What Pregnant Women Should Not Eat: New Study
If you are pregnant or plan to get pregnant, get ready to revise your shopping list. According to a new study, researchers have named some foods and beverages you should cross off your list because they have been shown to be unsafe or may be hazardous for developing babies.
Which foods are dangerous for pregnant women?
It’s common for pregnant women to be told to not smoke and to avoid or severely limit their intake of alcohol during pregnancy. In addition, a great number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs are contraindicated for pregnant women.
But when it comes to foods, the “unsafe” list is much less clear. Therefore, at the University of California in Riverside (UCR) and San Diego, investigators set out to evaluate the food and beverages choices among pregnant women (mostly Hispanic population).
According to the study’s lead author, Sarah Santiago, a PhD student at UCR, some of the items are not usually associated with being unsafe for a developing fetus, yet they contain toxins known to cause birth defects. What are those foods and beverages?
The study’s authors named canned foods (e.g., canned fruits, vegetables, soups, sauces), certain fish (e.g., tuna, salmon), tap water, sugary foods, fast foods, and caffeine as substances with hidden dangers. Also on the list were OTC medications.
The study involved surveying 200 pregnant or recently pregnant women (ages 18-40) who were associated with a specific medical group in California. Nearly all (87%) of the women were Hispanic, and about 25 percent were college graduates.
Based on the results of food questionnaires given to the participants, the investigators discovered that during pregnancy:
- 73.9% of women ate canned foods, with 11.9% consuming them four or more times per week. The most popular canned foods consumed were fruits, vegetables, soups, and tuna
- 12% drank tap water
- Fewer than 33% ate more than one serving of fresh fruit daily
- Nearly all of the women (97.5%) ate sugary desserts, with ice cream topping the list (82.7%). About 76% of women ate high-sugar desserts between once a month to three times a week
- Nearly all (96%) of the women ate fast foods, with hamburgers being the item consumed most often (85.2%), followed by French fries (77.9%). In addition, 25.7% of the women ate fast foods 1 to 3 times per week
- About 75% ate fish, most often tuna, salmon, and tilapia
- 80% drank beverages containing caffeine, with colas being the most commonly consumed drink (60.2%) followed by coffee (45.5%)
- 6% drank alcohol at some point
- Most took prescriptions medications at least once
- Nearly half took acetaminophen or other OTC drugs at least once
Why are these foods and beverages dangerous for pregnant women? Here are a few of the warnings posed by the investigators:
- Tuna contains methylmercury, which is associated with faulty motor function and developmental deficits
- Salmon, especially farmed, may contain high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are associated with mental impairment, lower birth weights, and abnormal reflexes
- Food cans lined with bisphenol A (BPA) can leach the toxin into the can’s contents. BPA has been associated with reproductive problems, aggression, and hyperactivity
- Tap water can contain toxins. In this study, the investigators found eight substances in the tap water, some of which are associated with birth defects, that exceeded the federal and state guidelines
- Caffeine has been associated with birth defects and lower birth weights
The conclusion of the study’s authors was that “consumption of tuna, salmon, canned goods, sugary desserts, fast foods, and drinking of tap water, caffeinated beverages, and alcoholic beverages during pregnancy have been deemed unhealthy due to the appearance of environmental toxis found to have harmful effects in the developing offspring.” As a result, the investigators recommended the following:
- Women hoping to become pregnant not drink alcoholic beverages
- Healthcare providers of prenatal care should urge their patients to avoid dangerous foods, beverages, and medications during pregnancy
The authors also pointed out that just because infants may not display physical problems at birth, that does not mean poor food and beverages choices during pregnancy will not affect children later in life. Therefore, pregnant women should be mindful of the potential dangers of their food, beverage, and medication choices and discuss them with their doctor.
Santiago SE et al. Consumption habits of pregnant women and implications for developmental biology: a survey of predominantly Hispanic women in California. Nutrition Journal 2013; 12(1): 91