November 21, 2017


Ten Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Last updated : 2 December 2016

It is vitally important for your health and your sense of well-being to eat well and sensibly when pregnant. But, also, it is important to avoid some foods during pregnancy. The foods consumed during pregnancy not only affect your health, but also the health and future developmental process for your unborn baby. Here is our list of top 10 foods to avoid during pregnancy:

Trans-Fatty Foods

avoid trans fatty foods and foods prepared with partially hydrogenated oilsTrans fat not only increases harmful LDL cholesterol, but also lowers heart-protective HDL cholesterol. Studies show that consuming trans fats leads to higher rates of endometriosis and infertility. This type of fat may also lower birth weights and increase the risk of having a small for gestational age (SGA) baby.

The health dangers of trans fats and hydrogenated oils that produce trans fats have been talked about for a long time so many people assume they have been eliminated from the products on our grocery shelves. But, unfortunately, that is not the case. Read labels and restaurant menu supplements for these types of foods.

Fried foods:

Limit high-calorie (and often high-sodium) fried foods for your general health. But if you choose to consume them, use non-trans fat oils for frying (avoid partially hydrogenated oils). If dining out, ask the restaurant about their frying oil.


Many companies have eliminated trans fat from their margarine products and soft spreads, but not all. Read labels looking for “partially hydrogenated” oils or avoid margarine all together.
Biscuit and pancake mixes: Trans fat in your waffle mix? Yup. Companies include it to give the product a light, fluffy texture. Again, be sure to check the nutrition facts to make sure you see a big fat zero listed for trans fat, and check the ingredient list for “partially hydrogenated” oils.

Prepared Frosting:

Canned as well as bakery frosting may contain trans fats. Ask your bakery staff and read labels.
Non-dairy creamer: Much like margarine, use of trans fats is not always clear on the labels. Looking for partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients can help you spot creamers to avoid if you cannot avoid them completely.

Non-dairy creamer:

Much like margarine, use of trans fats is not always clear on the labels. Looking for partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients can help you spot creamers to avoid if you cannot avoid them completely.

Sweetened Beverages

avoid the large amount of sugar in sweetened beverages when pregnantThe amount of dissolved sugar in sweetened beverages including soft drinks can be deceiving. A 12-ounce non-diet soda can contains about 27 grams of sugar, almost 7 teaspoons! Most sweetened bottled beverages such as iced tea, lemonade, and juice drinks contain 20 to 35 grams of sugar with little nutritional benefit. Instead, choose water (lots of it), milk, and 100% juices. You cannot drink enough water. Keep it interesting by adding citrus slices, cucumber slices, or sprigs of fresh rosemary. Reducing intake of calories from sweetened drinks helps you maintain a healthy weight as you eat nutritious, filling foods that satisfy you for longer periods of time.

High-Sodium Foods

avoid frozen meals with high sodium when pregnantDuring the first trimester, it is very common to crave salty foods. But sodium worsens the hormonal symptoms of swelling and water retention which not only can make you feel bad, but also put you at risk for conditions that could impact your baby. Keep sodium to 2,300 mg per day by avoiding processed and fast food as well as these foods where you might not expect sodium to be a problem.

Frozen Meals:

These convenient, time-saving meals usually contain a lot of salt because it is a natural preservative. Some can be half your recommended daily intake. Read labels to look for meals with less than 500 mg sodium and try freezing healthy leftovers that you prepared yourself for a quick meal later.


Another convenient food that seems healthy, but canned soup often has 900 mg or more of sodium per serving (and many cans have 2 or more servings in them). Ramen noodles, dehydrated soup cups, as well as restaurant soups have tons of salt.

avoid high sodium foods like bread when expecting a babyBread:

A lot of salt is used in bread to create the wonderful flavor many of us crave. But one roll could have 400 mg of sodium or more. Add cheese to the bread and it usually doubles the sodium. Bread also has very little nutritional value for the calories when compared to fresh fruits or vegetables…try spaghetti squash if you are having a carb craving, the texture and familiar pasta sauce flavors will fool your brain into thinking you have indulged.

Shelf-stable Foods:

Many of our lunch bag favorites are loaded with sodium. Processed meats, cheeses, fruit cups, and crackers will quickly push you over your sodium limit as well as add unwanted nitrates and sugar. Try pre-bagging a few days worth of fruit and sliced veggies as well as nuts for quick on-the-go snacks.

High-Mercury Seafood

mercury food chain explains why some fish are best avoided during pregnancyFish is a great source of lean protein but for your unborn child’s health you should avoid eating large predator fish that live a long time such as swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tilefish. Additional studies show it is best to avoid:

  • Fresh or frozen tuna (canned tuna is acceptable, more on that later)
  • Shark
  • Chilean sea bass
  • Pike
  • Halibut
  • Striped bass
  • Bluefish
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Golden snapper
  • Amberjack
  • Crevalle jack
  • Spanish mackerel from the Gulf of Mexico
  • Walleye from the Great Lakes.

All seafood (and even the air we breathe) has mercury in it, but smaller quantities that these fish. The reason these fish have higher mercury levels than other seafood is because they are relatively large so they eat large quantities of other fish and they live longer to accumulate more mercury as it binds to the proteins in their bodies.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise that the high levels of mercury are dangerous for pregnant women, those who may become pregnant, and those who are breastfeeding. Mercury is a heavy metal that can impair an unborn or nursing baby’s immature brain and nervous system.

If you are a seafood lover, avoiding mercury is not that hard because there are many that are safe, tasty and provide essential omega-3 fatty acids that promote healthy brain development in babies. Studies have shown that children born from mothers who ate the most fish during pregnancy performed better in tests of motor and cognitive skills at 6 months and at 18 months than babies whose mothers ate little fish. Eating more fish is also correlated with lower incidences of premature birth and low birth weight.

