THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Which foods do you avoid during pregnancy?

eating-strawberries-during-pregnancy-2

This past summer, whilst pregnant and travelling through different European countries, I noticed something intriguing regarding the ‘rules’ of which foods to avoid during pregnancy. It is completely different by country!

We started in Italy, where we had been enjoying lots of seafood and shellfish, eating mussels at least twice a week. My approach during my previous pregnancies was to avoid shellfish if I wasn’t totally sure of the quality of the source. When I found out I was pregnant this year, one of my friends, an American who lives in Italy, told me she would completely trust the mussels in Positano, while another (a German) told me she doesn’t trust any shellfish coming from the Mediterranean – pregnant or not! I decided not to take my chances with the mussels.

When we arrived to Italy, my good friend Vanessa banned me from touching the cheese tray that was brought out every evening. She explained to me that, more than any other foods, French women know they are not to eat cheeses during pregnancy – the threat of listeria is too great with all the unpasteurised cheeses in France. But… a glass of wine here and there is, of course, fine in France. ☺

From France we travelled to Portugal where the rules appeared to change completely. I asked about the cheeses, and my friend, Marta, told me she didn’t worry at all about cheese during her pregnancies. However… she stopped me mid-bite on the beach as I helped myself to the strawberries we picked up earlier that day at the farmers market. She explained to me that strawberries were the number one food she was advised to avoid during pregnancy. Apparently strawberries, because they grow in the dirt, pose a risk of toxoplasmosis. Despite four previous pregnancies, I had never heard this before! I was so intrigued, I googled it that night and could not find anything (in my English search) that said you shouldn’t eat strawberries during pregnancy. If, however, you google it in Portuguese, the results are different. Isn’t that fascinating?! Don’t you think it’s so interesting that pregnant women in England are enjoying strawberries while their counterparts in Portugal are steering clear?

My friend, Marta, also explained that in pregnancy she washes lettuce and leafy vegetables thoroughly before eating them, and won’t order salad in restaurants because she doesn’t trust it’s been washed properly. Again, this is something I had never considered during any of my previous pregnancies!

I have no idea how to conclude my findings, other than to avoid all the foods listed above! But then… I do love strawberries and actually find myself craving them!

I’d love to know what foods you’ve been advised to avoid during your pregnancies. Anything I haven’t mentioned above?

Courtney x


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Comments (31)

Louisa
September 15, 2016

I’m not a particularly cautious person by nature normally but when it comes to my pregnancies I have surprised myself by being very cautious. Yes I have missed red wine, soft cheese and sushi etc each time, but in the grand scheme of things 9 months is really no time at all, and I figure what’s the point in risking it, no matter how small that risk. Each to their own though.


Pam
September 15, 2016

This is so intriguing! I had my first pregnancy while living abroad in Spain and my obstetrician gave very sound advice. Firstly, he said I should avoid cured meats. He went on to explain that a Spanish woman living in Spain could safely eat jamon Serrano but as I was new to the land, I was new to the bacteria. For example,my Japanese friends all ate sushi during their pregnancies and found it strange that westerners are advised to avoid raw fish. I think we should just eat which is natural for us and certainly add foods that are rich in certain vitamins or minerals that we need, in the same way that we ought to continue with the exercise regimes our bodies are accustomed to, but to avoid trying new to us exercises that we could inadvertently injure ourselves doing or eat food that isn’t typical to our usual diets. (I craved all red food during my pregnancy, especially strawberries! I ate kilos of berries!)


Phillipa
September 15, 2016

Oh none of my Spanish friends ate any ham or chorizo unless they had had the toxoplasmosis test and tested ok for it! And still a lot avoided all cured meats which terrified me as I ate so many until I heard! I do think if you’ve eaten a lot of rare steak and lots ham in your life it’s likely you will be safe as will have contracted it when not preg.


Shay
September 15, 2016

I’m completely sidetracked by that bowl 😂 It’s just so pretty. But to stay on point with the conversation, I think the stress of worrying about to eat and what not to eat is probably the most harmful. I’m no expert. I have one healthy little girl and I loved my coffee and ate my cheese!

x Shay


Sophie
September 15, 2016

Hi Courtney, you may want to test for toxoplasmosis: if blood test results show that you’ve had it previously in your life (something that is very common but poses no risk if you are not pregnant) you are completely safe to eat strawberries, uncooked meat, unwashed lettuce and vegetables etc. because your body has already produced antibodies for it. Enjoy your fifth pregnancy!


