Inside: Here are 22 important foods to avoid during pregnancy and why, plus several helpful foods to add to your diet for optimal health.
If you’re a first time mom, you may not be aware of all the foods to avoid during pregnancy. While you may have some strong food aversions or weird cravings, there are also several foods and beverages that you should consume in moderation or totally eliminate from your diet.
Something as seemingly innocent as a deli sandwich can actually pose a health risk to you and your growing child.
But, don’t worry, there are still plenty of foods you can eat. And food restrictions are a small and temporary sacrifice of pregnancy.
Below, I’ve listed each major food to avoid from the first trimester on, plus safe options that are good for your health and your baby’s development.
Foods to Avoid
Pregnancy, weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to viruses, harmful bacteria, and foodborne illness. And everything you eat gets passed along to your child.
Because of this, you should avoid foods that are more likely to be infected with things like E. coli and salmonella or have high levels of mercury. Food poisoning and illnesses like Listeria can cause preterm labor or a miscarriage.
Make sure you take extra care and precaution when cleaning fresh fruit and vegetables. Beware of cross-contamination on food prep surfaces. Don’t eat food that has been sitting out for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour in hot weather). And, moderate or avoid each of the foods listed below.
Foods High in Sugar
You’ll want to moderate foods high in sugar and do your best to maintain a healthy pregnancy weight to avoid gestational diabetes. But, keep in mind, pregnancy can be hard on a woman’s body and there’s a lot to balance.
Don’t beat yourself up if you do encounter problems with your diet and weight during pregnancy. Work with your doctor to set healthy goals and monitor your blood sugar.
Soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside have a higher moisture content and are therefore more likely to breed bacteria. And any unpasteurized cheese or milk product has a higher likelihood of containing listeria. Avoid any mold-ripened cheese with an outer white coating and any cheese made with unpasteurized milk. A few of these are:
- Chevre (a type of goat’s cheese)
- Danish blue
Meats and Proteins
Deli meat is frequently responsible for listeria outbreaks. For most healthy people, this illness isn’t life-threatening, but there are still several deaths per year. Studies show pregnant women are 20 times more vulnerable to a listeria infection than the normal population.
If you just have to have a deli sandwich. Be sure to heat your cold cuts in the microwave or in a pan over the stove until steaming hot.
Hot dogs pose the same threat as deli meats. They can be contaminated with listeria and also contain carcinogen-creating nitrates. Again, if you just can’t go without a hotdog, be sure to heat it to steaming to kill off harmful bacteria and eat in moderation.
Raw eggs can cause salmonella poisoning which will make you sick and can harm your baby, too. Make sure your breakfast eggs are cooked through with no runny yolk or whites. And no eating raw cookie dough or other food preparations containing raw egg!
Raw egg is found in recipes you may not think about like hollandaise sauce and other dressings so keep an eye out to be completely safe.
Undercooked Meat, Raw Meat
Raw or undercooked meats can potentially house harmful bacteria and even dangerous parasites you definitely want to avoid. Cook all red meats to well or well done and ensure poultry items have no pink center. Meats should measure at least 165 degrees on a meat thermometer to ensure a proper cook.
Sushi lovers may have a hard time with this particular restriction. Unfortunately, raw fish can harbor harmful parasites and bacteria, especially sushi that is prepared outside of the United States. So, no raw sushi or poke bowls until after your pregnancy is over.
You should also not consume raw oysters and other shellfish items like mussels and clams for the same reason.
Fish with High Mercury Content
Mercury is a dangerous heavy metal that can affect brain development in infants and children. Avoid large fish like king mackerel, tuna, shark, and swordfish. If you just have to have it, make sure you consume these fish no more than once a week.
Refrigerated Smoked Seafood
Smoked seafood like Lox, kippered and jerky can be contaminated with listeria. Canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is usually fine to eat.
Paté is another listeria-risk food. Avoid both meat and vegetable patés until after pregnancy.
Liver and Liver Products
Recipes with liver contain high levels of Vitamin A which can be harmful to an unborn baby. Steer clear until after your baby is born.
Fruit and Vegetables to Avoid During Pregnancy
Yes, even some fruits and vegetables make the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy! It’s important to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption and to clean cutting boards and surfaces they come in contact with.
Unwashed produce can harbor bacteria, animal feces, and other contaminants and can be contaminated at any point during production.
