Which Foods Should I Avoid During Pregnancy?


Foods to Avoid, Foods to Limit, and Sometimes You Should Use Your Best Judgement.

It is well known that there are many nutrient-dense foods that you should consume during pregnancy to promote the optimal growth and development for your baby. There are also many foods that should be avoided or limited during pregnancy due to the potential threat it poses for your unborn child. 

Unfortunately, there are limited reputable resources for pregnant women to determine which foods these are. As with any nutrition advice, always seek professional guidance from your trusted healthcare provider. 

There are certainly foods that should be avoided during pregnancy due to the potential exposure to a food-borne illness. However, these foods to avoid are also highly nutritious foods and may be a great source of nutrition for you during your pregnancy. This post will provide you with the knowledge you need to know regarding how to safely prepare these potentially hazardous foods so that you can keep your baby, and yourself safe and nourished throughout your pregnancy. 

Foods to Avoid: 

  • Raw or Undercooked Meat, Fish, Poultry, or Eggs  
  • Unpasteurized Produce
    • Unpasteurized cheese, 
    • Unpasteurized milk, 
    • Unpasteurized cottage cheese or yogurt, 
    • Unpasteurized fruit juice
  • Fish High In Mercury
    • Shark
    • Swordfish, 
    • King mackerel, 
    • Tilefish
  • Raw sprouts 
  • Artificial Sweeteners
    • Aspartame, 
    • Sucralose, 
    • Saccharin, 
    • Acesulfame potassium, 
    • Neotame
  • Expired Foods
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drugs (or foods containing these items – for example, “special brownies”)

Foods to Limit:  

While there are some foods that are completely off limits during pregnancy, there are also some that may be best to just limit consumption of. It is important to note for this section that it is always best to listen to the advice of your healthcare practitioner. 

Foods like deli meat and soft cheese have been linked to the food-borne illness Listeria, which is life threatening for an unborn baby.

However, recent research suggests there are so few listeria outbreaks in the U.S., that limiting these foods may not be necessary due to the low risk. If you are more comfortable staying on the safe side, by all means opt out on these foods.

On the contrary though, if these foods are part of your culture and usual dietary intake, know that there is a risk, but that the risk is minimal. 

  • Fish & Shellfish with Moderate amounts of Mercury
    • Limit the intake of these fish to 12oz per week:
      • Shrimp, 
      • Canned tuna light, 
      • Salmon, 
      • Pollack, 
      • Catfish
    • Limit the intake of these fish to no more than 6 oz per week:
      • Albacore (white) tuna 
    • If no advice is available about locally caught fish, do not eat more than 6oz per week 
  • Soft cheese 
    • Brie, cream cheese, feta, ricotta, camembert, chevre, roquefort, gorgonzola, and cottage cheese 
    • Consume in moderation and purchase from reputable suppliers 
    • Store and handle properly 
    • Use your best judgement and stick with what you are comfortable with. 
  • Deli meat 
    • Consume in moderation and purchase from reputable suppliers 
    • Store and handle properly 
    • Cooking deli meat to steaming hot is one way to kill potentially harmful bacteria 
    • If you notice meat has been sitting out for a while – say at a social gathering or picnic – use your best judgement, but it’s probably best to skip it this time! 
  • High Nitrite/Nitrate Foods
    • Nitrates and nitrites are added to foods like meat and hot dogs to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria 
    • On one hand that is good to prevent bacteria, on the other hand, high exposure to nitrates & nitrites can be harmful for your health and potentially lead to pregnancy complications.
    • Consuming a properly cooked hot dog at a social event is an example of low exposure to these compounds. Use your best judgement and stick with what you are comfortable with. 
  • Caffeine 
    • 200mg/day, or less 
  • Artificial Sweeteners 
    • Stevia/Truvia
    • Sugar Alcohols
      • Note: sugar alcohols in excess may cause digestive discomfort or diarrhea

Bottom Line

It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of potentially hazardous foods during pregnancy. Use this information as a guide to then use your best judgment while choosing the right food to consume during your pregnancy.

Written by Sheridan Glaske, MS, RDN, LD

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