Ana
September 15, 2016

You can actually eat all vegetables and fruits, if well washed.
I always used sodium bicarbonate as a natural disinfectant (or at least it helps against toxoplasmosis) to wash all what I ate during pregnancy (and I have never eaten a salad in a restaurant while pregnant) 🙂


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Sarah
September 15, 2016

To be perfectly honest: I didn’t avoid anything. I could defend myself by saying I was very young and my mother is super hippy-dippy but in the end I guess I was just naive and trusted my midwife who told me everything was fine (except for smoked salmon, which – truth be told – I ate anyways because I coudln’t endure the craving one.more.second.). My little boy is completely fine but next time I’d be a bit more careful.
My SIL (she lives in Brussels), who was pregant about 2 years after I gave birth, avoided everything. No cheese, no fish, no milk.. I did not envy her….


Anaïs
September 15, 2016

In France, they make a big deal about the toxoplasmosis, which I somehow contracted between my two kids (they test here early in the pregnancy) – my doctor said it was from playing with my first in the park’s sandbox where cat’s pee… gross! As Sophie said, if you are positive, it will save you a lot of hassle from eating out and over-washing fruits, veggies, etc. (in white vingear I was told). being of several countries, I also noticed this international discrepancy… and not much fit is based in science. My SIL is a marine ecologist (phd) and she’ll never touch a mussel 9even not pregnan, calling it the filter of the sea.


Phillipa
September 15, 2016

Oh no!!! I adore mussels!


Daniela
September 15, 2016

Never heard about the strawberries before! And I’ve been eating them daily. I avoid mussels and other shelfish. As well as raw meet. But with this 4th pregnancy, I’ve been much more relax than with the others.


Phillipa
September 15, 2016

Ha so interesting and totally remember being completely confused when preg – my Spanish family told me to avoid all cured meats and be ultra careful with salad and fruit and veg until I’d had my test for toxiwotsits which they don’t test for in the uk! They were totally relaxed with cheese and wine tho! But not coffee. I think as UK doesn’t have as much of a ham culture and most Parma etc comes in packet from supermarket maybe it’s considered safer? Anyway it was certainly confusing!


Flo
September 15, 2016

Funny, I am French, had a first pregnancy in Spain, the following ones in England and each time I add to the list of things I cannot eat which means I have now turn into a total nutjob when pregnant. I didn’t know about the strawberries though… Oh dear…


Flo
September 15, 2016

Mind you the food you are allowed to give to a child when weaning him is also different, in Spain I was told to start with a little orange juice and when I got to England I was told never before much later. And my sister in Germany was given different advice still…


paz
September 15, 2016

HI Courtney! At The beginning of my pregnancy I was being extremely precautios and avoided eating tons of stuff ( cured meats, soft cheeses, vegetables outside of the house…)and then I got tested for toxoplasmosis , it came out positive so the doctor told me I could relax and do whatever I wanted…the next second I was running to the store in order to get a huge piece of camembert!!!! Im spanish but live in Germany and have found that in general the guidelines in southern Europe are way more strict that in the north…I wish you a very happy pregnancy , Im also due in March!!


Sally
September 15, 2016

I’m always been struck by how different the rules are in different places… What’s totally normal in one place will have people calling child services in another. Anyone reading ‘Expecting Better’ by Emily Oster? An attempt to establish dos and don’ts of pregnancy through science rather than culture. Heard good things about it only at the end of my third pregnancy – but now no need to read it as I’m pretty intent on not being pregnant again 🙂 Instead I can focus on the arbitrary judgement that comes with parenting babies and toddlers.


