6 Types of Foods You Shouldn’t Eat While Pregnant

by Ella

Pregnancy is a crucial period in a woman’s life, during which maintaining a healthy diet is of utmost importance. The food choices made during pregnancy can significantly impact both the mother and the developing baby. While it is essential to focus on consuming nutrient-rich foods, it is equally vital to be aware of what not to eat. This article aims to provide expectant mothers with a comprehensive guide on foods to avoid during pregnancy, ensuring a safe and healthy journey towards motherhood.


The Importance of a Healthy Diet During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman’s nutritional needs increase to support the growth and development of the fetus. A well-balanced diet rich in essential nutrients such as folic acid, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids is crucial for the optimal health of both the mother and the baby. Adequate nutrition can help prevent complications like neural tube defects, low birth weight, and preterm labor. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to create a personalized meal plan that meets individual dietary requirements.


What Not To Eat When Pregnant

Eating a balanced, nutritious diet during pregnancy is essential for the health and development of your growing baby. However, there are certain foods and drinks that pregnant women should limit or avoid altogether due to potential health risks. Here are some of the top foods and drinks to avoid during pregnancy.


1. Raw or Undercooked Meat and Eggs

Pregnant women are advised to avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood and eggs due to the risk of foodborne bacteria and infections. Bacteria like listeria and toxoplasma found in these foods pose significant threats to pregnant women and their fetuses.


Well-cooked meat and properly pasteurized eggs are considered safe during pregnancy. However, to be on the safe side, avoid:

Raw and undercooked meats: Steak tartare, raw hamburgers, sliced meats and deli meats.

Raw shellfish: Oysters, clams and mussels.

Raw or runny eggs: Eggs Benedict, hollandaise sauce, homemade eggnog, Caesar and French dressings made with raw egg.

2. Unwashed Fresh Produce

Certain types of fresh produce pose a risk during pregnancy because they are often consumed raw without proper washing. This includes:

Unwashed fruits and vegetables: Produce from farmers markets and grocery stores may be contaminated with bacteria or pesticide residue without proper washing. Always wash produce thoroughly with water before eating.

Lettuce and greens: Bagged lettuces have been linked to foodborne illness outbreaks. Opt for pre-washed options or thoroughly rinse before eating.

Soft cheeses: Cheeses made from unpasteurized milk such as Brie, Camembert, feta and Mexican-style cheeses may be contaminated. Choose only pasteurized cheeses during pregnancy.

3. High Mercury Fish

Certain fish high in mercury should be avoided during pregnancy to reduce your baby’s exposure to this neurotoxin. Mercury can potentially damage your baby’s developing nervous system and brain. The FDA recommends limiting:



King mackerel


To no more than 12 ounces (two average meals) per month. Relatively low mercury fish like salmon, tilapia and shrimp are considered safe during pregnancy.

4. High Caffeine Drinks

While moderate amounts of caffeine are considered safe during pregnancy, excess caffeine from coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks should be avoided. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day during pregnancy which equals around 1 to 2 cups of brewed coffee. Consuming more than this limit has been linked to low birth weight, premature birth and childhood behavior issues.

To stay within the daily caffeine limit, avoid:

Coffeehouse drinks: Frappuccinos, lattes and mochas have up to three times more caffeine than a standard cup of coffee.

Energy drinks: Even a single can of an energy drink can go over the daily caffeine limit.

Some teas: Black, green and white teas can have up to half the caffeine of coffee, while herbal teas are caffeine-free.

Caffeinated soft drinks: A 20-ounce soda has around 75 mg of caffeine.

5. Heavy Alcohol

Drinking alcohol at any point during pregnancy can negatively impact your developing fetus. Fetal alcohol syndrome and birth defects have been linked to even light to moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The safest approach is to avoid alcohol completely while pregnant or planning to get pregnant. If you drank prior to knowing you were pregnant, do not panic. The risk of harm depends on how much and how often you drank during the earliest stages. Speak to your doctor to determine if your baby is at risk.

6. Other Foods And Drinks To Avoid Include:

Raw honey: May contain clostridium botulinum spores which become active in a baby’s immature digestive system.

Certain herbs and spices: Unless approved by your doctor, avoid supplements made from black cohosh, skullcap, juniper, mugwort, wormwood and others in high amounts.

