Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Written by: Co-Founder Amanda Capriglione, RDN, CDN
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO
Pregnant women love to eat (except when nauseous- but that’s a whole other story!)! And rightfully so—mama and her baby need their nutrients! However, there are certain foods pregnant women should try to avoid that can potentially harm their developing baby. On the flip side, there are some foods that may be OK for pregnant women to eat and enjoy, but we advise just to be cautious. Every pregnancy is different, and one should always check with their obstetrician or doula about trying a “new” or different food.
Food poisoning symptoms
Food poisoning symptoms from harmful bacteria can be anywhere from mild to very serious. They include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Symptoms can develop hours or even days after food or drink ingestion. High fever, frequent vomiting, dehydration, and excessive diarrhea are all indications to see a doctor for food poisoning. Symptoms differ depending on the germ/bacteria, but the most commonly heard of bacteria are e.coli, staph, salmonella, and listeria. Specifically, for listeria poisoning, pregnant women usually have a fever and other flu-like symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches. It is always best to speak to your doctor first if you have any of the above symptoms.
Anyone can develop a foodborne illness; however, pregnant women are more likely to develop one. When a woman becomes pregnant, protection of herself and her unborn baby is of utmost importance. Because there is inconclusive evidence on immunocompromised mothers during pregnancy, it is best to er on the side of caution.
How to prevent food poisoning
The number one way to prevent any type of foodborne illness is to wash your hands and your food. Keep raw meat away from other foods in your refrigerator. Wash produce, but never wash beef, chicken, or eggs as potentially harmful bacteria can easily splash off. Always cook food to a hot temperature and refrigerate leftovers in 2 hours or less.
If you’re craving food like sushi or eggs, benedict try and recreate the dish or order it in a different way. For example, instead of a tuna roll, try a (cooked) California roll, and in place of eggs benedict, try a homemade English muffin sandwich with scrambled eggs.
Remember that it’s important to always read the label and purchase items (cheese, juice, milk) from supermarkets and not local farmer’s markets. When dining out, always ask your server questions regarding the foods on the menu. Be annoying and ask all the questions—you’re pregnant, you’re allowed to be!
Food during pregnancy should be both nourishing and delicious! For healthy and safe meal and snack inspiration and ideas, sign up for our e-mail list and receive our Free E-book, Feel Good Food for a Healthy Pregnancy. Each recipe contains nutrients specific to each trimester and was developed by our co-founder and registered dietitian, Amanda Capriglione.
Foods to Avoid
The reason deli meat is a concern is the potential contamination with listeria bacteria. Deli meat can easily become contaminated and the bacteria “hides” in the food. According to the Center for Disease Control, pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get a listeria infection. Symptoms of Listeria begin 1-4 weeks after exposure. Pregnant women may experience fever, fatigue, or muscle aches. If the deli meat is heated to 165 degrees (high temperatures kill the bacteria), it can be safe to consume.
SOFT CHEESE & UNPASTEURIZED PRODUCTS
Soft cheeses can also contain listeria bacteria. Experts recommend avoiding all unpasteurized products. It’s important to always read the label and purchase items (cheese, juice, milk) from supermarkets and not local farmer’s markets (some small farms may not pasteurize their products). When dining out, always ask your server questions about where their products are sourced from.
SPROUTS & SPROUTED GRAINS
Raw or lightly cooked sprouts should be avoided due to the risk of listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli bacteria contamination. Sprouts' growing conditions create a bacterial breeding ground. Washing the sprouts may not destroy the bacteria completely because the bacteria can live inside cracks in the sprout itself.
To be safe, always consume cooked eggs. Raw or under-cooked eggs carry a risk of salmonella infection. Choose scrambled, cooked well over easy, or hardboiled instead of sunny-side up eggs. Be careful of raw cookie dough and Caesar salad, which also may contain raw egg.
Adaptogens are substances and herbs that supposedly help decrease stress. There is no way of knowing if they are safe or harmful for pregnant women so it's best to steer clear of them. Adaptogens include ashwagandha, maca, rhodiola.
RAW MEAT & UNCOOKED SEAFOOD
Rare or undercooked beef or poultry and uncooked seafood should be avoided during pregnancy because of the risk of contamination with salmonella, toxoplasmosis, and coliform bacteria. Be sure to check poultry of any “pink” color, which can indicate that it is undercooked. Seafood needs to be fully cooked. Sorry sushi lovers, please wait until your baby is born to consume and enjoy! Beef should be cooked either medium-well or well for it to be safe enough for pregnant women.
FISH WITH MERCURY
Fish that contain high levels of mercury should be avoided during pregnancy as it's been linked to developmental delays and brain damage. A sample of these types of fish includes swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tilefish. Canned, chunk light tuna generally has a lower amount of mercury but still should be consumed in moderation. Choose salmon, pollock, and catfish, which contain lower amounts of mercury. Consumption of a variety of 12 ounces of fish a week is generally safe for pregnant women.
Refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky should be avoided because it could be contaminated with listeria. If smoked seafood is an ingredient in any other cooked dish, it can be OK to consume. Canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is usually fine to eat. Continue to avoid (smoked) fish high in mercury.
The majority of seafood-borne illness is caused by undercooked shellfish, which include oysters, mussels, and clams. Cooking helps prevent some types of infection, but it does not prevent the algae-related infections that are associated with red tides. Raw shellfish pose a concern for everybody, and they should be avoided altogether during pregnancy!
Meat spreads or refrigerated pâté should be avoided because it may contain the bacteria, listeria. Pâté is considered raw meat
Foods to be Careful With
Eat all the produce!! Just be sure that everything is properly washed. Going from the farm to the supermarket leaves lots of time for bacteria travel. Make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before use. Baking soda and water or vinegar and water (or all 3) are great ways to wash produce. Just let the produce sit in the solution for about 5 minutes before rinsing. Even if the salad bag says, “triple washed,” be sure to wash again! With restaurants, only go to places that you trust when eating and enjoying salads; other than that, try and order only cooked veggies!
There is no definitive conclusion on whether or not artificial sweetener intake can harm a growing baby. However, it is best to avoid them if possible. It has been shown that artificial sweeteners can disrupt the gut microbiome, which is important for your immune system and digestion. Ultimately, a healthy gut and immune system is an important environment for a developing baby.
No need to quit your coffee or tea habit! Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and soft drinks. It is a good idea to limit your daily intake of caffeine to less than 200 mg, which is the amount in two small cups (8 oz per cup) of brewed coffee. A 30 gram chocolate bar has about 20 mg caffeine and about 5 oz brewed tea has about 32 mg caffeine. Chocolate contains much smaller amounts of caffeine so if you eat a chocolate bar or 1 cup of chocolate ice cream, you keep under the caffeine limit.
Check out Coffee & Health’s caffeine chart.
Beverages to Avoid
There is no safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. It can cause long term complications to your growing baby. Companies like Gruvi make non-alcoholic craft beverages like rose` and prosecco so you can enjoy responsibly!
KOMBUCHA, RAW MILK, AND COLD-PRESSED JUICE
All these beverages are unpasteurized, which brings a risk of exposure to unfavorable pathogenic bacteria. The pasteurization process eliminates pathogens in liquids by treating them with mild heat for up to 15 seconds and then quickly cooling them. Beverages (milk, juice) purchased in supermarkets are always pasteurized.
- Mor G, Cardenas I. The immune system in pregnancy: a unique complexity. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2010;63(6):425-433. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0897.2010.00836.x