Open Accessibility Menu

Don’t Eat That: Foods to Avoid When You’re Expecting!

Don’t Eat That: Foods to Avoid When You’re Expecting!

Once you find out that you are pregnant, you start to make choices that consider not only your health but also the health of your unborn baby. Foods to eat—and avoid—become top of your mind, all while navigating a range of cravings.

Certain foods should be avoided due to the risks associated with consumption. Risks such as:

  • Mercury, which may cause developmental delays or brain damage in your developing baby.
  • Listeria, which can lead to miscarriage or be passed through the placenta and infect your baby.
  • Toxoplasmosis, which can cause pregnancy complications, in addition to health problems for your baby after birth.
  • Salmonella, which, although uncommon, can lead to pregnancy complications, preterm delivery and limit the growth of your unborn baby.
  • Other bacteria, which can make you sick and—in severe cases—cause miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery.

According to William K. Hahn, Jr., MD, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist on the Medical Staff at Southwest General, here are foods to avoid as well as a few foods you should not forget to include in your pregnancy diet.

  1. Raw, rare or undercooked seafood and meats, including beef and poultry
  • The risk: Contamination with E. coli, trichinella, coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis and salmonella.
  • What to opt for: Make sure you reach safe temperatures when cooking meats (145 degrees Fahrenheit for whole cuts, 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meats and 165 degrees Fahrenheit for chicken).
  • Don’t forget: When cooked properly, lean meats and proteins, such as beef, pork and chicken are a healthy addition to your plate as they provide much-needed nutrients, such as iron, choline and vitamin B.
  1. Hot dogs, deli meats and refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads
  • The risk: High amounts of nitrates and nitrites used in food preservation as well as contamination with listeria.
  • What to opt for: Dr. Hahn notes that deli meats and hot dogs should be avoided while pregnant, but if consumed, they should be heated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to guarantee that any lingering surface bacteria is killed off.
  • Don’t forget: Overly processed or refined foods, including junk foods, are best avoided during pregnancy. Here is another tip to balance your plate: consider switching out pastas, white rice and white breads for whole grains such as oats, quinoa, brown rice or barley.
  1. Certain fish: shark, marlin, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, orange roughy, bigeye tuna and fish from local lakes and streams.
  • The risk: High levels of mercury. Additionally, contaminated lakes and streams may have high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls.
  • What to opt for: Wild salmon, Pollack, cod, freshwater trout, sole, tilapia, shrimp, sardines, anchovies and scallops are safe; canned, chunk light tuna can be consumed in moderation. Fish from your local grocery store is ok to consume.
  • Don’t forget: Salmon is a great source of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids—the latter helping to boost brain and eye development in your growing baby.
  1. Smoked seafood, such as lox, nova style, kippered or jerky
  • The risk: Contamination with listeria
  • What to opt for: OK to consume if used as an ingredient in a cooked dish. Also, OK to consume canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood.
  • Don’t forget: Do not be afraid to include seafood in your pregnancy diet. In addition to vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, seafood is a great source of nutrients such as calcium and iron. In fact, seafood can—and should—be eaten two to three times per week.
  1. Raw shellfish, such as oysters, clams and mussels
  • The risk: Seafood-borne illness, parasites as well as algae-related infections associated with red tides.
  • What to opt for: Cooked shellfish is ok to consume.
  • Don’t forget: Before eating shellfish, ensure it is cooked thoroughly (to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit) and responsibly sourced. Good options to eat during pregnancy include cooked clams, mussels, oysters, periwinkles, scallops, shrimp, prawns, lobster, crayfish and crab—all of which can easily, and deliciously, be worked into a range of dishes!
  1. Raw eggs and foods that contain raw eggs, including homemade Caesar dressing, mayonnaise, homemade ice cream and custards, Hollandaise sauce—even raw cookie dough (but only if it contains raw eggs).
  • The risk: Contamination with listeria.
  • What to opt for: Look for grocery store options that are made with pasteurized eggs.
  • Don’t forget: Eggs (cooked!) contain a range of nutrients needed in your pregnancy diet, including choline, which helps in baby’s brain development and also helps to prevent developmental abnormalities in the brain and spine.
  1. Unpasteurized milk and incorporated soft cheeses, including Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, Feta, Gorgonzola, Queso Blanco and Queso Franco, unless they are clearly labeled as made with pasteurized milk.
  • The risk: Contamination with listeria.
  • What to opt for: Hard cheeses, such as Swiss or Cheddar as well as non-imported soft cheeses that are made with pasteurized milk.
  • Don’t forget: Dairy products are great sources of protein and calcium, so do not forget to include foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt in your diet.
  1. Fresh-squeezed or unpasteurized juices
  • The risk: Harmful bacteria such as salmonella or E. coli.
  • What to opt for: Dr. Hahn says that juices that are pasteurized, including juices in boxes and bottles, are the best choices.
  • Don’t forget: If juice is not up your alley, consider boosting your diet with berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, strawberries and acai berries, which deliver healthy water, carbs, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. Also, you can supplement with dried fruits, which are a great addition to trail mixes with nuts and seeds, packing a protein and fiber punch!

