Pregnancy is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting times of life. If you’re pregnant, you’re probably busy furnishing a nursery, creating a birth plan, choosing a name, and picking out baby clothing.
However, pregnancy is also a very sensitive time for your health. After all, your health now affects your child’s health!
So to keep both you and your unborn child healthy, it’s important to eat right. In addition to eating a generally healthy diet, there are some important guidelines to follow when you’re pregnant.
Here are the top 9 foods pregnant women should avoid
Undercooked, Raw, and Processed Meats
You might have heard that you should avoid deli meats during pregnancy, and that’s true! That’s because deli meat (and lunch meat, hotdogs, and other processed meats) can become contaminated and infected with bacteria during processing, packaging, or storage.
These bacteria can threaten your own health and cause you to become ill. In addition, bacteria can lead to serious health problems for your baby, including severe neurological illnesses (like blindness, epilepsy, or intellectual disability). In extreme cases, these bacteria can even cause stillbirth.
To make sure you avoid these dangerous bacteria – such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, you should also stop eating undercooked or raw meat during pregnancy. It’s best to make sure your meat is completely cooked through.
And if you do want to eat some processed meat, be sure it is reheated until steaming hot.
The problem with raw eggs is they could be contaminated with Salmonella, which can cause you to become very ill. In serious cases, Salmonella can cause uterine cramps that can lead to premature birth or stillbirth.
So to avoid Salmonella, be sure any eggs you consume are thoroughly cooked. Also avoid the following foods, which typically contain raw eggs:
- Homemade mayonnaise
- Hollandaise sauce
- Poached eggs
- Salad dressing
- Cake icing
- Homemade ice cream
- Lightly scrambled eggs
If you are buying these food products commercially, they are likely made with pasteurized eggs and are safe to consume. To be on the safe side, however, always check food labels.
Mercury, which is a highly toxic element, is found in polluted water. Large marine fish that live in these waters can accumulate high levels of mercury.
And then when you eat these fish, you consume the mercury as well! There is no safe level of mercury to consume, and high levels of mercury can cause developmental problems in children. In addition, consuming high levels of mercury can be harmful to your kidneys, immune system, and nervous system.
To avoid these serious health problems, pregnant women should limit their consumption of high-mercury fish to just 1-2 servings per month. This means limiting your consumption of fish like king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and tuna (especially albacore tuna).
However, remember that not all fish are high-mercury fish! In fact, eating low-mercury fish is very healthy because they contain omega-3 fatty acids.
You can safely eat low-mercury fish up to twice a week during pregnancy. These include salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna (not albacore), catfish, cod, tilapia, and pollock.
Raw or Undercooked Fish
Sushi may be the most commonly known food you should avoid during pregnancy. And that’s for good reason – because raw or undercooked fish and shellfish can lead to several serious infections, which can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic.
As with raw and undercooked meats, raw and undercooked fish can lead to Listeria infection. If you’re pregnant, you should be especially careful of food sources that could be contaminated with Listeria, as pregnant women are 20 times more likely to be infected by Listeria than the general population.
In addition to making you sick – or even if you don’t feel sick – Listeria can be passed to your unborn child through the placenta. This can lead to serious complications, including health problems for the baby, premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth.
So if you’re pregnant, avoid eating raw fish and shellfish dishes. Once you’ve delivered your baby, you can get back to frequenting your favorite sushi place!
I know, I know – I’m just adding another to-do to your list by telling you to wash your produce during pregnancy. But it’s for your own good (and your baby’s)!
Unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables can be contaminated with various types of bacteria and parasites. These include Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma. We’ve already learned how dangerous these are to your health and your child’s, so if something as simple as washing your produce can reduce your risk, do it!
To avoid these infections, be sure to thoroughly wash, rinse, peel, or cook your fruits and vegetables.
While it’s safe to consume most fruits and vegetables once they’re thoroughly washed, it’s best to avoid raw sprouts altogether during pregnancy.
That’s because raw sprouts – including mung bean, alfalfa, radish, and clover sprouts – can be contaminated with Salmonella. These bacteria are nearly impossible to wash off, so avoid eating raw sprouts at all.
If you really want to eat some sprouts during pregnancy, however, be sure to cook them thoroughly first. This makes them safe to consume.
Unpasteurized Cheese, Milk, and Juice
Unpasteurized cheese, raw milk, and unpasteurized juice are prone to contamination by a whole host of dangerous bacteria. When consumed, these bacteria can have life-threatening consequences for your unborn child.
Thankfully, pasteurization kills these harmful bacteria and makes the products safe to consume – without changing the nutritional value. To stay safe and healthy, be sure to only consume pasteurized cheese, milk, and juice during pregnancy.
Processed Junk Food
To be honest, you should try to limit your consumption of processed junk food even when you aren’t pregnant. These processed foods are full of added sugars and fats, and they’re typically high in calories – while incredibly low in nutrients.
You may have heard that when you’re pregnant, you’re now “eating for two.” However, you really don’t need to double your calorie intake. What you do need to increase, however, is your nutrient intake.
This means it’s especially important to eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet while you’re pregnant. Processed junk foods are sadly low in nutrients, so you’ll be filling up without gaining much in the way of nutrients.
Plus, those added sugars increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and excess weight gain. While it’s normal and healthy to gain some weight during pregnancy, excess weight gain increases your risk for gestational diabetes, pregnancy complications, and birth complications. It can also make it more likely that your child will be overweight.
Instead of filling up on processed junk foods, focus on eating whole foods with plenty of nutrients. This will keep both you and your baby healthy.
Alcohol and Caffeine
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that you shouldn’t drink alcohol during pregnancy. Even a small amount of alcohol can increase your risk for miscarriage and stillbirth, and can have serious, negative consequences for your baby’s brain development. It can also lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which includes heart defects, intellectual disability, facial deformities, and behavioral disorders.
So let me say this plainly: avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy. No amount is safe.
Caffeine, on the other hand, can be safely consumed in low amounts during pregnancy. You should limit your intake to 200-300 mg per day, which is about 2-3 cups of coffee.
The reason you should limit your caffeine intake during pregnancy is that caffeine is absorbed very quickly and is passed to the baby via the placenta. However, unborn babies don’t have the main enzyme necessary to metabolize caffeine, so high levels of caffeine can build up.
Excess caffeine consumption during pregnancy has been found to increase the risk of low birth weight and to restrict fetal growth. To avoid these complications, be sure to limit your caffeine intake while you’re pregnant.
Foods You Should Eat During Pregnancy
While this may seem like a long list of foods you should avoid during pregnancy, there are still lots of delicious, nutritious foods you can and should eat while pregnant.
If you’re pregnant, be sure to eat lots of whole, nutrient-rich foods. This should include dairy products (pasteurized), legumes, fatty fish (fully cooked and low-mercury, of course), eggs (fully cooked), lean meats (also fully cooked), whole grains, berries, dried fruit, and dark, leafy greens.
Other good foods for pregnancy – and some of the best superfoods for women – include avocados, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Be sure to drink lots of water, too.
With these simple guidelines of what you should and shouldn’t eat, you’re well on your way to a healthy pregnancy and a healthy, happy baby!
Trevor McDonald is a freelance content writer who has a passion for writing. He’s written a variety of education, travel, health, and lifestyle articles for many different companies. In his free time, you can find him running with his dog, playing with his son, playing his guitar, or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.