The FDA suggests that pregnant women and children consume two to three servings (12-18 oz./week) of salmon, shrimp, cod, tilapia, or canned “light” or “white” albacore tuna (no more than 6 oz. of canned tuna per week). Here are some resources to make eating healthful fish with low mercury easier:

Unpasteurized or Raw Dairy or Juices

avoid unpasteurized cheese and other dairy when pregnantFor many, there are health benefits of consuming raw dairy products and raw juices. But when you are pregnant, these vitamin-packed foods present serious health risks. Your unborn baby has an immature immune system and during pregnancy, your own immune system is suppressed. The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is often found in unpasteurized dairy products and juices and it can continue to grow while refrigerated. With low-performing immune systems, a bacterial infection called listeriosis can be very dangerous to your baby.

Avoid all unpasteurized products during pregnancy. In addition to raw milk and raw juices, soft cheeses are often unpasteurized. Examples are Brie, Camembert, fresh mozzarella, gorgonzola or other blue cheeses, Limburger, queso blanco, and queso fresco. If the label states “pasteurized”, then it is safe. When dining out, ask if cheeses are pasteurized. Select another menu item without cheese if they do not know for sure.

Refrigerated Meats and Deli Salads

avoid processed deli meats when pregnantListeria lurks in refrigerated deli meats like turkey, ham, roast beef, hot dogs, bologna, and other cold cuts as well as refrigerated smoked seafood and meat spreads. Even deli salads such as potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, ham salad, chicken salad, and seafood salad can harbor this dangerous bacteria. If you do not want to avoid these foods altogether, then to consume any of these foods, you should heat them to a steaming hot temperature before you eat them.

Canned and shelf-stable meats including ready-to-eat meals are safe to eat, but they usually contain high amounts of sodium, so they’re not the best nutritional choice during pregnancy. Fresh, completely cooked meats and washed vegetables and fruits are the best choices, whether you are pregnant or not.

Undercooked Meat, Poultry, Fish or Eggs

use a meat thermometer to cook meats thoroughly especially when expecting a babyMost of us are familiar with the fact that raw and undercooked protein exposes us to the bacteria Salmonella which can lead to severe food-borne illness in very healthy people. Undercooked foods also expose you and your baby to parasite Toxoplasma. Salmonella and Toxoplasma both of which can infect your unborn baby causing stillbirth or a variety of physical and neurological defects.

Eliminate the risks by using a food thermometer to ensure that:

  • All cuts of meat are cooked to 145° F in the center.
  • All ground meats reach 160° F.
  • Poultry should be cooked to reach a temperature of 165° F.
  • Eggs should be cooked until the yolks are firm. Any egg dishes like quiche or bread pudding should reach 160° F.

At restaurants, order meat well done and ask that eggs and seafood be fully cooked. Avoid sauces that may contain raw eggs such as freshly made Caesar salad dressing, béarnaise or Hollandaise sauces, or mayonnaise. Note that jarred or bottled sauces are safe. Of course, resisting the temptation to lick the spoon or eat batter or dough while making cookies or cakes is a must, especially when you are pregnant.

Unwashed Raw Produce

wash raw produce thoroughly especially when pregnantToxoplasma, the parasite found in undercooked meats, is also a concern in fruits and vegetables that are not thoroughly washed under running water. Avoid eating bruised produce, as bacteria often thrives in the damaged areas.

Washing fruits and vegetables before consuming them not only protects you and your unborn baby from fertilizer and other contaminants, but also from bacteria. Especially raw sprouts such as mung bean, alfalfa, clover, and radish that are seen as very healthy foods. But bacteria can get into the sprout seeds and continue to grow as the seeds germinate and produce sprouts. Since they are eaten raw, the bacteria will also be consumed. Be careful when eating sandwiches or salads that you did not prepare as health-minded people often add them unaware of their danger to unborn babies.

Caffeine and Natural Stimulants

limit caffeine from coffee and other beverages and foods when pregnantWhen most people think about caffeine, they think of coffee. 12 ounces of drip coffee (about 200 mg of caffeine) per day is considered safe for pregnant women. But, be alert to other drinks and foods that may contain caffeine so that you do not accidentally go over the maximum. In addition to caffeine, other “natural” stimulants such as guaraná, green tea extract, yerba mate, and ginseng have not been proven safe to use during pregnancy. Here is a list of common stimulant-laden foods, but always read labels to ensure it is not in one of your favorite foods:

  • Energy drinks
  • Tea
  • Soft drinks
  • Chocolate and chocolate drinks
  • Coffee ice cream
  • Herbal products
  • Over-the-counter drugs

Not only will limiting caffeine and other stimulants reduce the possibility of effects on your unborn baby, but you will also feel better. You will sleep better, feel calmer, and experience heartburn less often.

Unripe Papaya

Unless you are a big Thai food fan, you likely do not eat unripe (green) papaya. But it is worth mentioning because it contains a latex substance known to trigger uterine contractions. The latex emulates oxytocin and prostaglandin, which are hormones that are involved in starting labor. So even if you are a Thai food aficionado, avoid unripe papaya while pregnant.

What to Eat When You Are Pregnant

what to eat when pregnantWhile there are a lot of foods to avoid, especially when pregnant, consider it a great time to explore new healthful foods and develop improved eating habits that you will want to share with your baby as he or she grows. Freshly prepared foods that are well-cooked and fruits and vegetables that are thoroughly washed are the best choices.

Your baby will be healthier and you will feel better throughout your pregnancy and post-partum recovery!

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