When you cut into a fruit or vegetable, your knife can introduce outside contaminants to the inside of your food. So you should wash your produce even if you don’t plan to eat their skins.
Additionally, you should avoid:
Sprouts are a frequent carrier of salmonella and other bacteria. Avoid them altogether while pregnant.
Food set out in salad bars is at a higher risk of containing listeria. Steer clear of any buffet salads and foods that are not well heated.
Prepackaged salads and mixes are notorious for E. coli and listeria outbreaks.
You also run a higher risk of foodborne illness from prepackaged fruit.
Unripe papaya is the main fruit to avoid while pregnant. It contains a latex substance that can cause uterine contractions.
You should also avoid cantaloupe due to its high risk of listeria. If you really, really want some cantaloupe, be sure to wash it thoroughly before cutting into it and consume in moderation.
Beverages to Avoid During Pregnancy
Along with foods pregnant women should avoid, there are several beverages to steer clear of, too.
Caffeine is known to cause low birth weight in babies. Be sure to monitor caffeine intake, avoid energy drinks, and limit coffee to 1 cup per day.
Green Tea and Herbal Tea
Teas often contain caffeine and there’s also not enough information on how herbs affect developing babies. Because of this lack of knowledge, avoid teas, especially herbal teas unless your doctor says it’s ok.
There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Avoid all alcoholic beverages or you risk serious harm to your child, including fetal alcohol syndrome.
Pasteurization is a heating process that kills harmful germs in eggs, dairy products, and beverages. Any non-pasteurized beverages should be avoided due to the risk of bacteria. This includes milk of any kind and fruit and vegetable juices.
If the product label doesn’t say pasteurized, choose a different option.
Foods That are Helpful, Safe During Pregnancy
Now that we’ve covered each of the foods to avoid during pregnancy, let’s place some attention on the foods that are helpful and safe to eat.
Studies have shown that eating tree nuts like peanuts during pregnancy can reduce the chances that your child will be allergic. As long as you don’t have a tree nut allergy, these foods can be very beneficial. If you have any allergy concerns, speak with your doctor before consuming.
Squash, whole grains, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, beans, and chickpeas are excellent examples of complex carbohydrates. These foods can provide energy and are a good source of fiber during pregnancy.
Foods Rich in Healthy Fatty Acids
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential to a pregnancy diet. These are important for the healthy development of your baby, especially brain development.
Here are some good sources of omega-3s:
- Fatty fish: salmon, trout and herring
- Sunflower and flaxseeds
Prenatal vitamins are an important way to provide needed nutrients for your body during pregnancy and for your baby. Many of the essential vitamins and minerals in these pills are missing or lacking from our regular diets.
Even if you’re just thinking about becoming pregnant, you should go ahead and start taking a prenatal so these compounds can build up in the body. Here are a few of the essential components to any good prenatal vitamin:
- Folic Acid
Here are some safe options for pregnant women to eat from the categories discussed earlier:
- Cottage cheese
- Cream cheese
- Goat’s cheese
- Feta cheese from a reputable manufacturer
- Pasteurized milk
- Sour cream
- Cooked salmon
- Domestic crab
Choose options that include:
- Vegetables, for example cucumber (kappa) maki
- Cooked seafood, like fully cooked eel (unagi) or shrimp (ebi)
- Avocado, like the California roll
- Fully cooked egg
- Decaffeinated tea and coffee
- Fruit juice
- Mineral water
If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll want to avoid highly processed foods like white bread and anything high in sugar.
You should also limit and avoid fast food, muffins, donuts, cakes, fried foods, sugary drinks, sodas, juice, starchy foods like white rice, pasta, sweetened cereal, granola, and oatmeal.
This can be unique to each woman, but here are some typical culprits:
If you notice heartburn or stomach discomfort after eating any food, make a note. If it occurs again with subsequent meals, you should avoid that food.
The Bottom Line
While there are several foods you’ll need to stop eating during pregnancy, there are plenty of safe options you can still enjoy and foods that are especially beneficial while pregnant. You should also pay attention to your unique body and your needs.
The bottom line should always be the health and safety of you and your child. And if there are other foods that cause you heartburn or discomfort, consider limiting them or removing them from your diet, too.
There are also 26 foods that increase sperm count. Do you know what they are?
Did you learn any new foods to avoid during pregnancy? Which were you most surprised by? Let me know in the comments!