Sofia
September 15, 2016

Hi Courtney,
All these change according to culture and beliefs. But, still, as a doctor I strongly recommend you to be tested for toxoplasmosis – it does pose risks for the fetus – and make sure to wash really well all fruits and vegetables for the obvious reasons: larvae and pesticides. You should also avoid raw meet/fish due to the parasites. Other than these, follow a normal life, it is your 5th pregnancy you should know better :))


Christie
September 15, 2016

I had heard about all of these cultural differences with my children. Since every country was different, I just figured no one knew anything and ignored them all! After my first trimester, I drank a small glass of wine with dinner every night. I ate whatever sounded good. I drank plenty of coffee (especially with my second because I was sooo tired). You really can’t avoid all risks; no use making yourself crazy over everything.


Ines
September 15, 2016

Great post. It’s not the strawberries per se, it’s the fact that you were probably going to eat them without having preaviously washed them. It’s the same with the salads. I mix a little vinegar in the water to wash stawberries and lettuce. We eat them at home where we know they were properly washed, but we avoid eating salads in restaurants, while pregnant. Toxoplasmosis is a big issue in Portugal and Spain, because most of the population is not imune to it, so there is real a risk that you may contract it during pregnancy and affect the foetus. For example in Chile, where I had my son, they do not even test you for it during pregnancy. Doctors just assume you are imune, as almost 80% of the population has already had contact with the bacteria. It was a big deal explaining to the doctor that since I was not Chilean and had only been living there for one year, that rationale would not apply to me. I got tested in the end. Needless to say, Chileans eat salad (and mayo!!!) throughout pregnancy without a second thought. In Portugal we also avoid soft cheese. Those dry, mature varieties are OK. I found out that childrearing also varies immensly from one country to another, but that’s for another post 🙂


MelTown
September 15, 2016

Stateside I have been told to thoroughly wash any produce, avoid any and all alcohol, most fish (mercury), sushi (mercury and parasites), undercooked meat (assorted pathogens), coffee (but only by strangers, and never by my doctor), chamomile tea (it can cause contractions), other teas (assorted reasons, black and peppermint were allowed), lunch meat and soft cheeses (listeria), among others I’m surely forgetting. Listeria is a major concern here, but none of the recent outbreaks have been related to lunch meat or soft cheese! All of our cheeses are pasteurized, for one thing. When I was pregnant with my first there was a big listeria outbreak that involved cantaloupes and with my second there was one involving a brand of ice cream that I ate all the time during that pregnancy. The rules are excellent guidelines to keep your baby safe, but some of them seem a bit ridiculous.

As for toxoplasmosis, I’ve never heard anything about strawberries, but I was forbidden to garden without gloves, or change the litter in my cat box.


Isabella
September 15, 2016

Well, it’s not about the strawberry, it’s about the fact that they are easily dirty with soil, hence high risk of toxoplasmosis from cat wee! In Italy I had to avoid all raw or undercooked meat and wash everything that was raw( so veggies and fruits) with amuchina, a solution with chlorine. I was tested every six weeks for toxoplasma. In England and Germany I had no instructions whatsoever as regards to avoid certain foods. I just kept on disinfecting raw food with amuchina, even though food tasted vaguely of chlorine…as I Doctor, I would recommend testing for toxoplasma, unfortunately infection during pregnancy is not so rare. And of course avoid cats and hands in the soil, dirty sand, wherever cat wee can be basically! 😼


Amanda
September 15, 2016

I was definitely warned of toxoplasmosis by my GP when I was pregnant. But it was more to do with pets and picking up after them. I don’t know how strawberries in Portugal, but in Aus they are low to the ground, but not exactly in the dirt. In fact letting them touch dirt is avoided because it spoils them, they are pretty delicate. I’m curious about thoughts on potatoes in Portugal, given that they are actually grown underground all covered in dirt!?


Ana
September 21, 2016

Potatoes are cooked and peeled (most of the times) – I believe in Australia as well 🙂 Like others said before, the problem it’s not the strawberry itself, but the dirt it brings from the soil. Pregnant or not, always wash thoroughly fruits and vegetables, prevention is the key.


Amanda
September 15, 2016

I’d say it must be do do with food standards/regulations in different countries. In Australia, the standard is that by the time the produce reaches the supermarket, it shouldn’t have any traces of any chemicals/pesticides etc left on it. People still choose to wash their fresh produce for their own piece of mind and also, maybe the supermarkets use their own pest control to keep flies and cockroaches away from their fresh food!


