Oh, the good old days of sipping red wine and delighting in a plate of delectable Spanish jamón and Manchego cheese. That’s what my routine had been for years as an expat in Spain - up until I got pregnant. To my sheer horror, at my first visit to the doctor, she gave me several pamphlets with a dietary restrictions list during pregnancy that I would have to endure for the next 9 months.
At the beginning, I was surprised, unprepared, and horrified. I can’t eat eggs? The beloved Spanish tortilla vanished from my menu selection. Although it was an adjustment at first, it got easier and now I’m ready to share everything I’ve learned with my fellow pregnant expats in Spain. As always, consult these restrictions with your doctor before establishing your own pregnancy diet. You can also check out the website Spain's Ministry of Health, Consumption, and Social Wellbeing for related information.
Why are certain foods restricted during pregnancy?
Doctors advise pregnant women to cut out or restrict certain foods mainly to prevent infection or illness which can harm your unborn child and potentially interrupt your pregnancy. But alongside that, it’s also to make sure that both you and your baby are getting the proper nutrients, vitamins, and calories for a healthy pregnancy journey.
The most common infections during pregnancy include:
Listeriosis: A listeria infection (foodborne bacterial illness) that is serious for pregnant women, most commonly caused by eating unprocessed meats or unpasteurized dairy. It can be fatal to unborn babies and newborns alike. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, and if left untreated the infection can spread to your nervous systems. What’s more, the baby can die in the womb or have the infection after being born. Antibiotic treatment can help cure the infection.
Toxoplasmosis: An infection from a parasite that normally occurs after ingesting undercooked or contaminated meat or water, or after coming into contact with cat feces or contaminated soil. Many people don’t experience symptoms at all, others get flu-like symptoms as well as swollen lymph glands and sore muscles. For infants who were infected in the womb, some of their symptoms after birth may include eye or brain infections.
Now, these facts aren’t meant to scare you, but to reinforce that some of the foods you’ll be cutting out of your diet are the most likely to contribute to these types of infections.
Dietary restrictions list for pregnancy in Spain
- Uncured, uncooked meat and fish- Jamón, chorizo, lomo...all your favorite Spanish embutidos are out! Well, if they’re uncooked. If you cook meats and fish at above 50C, you’re good to go. This means that raw meals like sushi, ceviche, carpaccio, paté, or oysters are prohibited. For fish, it is often recommended that you avoid eating too much fish that could be high in mercury, but ask your doctor for the specifics.
- Uncooked eggs - Stay away from those delicious Spanish tortillas that are soggy in the middle. You’re only allowed to consume eggs that are fully cooked (think hard-boiled eggs). That means you must avoid foods that contain raw eggs like mayonnaise, eggnog, salad dressing, cookie dough, custard, and runny or poached egg dishes.
- Unpasteurized milk and cheese - More often than not, you’ll find that you can’t eat your beloved Spanish Manchego cheese - either because it isn’t pasteurized or you can’t find information about its pasteurization. Other common unpasteurized cheeses include brie, Camembert, feta, blue cheese, Roquefort, mozzarella, and queso fresco. Finally, all milk or milk-based products must be pasteurized if you intend to eat them.
- Prepackaged meats - The main issue with prepacked meats is possible contamination or bad preparation. Although you can technically eat precooked, prepackaged meats like lunch meat or sausages, they’re not very healthy for you or your baby. If you need to indulge, the recommendation is to heat them up to kill any bacteria that may be present. Ask your doctor for further information.
- Unwashed fruits and vegetables - Think twice before biting into that apple. Yes, fruits and vegetables are what you should be eating the most of during pregnancy, but only if washed, peeled, or cooked. Take particular care of prepackaged salads; lettuce has a pretty big risk of bacteria, so all salads and lettuce should be washed before consumption. Furthermore, check all juices to make sure that they are pasteurized. Luckily, you can continue to eat most of the Mediterranean meals that you've come to know and love in Spain.
- Processed snacks and sweets - Now this isn’t a flat-out restriction so much as a limitation. Your cravings will probably get the best of you, but do your best to limit fried, fatty, unhealthy foods such as potato chips, cookies, fries, croquettes, churros...the list goes on.
- Alcohol & Caffeine - This is an obvious one, but don’t consume alcohol during pregnancy. Same goes for tobacco, drugs, and certain medications. Consult your doctor to find out more. Furthermore, it is recommended to restrict or cut out drinks containing caffeine, like coffee, tea, or energy drinks. Be aware that some foods may contain alcohol, such as rum raisin cake, beer bread or batter, risotto, liqueur-filled chocolates, etc.
Other advice concerning food preparation and consumption
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Wash hands and utensils thoroughly if they have touched raw foods.
- Keep raw and cooked foods separated in the fridge so as not to risk cross-contamination.
- Consume all prepared foods in just a few days. Don’t leave the package open for weeks.
- Reheat cooked foods to at least 50C.
Talk to your doctor about getting a dietary restrictions list. My GP and matrona both gave me a paper with foods to avoid and information on listeria, toxoplasmosis, etc. If they don’t give you one, ask! Finally, if you’re looking for healthcare providers for maternity coverage in Spain, discover the free guide below:
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