What Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

Eating a wide variety of foods is recommended in sustaining a healthy pregnancy. However, it is important to pick and choose the foods being eaten as they may contain organisms harmful to you and your baby. Below are some foods that you may want to avoid or be more cautious of during pregnancy.


Under no circumstances should any alcohol be consumed during pregnancy as it can have adverse impacts on fetal development. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to infants with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which is one of the most common causes of irreversible mental retardation in developing infants. FAS can also cause developmental problems, such as abnormal development of the skeletal system, heart, brain and the nervous system.

Unpasteurized foods

Unpasteurized food products should be avoided, for such products may carry Listeria organisms or E. coli. The Listeria strain has the ability to cross the placenta and possibly cause blood infection or poisoning of the fetus, and may lead to miscarriages. When looking to choose dairy and milk products, be sure to verify that it has been pasteurized. Fruit juices should be pasteurized juices as well, and it would be wise to avoid fresh squeezed juices for this time period. Soft cheeses should be generally avoided as they are usually unpasteurized unless specifically stated. They include:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Roquefort
  • Feta
  • Gorgonzola
  • Mexican-style cheeses, including queso blanco and queso fresco

Raw Eggs

Food items that contain raw or undercooked eggs may contain Salmonella, which can be harmful during pregnancy. Be sure to check the product label to confirm that the eggs used are pasteurized or cooked fully, at least to 160 degrees. As for home cooking, make sure to cook eggs thoroughly so that the yolk is firm, and the egg whites no longer runny. Some common foods that may contain raw or undercooked eggs include:

  • Cake batter
  • Cookie dough
  • Eggnog
  • Breakfast eggs
  • Casseroles
  • Certain ice creams and desserts

Raw Sprouts

While it is healthy and recommended to add more vegetables to your diet, it is better to avoid ingesting raw sprouts, commonly found in salads or sandwiches. Some sprouts may contain E. coli or Salmonella if they are not cleaned and washed properly, so it is best to eat them cooked. Common sprouts include:

  • Mung beans or bean sprouts
  • Alfalfa
  • Clover
  • Radishes

Raw Meat

Any type of meat, poultry, or meat products that is raw or undercooked should be avoided at this time, since it may carry Listeria, E. coli or Campylobacter bacteria that can cause miscarriages. When preparing meat, make sure to cook all meats to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit, with a well-done center, and that the juices run clear. Even if the meat is already pre-cooked, like deli meats, make sure to reheat it until it is 160 degrees Fahrenheit or steaming hot. Canned meat spreads, such as canned pate, may be a better choice than refrigerated, cold pate. In this case, it is smart to invest in a food thermometer to ensure meat products are heated thoroughly.

Some of the more common meat products that need thorough heating include:

  • Hot dogs and hamburgers
  • Deli-style meat and poultry
  • Certain cold cuts
  • Fermented or dry sausage
  • Deli-style salads, such as creamy chicken salads or ham salads
  • Meat spreads, such as pate

Fish High in Mercury

Certain types of fish that are at risk for high levels of mercury should be avoided during pregnancy, as mercury has been linked to fetal brain damage and developmental delays. Fish that tend to have higher levels of mercury include:

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish
  • Marlin
  • Ahi tuna

The best way to choose safe seafood is to contact the local health agency to find out which fish are safe to eat locally. Generally, better options of fish lower in mercury may include:

  • Catfish
  • Anchovies
  • Flounder
  • Sole
  • Tilapia
  • Butterfish

A pregnant woman can consume up to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week; albacore tuna, however, should be limited to no more than 6 ounces per week. It is also very important to make sure the fish is well-cooked and thoroughly heated prior to consumption, as raw or undercooked seafood can potentially be a threat to fetal development.

Raw seafood

Unfortunately for sushi lovers, it is best to abstain from eating raw fish of any kind during pregnancy, even if the fish is low in mercury. Raw or undercooked fish may contain parasites and bacteria that can harm fetal development. Be careful to note that refrigerated versions of smoked seafood also fall under this category. Instead, eat canned versions or thoroughly heat the product before consumption. This also applies to raw or undercooked shellfish. When seafood of any type is consumed, be sure cook it thoroughly and that the internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

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