during pregnancy food to avoid when pregnant healthy diet

Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy

Congratulations! You just found out you are pregnant. Now what? You have probably heard that there are a few things that you shouldn’t eat while pregnant. Or is this just old wives tales? With all the contradicting advice out there, it’s can be pretty confusing to figure out what is safe and what’s not. Of course you want to have a healthy pregnancy diet and stay clear of foods that could potentially harm your unborn baby or risk your pregnancy. Here is a list of which foods to avoid during pregnancy.

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1. High-Mercury Fish

To include fish into your pregnancy diet once a week is highly recommended. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is essential for the development of baby’s brain and nervous system. However, certain fish are high in mercury, which builds up in the pregnant mother’s blood stream over time and can cause serious harm to the developing baby. Levels of mercury that are perfectly fine for an adult human, cross the placenta and can damage the nervous system of a fetus. This often goes unnoticed until developmental milestones or speech development are delayed.

Fish To Avoid:

  • Shark, Swordfish, Broadbill, Orange Roughy, Marlin, Tilefish
  • Barramundi, Catfish, Mackarel, Atlantic Salmon
  • Yellow-fin and Albacore Tuna (3x higher in mercury than Skipjack)
  • Farmed fish (high in mercury and usually very polluted)

Safe Fish To Eat:

  • Alaskan Salmon
  • BPA-free, Light or Skipjack Tuna (like the one in pouches)
  • Hoki, Pollock, Cod
  • Cooked Shrimp

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2. Raw Seafood and Sushi

Any kind of under-cooked or raw seafood, like oysters and muscles, shrimps, raw salmon, and sushi, can contain bacteria and viruses that are harmful to pregnant women and their babies. Eating raw seafood when pregnant puts you and your unborn baby at a higher risk of listeria, salmonella or food poisoning. All of these can cause miscarriage, premature labor or even stillbirth.

3. Raw Eggs

Undercooked or raw eggs, like used in mayonnaise, salad dressings, custard or homemade ice-cream, can carry salmonella bacteria. Salmonella infection during pregnancy can harm the unborn baby and lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or premature labor. Always make sure eggs are cooked until the egg white and yolk are solid and opt for store-bought mayonnaise or dressings that contain pasteurized egg. Also make sure to not use cracked or dirty eggs and keep an eye out for recalls due to salmonella contamination.

4. Raw Meat

Eating raw or undercooked meat and poultry can put you and your baby at risk of Toxoplasmosis, which results from a parasite commonly found in meat, cat feces, soil and unpasteurized goat’s milk. Toxoplasmosis infection can seriously damage an unborn baby’s brain, eyes and other organs or even lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. To avoid Toxoplasmosis, salmonella infection and any other kind of food poisoning, always wash and dry all surfaces and your hands after touching raw meat or poultry. Cook meat, poultry, minced meats and sausages thoroughly until steaming hot. Make sure there is no blood or any traces of pink left and eat while hot.

5. Alcohol

It’s best to stay away from alcohol during pregnancy completely. In fact, there is no safe level of alcohol. Studies have shown that already small amounts of alcohol have subtle effects on the facial development of an unborn baby, like the shape of eyes and nose. Alcohol directly passes from the mother’s blood into the placenta. The more a fetus is exposed to alcohol, the more likely is the harmful effect on brain, organs and spinal cord, and the risk of FASD. Furthermore, the consumption of alcohol when pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and premature labor. A fetus is always exposed to the same amount of alcohol as the pregnant mother. No one would give a newborn a glass of wine, so why giving one to an unborn baby?

6. Caffeine

Coffee, herbal teas, cola and iced teas, energy drinks and chocolate all contain caffeine. They therefore should only be consumed with care as caffeine is easily passed on to the fetus through the placenta. Unborn babies can’t metabolize caffeine, so it affects their developing hearts and can even build up in their bodies. Caffeine should be limited to no more than 200 mg a day during pregnancy. Consuming more caffeine than the recommended amount can cause miscarriage or result in reduced fetal growth and low birth weight, which increases the risk of infant death.

7. Unpasteurized Dairy, Juices And Soft Cheeses

At all costs, avoid any unpasteurized dairy products, like raw, unpasteurized cow’s/sheep’s/goat’s milk or soft cheeses. Only drink ultra-heat treated (a.k.a long-life) or pasteurized milk and pasteurized juices. Unpasteurized juices and raw milk products can be full of various bacteria, like E. Coli, Listeria, Salmonella and put you and your baby at risk of Toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women should therefore also stay away from mold-ripened and blue-veined soft cheeses and any soft serve ice-cream.

