What Foods To Avoid While Pregnant: The Ultimate Guide

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Eating a well-balanced diet during pregnancy is essential. You and your baby need plenty of nutrients and vitamins to stay healthy throughout your pregnancy. While most foods are safe for pregnancy, pregnant women need to know which foods should be limited and what foods to avoid while pregnant.

When you’re expecting a child, whatever you eat and drink influences your baby’s health, possibly forever. What you eat and beverages that you drink take on a new meaning, and some do present dangers to a eveloping baby.

Most of the foods on the list that you need to avoid during pregnancy because of the risk they pose to you and your unborn baby. Foods aren’t free of bacteria, as much as we like to imagine that they are. Certain foods are more likely to host bacteria, such as salmonella or listeria, that could pose a serious issue to you and your baby.

So, all of the foods listed below are avoided because they could bring harm to you or your child. If it harms you, it can harm your child. Many bacteria can pass through the placenta to your child.

14 Foods To Avoid While Pregnant

1. Raw Meat

Not eating raw meat probably isn’t a huge deal to you. I don’t often sit around eating raw meat, and I doubt that you do as well. Uncooked seafood and rare or undercooked beef and poultry need to be avoided because of the risk of contamination with salmonella, toxoplasmosis, and other dangerous bacteria.

That also means you shouldn’t order your steak rare or medium-rare, which can be frustrating if that’s how you prefer your steak to be cooked. I understand that frustration, so you might have to save the steak for your post-pregnancy meals.

2. Fish Containing Mercury

Fish that have high levels of mercury need to be avoided because mercury consumed during pregnancy is linked to developmental delays and brain damage. This means that you also need to watch sushi to avoid raw fish and fish that contain mercury, even if it’s cooked. Stick to sushi that uses cooked seafood, such as tempura rolls.

Examples of fish that have high levels of mercury include:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Tilefish

Tuna has a lower amount of mercury, especially canned, chunk light tuna. It’s safe for consumption, but you should eat it in moderation.

3. Smoked Seafood

Refrigerated, smoked seafood is often labeled as lox, kippered, jerky, or nova style. They need to be avoided because of the risk of listeria contamination. If you add them to a meal and cook them, they’re safe to eat.

Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood is fine to eat, but be sure to avoid the ones in the deli section of your local grocery store.

4. Raw Shellfish

Many seafood-borne illnesses are caused by undercooked shellfish. Cooking helps stop some of the infections, but it won’t prevent algae-related infections that are associated with red tires. Raw seafood isn’t good for anyone, but it must be avoided during pregnancy.

A few examples of raw shellfish that you need to avoid include:

  • Oysters
  • Clams
  • Mussels

5. Raw Eggs

When you think of eating raw eggs, you probably imagine eating the egg right out of the shell, but that’s not what happens most of the time. You might not realize that some foods that you enjoy are created with raw eggs, and those items need to be avoided.

Some foods that might contain raw eggs include:

  • Homemade Mayonnaise
  • Homemade Caesar Dressing
  • Homemade Ice Cream or Custards
  • Hollandaise Sauces
  • Unpasteurized Eggnog
  • Raw cookie dough

Commercially made ice cream, dressings, and eggnog are created with pasteurized eggs, so they don’t pose any salmonella risk. Restaurants also have to use pasteurized eggs in any recipe that uses raw eggs, such as Hollandaise sauce.

Not eating cookie dough can be saddening. Who doesn’t love cookie dough? Thankfully, store-bought cookie dough ice cream is safe, and many brands are now selling egg-free, raw cookie dough that should be safe for your consumption.

6. Organ Meat

Organ meat can be a great source of nutrients, such as iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A, and copper. All of these nutrients are needed for an expectant mother.

However, overeating animal-based vitamin A isn’t recommended during pregnancy. It can lead to vitamin A toxicity and abnormal levels of copper that can result in congenital disabilities and liver toxicity.

