to select the fish to eat before and during pregnancy.

3. Raw or undercooked fish and shellfish

The infections of Vibrio, Noro-virus, and other food-borne infections may be increased due to eating raw or undercooked fish and shellfish. Therefore, pregnant women must avoid consuming raw shellfish and fish before and during pregnancy (7). Well-cooked low mercury fish such as Salmon, Crab, Tuna, Haddock, Scallop, and Shrimp and shellfish can be consumed safely.

4. Fish from polluted water

Fish from lakes, ponds, and rivers containing industrial pollutant such as polychlorinated phenol may induce birth defects in pregnant women. Well-cooked freshwater fish is safe and healthy to eat during pregnancy (8).

5. Cold smoked seafoods

Listeria contamination is very high in cold smoked seafood and very low in hot smoked seafood. Cold smoked seafood should be avoided by pregnant women because it induces Listeriosis and affects both fetus and mother. Therefore, women should consume only hot smoked seafood (8, 9).

6. Raw or undercooked meat

Toxoplasmosis is a generalized parasitic infection and it is harmful to the fetus if the mother is infected during pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis can occur if the pregnant women eat raw or undercooked meat having Toxoplasma gondii cysts or if they are exposed to cysts in contaminated cat feces. Approximately 75% of the infants suffer from the development of chorioretinitis, hearing loss, mental retardation, encephalitis, or microcephaly in the first trimester of pregnancy.  Women should eat well-cooked meat, give well-cooked meat or commercially available cat foods for cats, and avoid all contact with the garbage box and cat feces, and wash hands well after contact with soil, cats, or raw meat during the prenatal period (10).

7. Cold deli meats

Deli meats are also known as lunch meats, ready-to-eat meats, cold cuts, sandwich meat, luncheon meats, cooked meats, hot dogs and sliced meats. Cold deli meats contain Listeria monocytogenes  and causes listeriosis. Listeriosis is common in pregnant women and it causes fetal death, and illness in mothers and newborns with weakened immune systems (11, 12). Pasteurization and high temperature kill Listeria. Therefore, pregnant women should eat deli meats only after reheating at a high temperature.

8. Organ Meat

Vitamin A plays a crucial role during fetal development, but its higher doses have teratogenic effects. The daily dose of vitamin A less than 10,000 IU is safe and doesn’t induce birth defects during pregnancy, but the dose of vitamin A greater than 10,000 IU per day is not safe for pregnant women (13). According to the Department of Health (DH), pregnant women should not consume animal liver and its products (e.g., liver pate and liver sausage) during pregnancy due to high vitamin A content. Therefore, the women should avoid taking supplements containing retinol, animal liver and its products before and during pregnancy (14).

Note: Please consult your family doctor before applying any health tips of Amrit Health Tips website (www.amrithealthtips.com).


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