8. Deli Meats, Cold Cured Meats

Deli meat, lunch meat, hot dogs and cold cured meats should be avoided when pregnant. During processing or storage they can get contaminated with various bacteria, including listeria. This is why, ham, bacon, salami, chorizo, pepperoni, pastrami do all belong to the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy. If eaten at all, it is safest to reheat them until steaming hot and consumed while still hot.

9. Pre-Prepared Foods

Any kind of pre-prepared and pre-packaged foods, like salads, sandwiches, pre-cut fruit or buffets are foods to avoid during pregnancy. All of these can contain several harmful bacteria, including Listeria, which can be extremely dangerous for unborn babies. Prepare sandwiches, salads and fruit salads fresh and eat straight away. Don’t eat salads, sandwiches or anything of food platters that have been sitting out or have been prepared some time before you eat it. Always heat up ready meals and leftovers according to the instructions until completely steaming hot to avoid food poisoning.

10. Bean Sprouts and Rockmelon

Sprouts, like mung and soy bean sprouts, alfalfa and radish, are a perfect playground for salmonella, listeria and the like. Hence, lightly cooked and raw sprouts should be avoided when pregnant as these can make a pregnant woman seriously ill and lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth. For the very same reason as mentioned above, rockmelons belongs to the foods to avoid during pregnancy.

11. Liver And Pâté

Liver products and liver are very likely to contain a great amount of Vitamin A. Too much Vitamin A during pregnancy is very harmful as it can lead to birth defects and be very toxic for the fetus. That is why, liver, liver sausages, organ meat, pâté (also vegetable pâté due to listeria) are foods to avoid during pregnancy. Additionally, watch out for butter, margarine and dairy products that might be fortified with Vitamin A.

12. Unwashed Produce

Don’t eat fruits or vegetables with soil or dirt on them. Always make sure to wash vegetable, salad and fruit thoroughly before eating. Unwashed or unpeeled fruits put you and your baby at risk of Toxoplasmosis and other harmful bacteria and viruses.

13. Artificial Sweeteners

In pregnancy women should avoid consuming sugar substitutes or at least only consume them sparingly. There is limited research on how artificial sweeteners affect unborn babies. Though most of them are FDA-approved and generally declared save, it is known that sugar substitutes cross the placenta. Small studies suggest that aspartame in larger amounts may have an impact on fetal health and that saccharin leaves the fetal tissue only slowly with an yet unknown effect (read more here). Other experts have linked sugar substitutes to preterm labor and changes in a baby’s DNA. It is important to be aware, that there are also very mixed opinions about the safety of Stevia.

In conclusion, artificial sweeteners during pregnancy are generally considered safe in moderation. But always check with your health care provider first, if you consider using them while pregnant.

14. Certain Herbs, Spices, Licorice

Consuming large amounts of certain herbs and spices is associated with uterine contractions, which could cause premature labor or miscarriage. Furthermore, there is only limited research on the effect of certain herbs on developing babies. For example peppermint, tumeric, cinnamon, basil, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg and garlic are only a few of the herbs and spices that should not be consumed in large amounts. Usually, normal dietary intake of those herbs and spices can be considered safe. But stay clear of taking medicinal amounts orally. Widely declared as unsafe for pregnant women are, among others, St. John’s Wort, yohimbe and blue and black cohosh. Additionally, some experts suggest that eating large amounts of licorice during pregnancy can lead to behavioral problems, lower IQs and negatively affect memory.

Always consult your health care provider before you think of taking herbal medicine, supplements or drinking herbal teas during pregnancy.

15. Canned Foods And BPA

Avoid canned foods and food stored in plastic containers that contain BPA. Bisphenol A, or BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical often found in certain types of plastic, cash register receipts and the lining of tin cans. BPA can leak into food over time or when exposed to heat. Some studies link BPA to decreased fetal growth, altered brain development, infertility problems and other health issues.

16. Arsenic And Acrylamide

There are other chemicals in food than BPA that can pass through the placenta. One of them is arsenic found in certain food, especially inorganic arsenic in rice. Already small amounts of inorganic arsenic can affect birth weight and may lead to different health issues. Though the level of arsenic found in rice are regulated in the U.S., Europe and Australia, it is advisable to consume rice and rice products in moderation during pregnancy.

Acrylamide is a carcinogenic compound mainly found in starchy or high-carb foods that are fried, toasted, roasted, grilled or baked. Foods rich in acrylamide include among others fries, chips, crackers and coffee. Eating high amounts of acrylamide in pregnancy is associated with low birth weight and decreased fetal growth, as well as with smaller head circumferences.