You could eat organ meat once a week, but try to reduce it even further.

7. Unpasteurized Milk

Drinking unpasteurized milk, whether it’s cow or goat milk, can contain listeria. Make sure any milk that you drink is pasteurized. You want to drink only the pasteurized or ultra-heat treated milk. Also, make sure to avoid any food that is made from unpasteurized milk, such as ice cream or cheese.

8. Fresh or Unpasteurized Juices

Do you love apple cider or freshly squeezed juices at your local cafe? Fresh juices in restaurants, juice bars, or farm stands are delicious, but they’re probably not pasteurized against harmful bacteria such as E. Coli and salmonella.

Markets often sell raw, unpasteurized juice in the refrigerated case. Look for the warning label and stay away from those juices. Opt for pasteurized juices only.

9. Soft Cheeses

Don’t worry; your beloved cheddar cheese is safe. You want to be careful with imported soft cheeses that might contain listeria. All soft, non-imported cheeses that are made with pasteurized milk are safe to consume.

Some soft cheeses that you need to avoid include:

  • Brie
  • Roquefort
  • Camembert
  • Gorgonzola
  • Queso Blanco and Queso Fresco - unless they’re made from pasteurized milk

10. Pate

If you’re a fan of pate, you need to avoid refrigerated pate or meat spreads. They might contain the bacteria listeria. You can switch to eating shelf-safe meat spreads or canned pate instead.

11. Alcohol

No matter what anyone tells you, no amount of alcohol is known to be safe during pregnancy. Alcohol needs to be avoided during pregnancy. Exposure to alcohol during pregnancy can interfere with the development of your baby, and depending on the amount and timing of alcohol consumption, it can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome.

12. Unwashed Vegetables

Now, don’t think that vegetables aren’t safe. All vegetables are safe for consumption and needed for a balanced diet. However, vegetables must be washed to avoid potential exposure to toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis can contaminate the soil where the vegetables are grown.

The majority of women who have toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, but some might feel like they have the flu for a month or longer. Infants who are infected with toxoplasmosis while in the womb have no symptoms at birth, but blindness and intellectual disabilities can develop later in life.

A small percentage of infected newborns will have severe eye or brain damage at birth due to exposure of toxoplasmosis.

13. Raw Sprouts

Raw sprouts, such as those from clovers, radishes, alfalfa, and mung bean, might be contaminated with salmonella. Growing raw sprouts requires a humid level that can be the ideal breeding ground for different bacteria. It’s impossible to wash off these bacteria.

14. Energy Drinks

We discuss further down about caffeine, but the brief idea is that caffeine is generally considered safe so long as you stick to 200 mg per day. Moderation is key.

Moderation of caffeine and energy drinks don’t go together. Some energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine that are dangerous for your baby. A 24-ounce can of energy drink can have up to 500 mg of caffeine, plus way too much sugar that you shouldn’t consume.

Also, we can’t be sure about the safety of the other ingredients. Energy drinks are considered a food supplement, and the FDA does not regulate them. The drinks might contain other ingredients that aren’t safe or recommended for pregnant women either. For example, ginseng is a common ingredient found in energy drinks, and ginseng is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

5 Foods That You Should Limit During Pregnancy

1. Deli Meats

Some people say that you need to avoid deli meats entirely, but the evidence doesn’t support that. Eating a few turkey sandwiches isn’t problematic if you heat your deli meat before you eat it. Make grilled ham and cheese sandwiches or cook your turkey meat before eating it.

The problem with deli meats is they are known for being tainted with listeria, which increases the risk of miscarriage. Heating deli meat until it steams kills off the bacteria.

2. Hot Dogs

Hot dogs, just like deli meats, have a risk for bacteria because of their packaging. All refrigerated meat pose a danger to you because of the potential exposures of listeria.