Excessive amounts of vitamin A: Found in liver, supplements and fortified cereals. Too much can cause birth defects.

Mold-ripened cheese: Brie, Camembert and others that contain a visible mold can harbor listeria bacteria.

Sprouts: Frequent outbreaks have been linked to alfalfa, clover and mung bean sprouts. Instead, enjoy cooked sprouts.

Grapefruit: Can interact with some medications to cause harmful side effects in pregnancy.

Raw cookie dough and cake batter: Can contain raw eggs contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

Lunch meats: Packaged ham, turkey and roast beef have been linked to listeria outbreaks. Heat to steaming before eating.

Raw soy products: Unfermented soy like tofu, edamame and sprouts contain high levels of plant estrogens which can interfere with a developing fetus. Fermented soy like tempeh and miso is considered safe.

High-mercury fish: Another seafood to avoid include: Tuna (more than 6 ounces per week), marlin, orange roughly and escolar.

Unwashed sprouts: Alfalfa sprouts have caused food poisoning outbreaks.

Raw or undercooked flour: Flour and dough mixtures, whether homemade or commercially made, can harbor E. coli and salmonella.

What are the risks of eating these foods?

Each of these foods carry different risks during pregnancy. Some foods could be contaminated with germs — these can cause infections and may be harmful for you or your baby. Other foods contain substances that can harm your baby.

1. Listeriosis

Listeriosis, caused by the bacteria listeria, is a rare infection that is usually not a problem for healthy people. However, if you’re pregnant it can make you unwell. If your baby becomes infected, it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or premature labour.

2. Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis, caused by the parasite toxoplasma, is an infection that can affect your baby if you get it for the first time when you’re pregnant. This is rare in Australia, but it’s important to be cautious because it can cause your baby to have brain damage or blindness.

3. Salmonella

The bacteria salmonella can make you unwell with food poisoning. If you get it when you’re pregnant it can cause miscarriage, but this is rare.

Navigating Food Safety Guidelines for Expectant Mothers

1. Food Storage and Handling:

Proper storage and handling of food are crucial to prevent bacterial growth. Wash hands thoroughly before and after handling food, separate raw and cooked foods, and ensure proper refrigeration of perishable items.

2. Food Labels and Expiry Dates:

Read food labels carefully and avoid consuming expired products. Pay attention to “use-by” and “best before” dates to ensure freshness and quality.

3. Eating Out:

When dining at restaurants, choose reputable establishments that prioritize food safety. Ensure that the food is cooked thoroughly, and avoid dishes that may contain raw or undercooked ingredients.

4. Foodborne Illness Symptoms:

Be aware of the symptoms of foodborne illnesses, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.

Frequently Questions Answered

1. Can I have caffeine during pregnancy?

You don’t need to cut out caffeine completely, but don’t have more than 200mg a day. The approximate amounts of caffeine found in food and drinks are:

  • 1 teaspoon of instant coffee: 80mg
  • 1 shot of espresso coffee: 145mg
  • 1 cup of tea: 50mg
  • 375ml can of cola: 36.4mg
  • 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg
  • 100g bar of milk chocolate: 20mg

To cut down on caffeine, try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or mineral water instead of regular tea, coffee and cola.

Energy drinks are not recommended during pregnancy as they may contain high levels of caffeine or guarana (which also contains caffeine).

2. Can I eat leftovers during pregnancy?

Be cautious with leftover food, as it can become contaminated with listeria. If you want to eat leftovers, put them straight in the fridge in a covered container. Don’t keep them for more than a day and reheat them to at least 60°C.

3. Can I eat foods that my baby might be allergic to?

It’s fine to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, unless you are allergic to them. It’s also fine to eat other foods considered to be highly allergenic. Cutting these foods out of your diet during pregnancy is not recommended, as this has not been shown to prevent allergies in your baby.

See Also: 10 Things That Might Surprise You About Being Pregnant


A healthy, balanced diet is still recommended during pregnancy focused on whole foods like lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Following these guidelines will help ensure you and your developing baby receive optimal nutrition. However, for the foods listed above, the risks likely outweigh any benefits during pregnancy so it’s best to avoid or limit intake as recommended. Speak with your obstetrician about other dietary precautions to take while pregnant to guarantee a safe and healthy term.


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