And, on the subject of nuts: legumes, including nuts as well as lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas and soybeans should also find their way into your pregnancy diet, offering an excellent source of fiber, protein, iron, folate and calcium.

  1. Caffeine, which may be found in soft drinks, coffee, energy drinks—even chocolate
  • The risk: Overconsumption may increase the risk of miscarriage, particularly in the first trimester as well as premature birth, low birth weight and withdrawal symptoms in babies. Also, caffeine is a diuretic, which may result in water and calcium loss.
  • What to opt for: Although best to avoid, limit yourself to no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day.
  • Don’t forget: Staying hydrated is especially critical for the health of you and your baby as it can help with constipation, reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and prevent dehydration that can lead to headaches, anxiety, tiredness, bad mood and reduced memory.
  1. Alcohol
  • The risk: Several risks to the healthy development of your baby, including developmental disorders and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
  • What to opt for: Consider a mocktail or spritzer instead.
  • Don’t forget: While alcohol should be avoided entirely during pregnancy, you can still have fun with your non-alcoholic drinks! A great way to stay hydrated—with a twist—is to try a sparkling water spritzer. Simply serve it up in a special glass with a slice of fresh fruit or splash of 100 percent fruit juice.
  1. Unwashed fruits and vegetables, in addition to raw sprouts (alfalfa, clover and radish)
  • The risk: Contamination with toxoplasmosis, listeria, salmonella or E. coli; raw sprouts also may be contaminated with bacteria.
  • What to opt for: “Pay very close attention to properly sanitizing/cleaning the areas in your kitchen in which you will be preparing food, such as surfaces and tools as well as practice frequent hand washing during food preparation,” said Dr. Hahn. “Additionally, wash all produce and cook sprouts before consuming.”
  • Don’t forget: Sweet potatoes are an excellent root vegetable to include in your meal plans as they contain high levels of vitamin A as well as beta carotene and fiber. Broccoli, kale, spinach and other dark, leafy vegetables should also get top priority on your daily menu as they contain a host of nutritional benefits, including fiber, calcium, iron, folate, potassium and vitamins C, K and A. Finally, avocados are a great source of healthy fats as well as folate and potassium—helping with the development of skin, brain and other tissues for your baby, while helping to relieve leg cramps.

To help keep you and your growing baby healthy throughout your pregnancy, it is important to pack your pregnancy diet with nutrient-rich foods, while avoiding certain foods that have the potential to make you—and your unborn baby—sick.

Still have questions about what you can and cannot eat during your pregnancy? Our SGMG OB/GYNs are available to help guide you through the dos and don’ts of pregnancy eating. To find a physician, click here.