Pregnant women should also avoid getting the fluid from hot dog packages on other food, utensils, and food preparation surfaces. Make sure you wash your hands after handling hot dogs to decrease potential contact with listeria as well.

3. Herbal Teas

Herbal teas seem like the better choice because they’re caffeine-free, but their safety is unclear. No human studies on the safety of herbal teas, including herbal supplements, have been done during pregnancy, including St. John’s Wort and Echinacea.

While it’s safe to drink herbal teas that you buy on the supermarket shelf, you want to avoid drinking large quantities of herbal teas and avoid herbal supplements entirely.

If you aren’t sure, speak to your doctor. Some herbs can be used to support a healthy pregnancy safely. For example, chamomile tea has long been used to help pregnant women get a better night of sleep.

4. Processed Junk Food

We all like a little bit of junk food in our lives, but pregnancy isn’t the time for you to go hog wild on the processed junk food. Pregnant women need an increased amount of essential nutrients, such as iron, protein, and folate.

The classic saying that you’re “eating for two” doesn’t mean that you need twice the calories. You only need 350-500 extra calories per day during the second and third trimesters. Your diet should consist of whole foods with plenty of nutrients.

Processed junk food is low in nutrients and high in sugar, calories, and added fats. Eating too many processed foods can increase your risk of excess weight gain, gestational diabetes, and other complications.

It’s perfectly fine to eat some cookies or chips, but don’t make them the majority of your diet. Limit yourself and eat as healthy as you can for your child.

5. Fish with Small Amounts of Mercury

It can be confusing because we talked about fish with mercury above, but all fish have some mercury from the water that they swim in each day. You can eat some fish with small amounts of mercury.

Doctors recommend that you eat 8-12 ounces of fish per week that doesn’t contain a lot of mercury. Examples of these seafood options, including:

  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish
  • Canned Light Tuna

Listeria and Pregnancy: The Risks You Need to Know

You probably noticed that we mentioned listeria several times throughout this guide, and that’s because listeria is a big deal to pregnant women.

Listeria is a type of bacteria that can be found in contaminated food, and it can cause problems for both you and your baby. Listeria can cause listeriosis, which is rare, but pregnant women are more susceptible to it than non-pregnant, healthy adults.

The scientific name is Listeria monocytogenes, and it’s a type of bacteria that can be found in water and soil. Vegetables can be contaminated from the ground, and animals are carriers as well.

Listeria is most commonly found in uncooked meats, uncooked vegetables, unpasteurized milk, and processed foods. It’s killed by pasteurization and cooking.

If you’re infected with listeriosis, it can harm you and your baby. You have an increased risk of:

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature Delivery
  • Infection to the Newborn
  • Death to the Newborn - 22% of perinatal listeriosis results in neonatal death or a stillbirth

What About Caffeine During Pregnancy?

One of the biggest concerns you might have is whether or not caffeine is safe for pregnancy. I know that I couldn’t leave caffeine behind when I was pregnant.

Don’t worry; caffeine intake in moderation is safe, but some studies do show that excessive caffeine intake can result in miscarriages. It’s best to try to avoid or limit your caffeine intake during the first trimester when the likelihood of miscarriage is already the highest.

The general rule that doctors tell pregnant women is to limit yourself to 200 mg per day during pregnancy. Not only does it increase miscarriage, but caffeine is also a diuretic, so it helps to eliminate fluid from the body. That can result in water and calcium loss. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of other fluids besides caffeinated beverage.

Drinking large amounts of caffeine is associated with other risks, such as:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Withdrawal symptoms on infants

Due to the potential problems, many doctors suggest the safest choice is to refrain from consuming caffeine.

Talk to Your Doctor

Always talk to your doctor about foods to avoid while pregnant and what is safe. Your doctor is there to answer all of your questions, no matter how small it might seem. If you’re concerned about the safety of your favorite deli meat sandwich or how much coffee you drink each day, talk to him. You’ll find out if it’s safe or not.

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