Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy: Ensuring Safety and Health

Sep 14, 2023 | Obstetrics

Pregnancy is a time of profound change and responsibility. As the body works to support and nurture a growing fetus, it’s crucial to be mindful of dietary choices. While many foods provide essential nutrients for both the mother and baby, certain items might pose risks. Here is a list of foods that pregnant individuals should consider limiting or avoiding entirely, to ensure the health and safety of both mother and baby.

High Mercury Fish

Certain types of fish have high levels of mercury, which can negatively affect the baby’s nervous system.

Foods to avoid:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish

However, it’s important to note that not all fish are off the menu. Consuming lower-mercury seafood can be beneficial due to their omega-3 fatty acids.

Beneficial seafood:

  • Salmon
  • Tilapia
  • Shrimp

Raw or Undercooked Seafood

Raw seafood can contain harmful bacteria and parasites. So, stay away from raw oysters, raw clams, and raw sushi (unless the fish has been frozen beforehand).

Deli Meats and Hot Dogs

These can be sources of the bacteria Listeria, which can lead to severe infections in pregnant individuals. If you can’t live without deli meats or hot dogs, male sure they are heated until they are steaming hot before consuming them.

Raw Eggs

Raw eggs can contain Salmonella, which can lead to gastrointestinal issues and fever. Raw eggs can be found in homemade mayonnaise, homemade ice cream, and any other dish that uses raw eggs. Raw eggs should only be consumed if they have been pasteurized. Make sure to read labels carefully to identify which foods are safe for you and your growing baby.

Soft Cheeses and Unpasteurized Dairy

The problem with cheese and unpasteurized dairy is that it can harbor bacteria. Unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses, which are usually made from unpasteurized milk, can harbor Listeria. However, many hard cheeses are made from pasteurized milk. Hard cheeses are also inherently low in moisture, which is less conducive to bacterial growth.

Cheeses to avoid:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Roquefort
  • Feta
  • Gorgonzola
  • Queso blanco
  • Queso fresco

Cheeses that are generally safe:

  • Cheddar
  • Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • Gouda
  • Manchego
  • Pecorino Romano
  • Swiss Cheese
  • Grana Padano
  • Asiago
  • Emmental
  • Comté

When choosing cheeses and other dairy products during pregnancy it’s essential to check the label to ensure it has been pasteurized.

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High Caffeine Beverages

High caffeine intake can increase the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. Limit your caffeine intake to less than 200-300 mg per day, which is about one 12-ounce cup of coffee. Do not consume energy drinks while pregnant. They often contain more caffeine than coffee or soda. Many energy drinks are also packed with sugars, which can contribute to weight gain, gestational diabetes, and tooth decay. The effects of some herbal ingredients commonly found in energy drinks, like guarana and ginseng, have not been extensively studied in pregnant individuals and should therefore be avoided. Also, consuming large quantities of certain vitamins, like niacin, which is often present in energy drinks, can be toxic.

Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables

Toxoplasma, a parasite that can contaminate the soil where fruits and vegetables are grown, can lead to severe health issues in the baby if consumed by the mother. Thoroughly rinse all fruits and vegetables before consumption.

Raw or Undercooked Meat and Poultry

These can contain harmful bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma. Ensure meats and poultry are cooked to a safe internal temperature.

Excessive Vitamin A

Large amounts of vitamin A can be teratogenic, meaning they can cause congenital disabilities. Avoid consuming liver and liver products too frequently. Discuss vitamin supplements with a healthcare provider.

While this list might seem overwhelming, being informed and cautious about food choices can contribute to a safer and healthier pregnancy. It’s essential to maintain a balanced diet and always consult a healthcare provider or nutritionist with any dietary concerns.

Additional Sources:

American Pregnancy Association: https://americanpregnancy.org/is-it-safe/food-avoid-pregnant-981/

U.S. Food & Drug Administration: https://www.fda.gov/food/people-risk-foodborne-illness/food-safety-pregnant-women

Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20043844