Isadora g
September 16, 2016

Pregnant women should be adviced to eat everything as long as they are healthy. I was told to avoid so many things and I was always miserably hungry and sick. If I were to get pregnant again I would eat it all, just wash everything throughly. Enjoy the only time of your life when you can gain weight and have a good excuse for it.


Helena
September 16, 2016

I’m pregnant with my third child now, and I’m less worried this time around than I was with my previous two pregnancies. I used to Google a lot and that only feeds anxiety. So no more googling 🙂 I’m Swedish and here we’re adviced not to eat raw or undercooked meat, unwashed vegetables or fruit, unpasteurized cheeses, cured or smoked salmon and lunch meats that aren’t really fresh. And no alcohol!

What differs from the rules in other countries is that, for example, pregnant women are adviced to eat wild salmon twice a week, and no ban on shellfish.

I’m surprised to read that people are washing their fresh vegetables and fruit with a chlorine solution. I would be more scared about my baby being harmed by ingesting chlorine that by the possibility for toxoplasmosis! I’m thinking that fresh running water should be plenty to clean the vegetables?

Anyhow, I’m thinking that if I haven’t caught toxoplasmosis yet, while spending 30 years eating undercooked lamb, cured meats, salami, unwashed berries straight from the ground, I’m not very likely to catch it during pregnancy when I wash produce and don’t eat raw meat. Also, according to studies the risk of catching toxoplasmosis when pregnant (or otherwise) from cat litter or sand boxes is much lower than the risk of catching it from food. You’d have to not wash your hands and then rub your eyes or put your hand in your mouth to get the parasite after cleaning the litter. And who does that?


Becca
September 16, 2016

I was pregnant with my first baby while looking living in Beijing and had lots of European pregnant friends who were so worried about toxoplasmosis and I remember them all being very anxious about being tested. I’m British/Australian and it had ever crossed my mind! I knew about handling cat litter but it’s never mentioned re infection from food. Would love to know why. I was so careful with what I ate and drank in Beijing that the anxiety sort of stole any enjoyment about my pregnancy. I’m expecting my second (also in March) and I’m in Britain now and enjoying being able to eat most things without worrying too much about contamination or pollution. It’s lovely!


Alena
September 19, 2016

In Russia while pregnant we are advised to avoid strawberries, chocolate, alcohol, red caviar, celery, blue cheese, beetroot, citrus fruits, honey, mushrooms and other foods which can provoke allergies to a baby. And while breastfeeding the list is three times longer.


Rachel | The Little Pip
September 19, 2016

My second baby is now 5 months old – when I was pregnant I took an approach that guidelines are simply that – they are not rules. It is all about balancing risk. I still got in a car although that was potentially damaging to me & the baby… I think it is just sensible to wash fruit & veg (which is surely the issue with strawberries, not the berry itself) and to think about the water if one is in a different country to usual. Sushi in the UK has to be frozen before sale so sushi from a big brand is fine. Cured meats are similarly ok if you freeze them. I did steer clear of rind ripened unpasteurised cheese though. And definitely enjoyed the odd glass of nice wine with a meal.


Alison
September 20, 2016

I ate pretty much everything – I read a LOT about what to avoid and in the end decided to trust my gut and make myself happy whenever and wherever I could – including at the dinner table. I have a beautiful and healthy baby – so I suppose it worked for me 😊


Noelia
September 29, 2016

Hi Courtney, I’m a Spaniard living in Austria and I can confirm your theory that the “rules” are different in every country. I do eat all kind of vegetables and fruits at home (I wash them first with bicarbonate sodium), only pasteurised cheese (but of course no camembert, blue cheese…), well done meat and fish (I also avoid big fishes like tuna, shark…) and cooked seafood (here there are also lots of theories about mussels). I also avoid serrano ham, salami, chorizo since it’s raw… I know it’s quite restrictive but I personally feel better to avoid eating these things. It’s only for 9 months! xx


Isabel Prata
April 20, 2018

In Portugal alcoholic dinks are absolutely forbidden during pregnancy. Salads, meat not well cooked, strawberries, etc are ok if you are immunized to toxoplasmosis. Every pregnant women makes blood tests to find she has toxoplasmosis antibodes.


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