Steer clear of ultra-processed and fast foods during pregnancy: Here’s why

Are you consuming ultra-processed and fast foods during pregnancy? Well, they are extremely unhealthy for you, and here's why you should stop.
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Make sure you are consuming a healthy diet during pregnancy! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock.
Aayushi Gupta Published: 14 Feb 2024, 18:15 pm IST
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During pregnancy, it’s crucial to be mindful of what you eat to ensure the health and safety of both you and your baby. But from pastries to ice cream, pregnant women get some pretty crazy food cravings. However, certain foods should be avoided due to the potential risks they pose. A recent study suggests that pregnant women should avoid consuming ultra-processed and fast foods during pregnancy. These foods are typically high in sugar, unhealthy fats, salt, and low in essential nutrients, posing a risk to maternal health and fetal development.

Ultra-processed and fast foods during pregnancy

When it comes to pregnancy, the importance of maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet cannot be overstated. While it’s tempting to opt for ultra-unprocessed and fast foods, pregnant women need to understand the potential consequences of consuming these foods.

A recent study published in the Journal Environmental International suggests pregnant women should reconsider consuming cheeseburgers or packaged pastries. The report emphasises the importance of considering what comes into contact with the food before consumption rather than solely focusing on the food items themselves, like fries, burgers, shakes, and cakes.

pregnant woman
Diet matters when you’re pregnant. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

The study has found that phthalates, chemicals found in plastics, can leach into food from wrapping, packaging, and even plastic gloves used by food handlers. When consumed during pregnancy, these chemicals can enter the bloodstream, pass through the placenta, and reach the fetal bloodstream.

Researchers have observed that phthalate exposure during pregnancy can lead to oxidative stress and inflammation in the fetus. Prior research suggests that such exposure increases the likelihood of low birth weight, preterm birth, and mental health disorders like autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

5 side effects of consuming fast foods during pregnancy

Health Shots reached out to Eshanka Wahi, a certified Nutritionist and Holistic Wellness Coach, to understand the other side effects of consuming ultra-unprocessed and fast foods during pregnancy.

1. Nutrient deficiencies

Fast foods often lack essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre needed for the proper development of the fetus. This can increase the risk of complications such as low birth weight, developmental delays, and birth defects.

2. Gestational diabetes

The high levels of refined carbohydrates and sugars in fast foods can contribute to gestational diabetes, a condition that affects blood sugar levels during pregnancy. “This not only poses risks to the mother’s health but also increases the likelihood of macrosomia (large birth weight) in infants,” according to Wahi.

3. Excessive weight gain

Fast foods are calorie-dense but nutrient-poor, leading to excessive weight gain during pregnancy. This can increase the risk of complications such as preeclampsia, gestational hypertension, and cesarean delivery.

A pregnant woman
Fast foods can cause excessive weight gain. Image courtesy: Freepik

4. Digestive issues

The high fat and sodium content in fast foods can cause digestive discomfort such as heartburn, indigestion, and constipation, which are already common complaints during pregnancy.

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Also read: Dietary changes to reducing stress: 7 ways to deal with gas during pregnancy

5. Poor fetal development

“Consuming fast foods regularly during pregnancy has been linked to poor fetal brain development and cognitive function due to the lack of essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and iron,” says Wahi.

To mitigate these risks, pregnant women should prioritise whole, unprocessed foods rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. Opt for nutrient-dense options such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Other foods to avoid during pregnancy

During pregnancy, it’s generally recommended to avoid certain foods that may pose risks to both the mother and the baby. Some foods to avoid include raw or undercooked meats and eggs, certain types of fish high in mercury, raw fish, deli meats, smoked seafood, unwashed fruits and vegetables, excessive caffeine, and alcohol. It is best to completely avoid such foods or limit intake during pregnancy.

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About the Author

Aayushi Gupta is a health writer with a special interest in trends related to diet, fitness, beauty and intimate health. With around 2 years of experience in the wellness industry, she is connected to leading experts and doctors to provide our readers with factually correct information. ...Read More

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