The Foods You Should Avoid During Pregnancy

Food safety comes first for you and your growing baby.

A plate of oyster shells overturned on a bed of ice sitting atop wooden table. The beer, hot sauce, and lemon wedges that complimented the meal scatter the table.


A plate of oyster shells overturned on a bed of ice sitting atop wooden table. The beer, hot sauce, and lemon wedges that complimented the meal scatter the table.

Photo by: Spiderplay


Congratulations! You're eating for two now — although most pregnant women need only about 300 to 400 extra calories per day — and that means that ensuring food safety should be added to your growing to-do list. Some foods on the no-no list are obvious (raw eggs), but others may surprise you (rethink that soft serve!). Here are the top foods that pregnant women should avoid:

Anything raw: That includes raw eggs, milk, meat, shellfish (like oysters, clams and scallops), and sushi and sashimi made with raw fish. Raw eggs can be hidden in places you might not expect, like traditional Caesar dressing and old-school tiramisu recipes. And skip eating raw cookie dough — there is prepared and safe raw cookie dough you can buy or make to satisfy your cravings.

Anything unpasteurized: Skip raw milk and hold off on indulging in all those delicious, stinky cheeses until after the baby is born. Bacteria like listeria may be lurking in all that creamy goodness. Also avoid store-bought, unpasteurized juices. You can juice at home instead; just make sure all your fruits and veggies are properly washed.

Cold cuts: Listeria can also set up shop in your favorite lunchmeats and hot dogs. If you still want that turkey club or Chicago dog, then cook your meats first — for cold cuts, steam or saute them in a skillet.

Undercooked meat: Especially ground beef. Hold off on eating rare burgers until after baby arrives. The risk of food-borne illnesses, such as very dangerous strains of E. coli, is real.

Unwashed fruits and vegetables: Unfortunately, cross-contamination (when an infected food transfers its germs to an uninfected one) is a real threat. Be sure to wash any fruit or vegetable that you plan on eating raw. If your packaged salad greens instruct you to wash them before eating, then break out the salad spinner and give them a good rinse and a whirl.

Raw sprouts: Crunchy, healthy sprouts can absolutely be a part of your not-pregnant diet, but skip them for the time being. They're perfect vectors for opportunistic, nasty bacteria.

Proceed with Caution

These choices aren't a hard no, but they do pose some risks. When in doubt, play it safe.

Soft-serve ice cream and yogurt: When was the last time the nozzles of those machines were washed? Unless you know they're cleaned regularly, stick with scooped, hard ice cream.

Salad buffets: Sneeze guards don't always work. It's best to bypass buffets filled with raw food for the time being. Also, if a hot-food buffet looks a little suspect, then order off the menu instead.

Bulk food: Yes, bins of nuts and grains are super-cost-effective, but the chances of cross-contamination increase with all those minuscule and loose pieces. This is especially true if you suffer from a nut allergy. Stick with individually packaged dry goods for now.

Citrus slices: Ask for water without lemon — seriously. Chances are the citrus wasn't properly washed before being cut.

Raw onions: Those fine roots attached to innocent onions, shallots and scallions have dirt on them (the peel probably does too). Unless you (or someone you trust) cut away the dirty parts before chopping, it's smart to question onions when they are raw and in foods like potato, pasta and egg salads.

Potlucks: Most likely you're breaking bread with friends and family, but unless you helped prepare the food, be mindful. Try to stick with cooked, hot food or bring your own personal pregnancy potluck — and don't worry about being judged!

Be Conscious of Caffeine and Mercury Concerns

Caffeine doesn't just mean coffee — remember it's present in tea and cocoa too. The general professional consensus is that pregnant women shouldn't consume more than 300 mg of it per day, so 1 to 2 cups of coffee can be OK. Though green tea has less caffeine, it has been shown to reduce the body's ability to absorb folic acid, which is an important vitamin for growing babies, so don't overindulge. If you can cut the caffeine, then try to, but otherwise just keep track of how much you consume and how you are feeling. And always consult your doctor.

The FDA and EPA have just crafted new advice on fish consumption for women who are or might become pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and young children. High levels of mercury found in some fish and seafood can have a detrimental impact on development. On the flip side, many fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids — which are essential for brain development. Read the FDA and EPA's advice and follow the handy "Best, Good and Avoid" choice categories to make informed decisions.

You can also sign up for notifications of FDA and USDA food recalls to keep yourself and your family informed and safe.

Finally, follow your (growing) gut: If a food or meal doesn't feel right, then skip it, and indulge after your little bundle is here.

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