Certain foods should only be consumed rarely, while others should be avoided completely. Now that you’re eating for two, you’re probably focused on choosing healthy foods that’ll help you feel your best and support your growing baby. What not to eat and drink when you're pregnant is just as important.
Why should you avoid certain foods during pregnancy?
Some foods have a higher risk of harbouring illness-causing bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella or E.coli. At the same time, your immune system has a harder time fighting off germs during pregnancy.
Put those two together, and you’re more likely to get sick or suffer complications like miscarriage or premature delivery if you accidentally eat something that’s contaminated. Just as concerning is the fact that foodborne illness-causing bacteria can cross the placenta. And since your baby’s immune system isn’t strong enough yet to fight off the germs, they're at risk of developing a serious infection or even birth defects.
Not all no-no foods are off limits because of bacteria, though. Alcohol and high-mercury fish, for instance, won’t make you sick, but can negatively impact your baby’s development. And others simply haven’t been studied enough to know whether they’re safe for your growing baby.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy
So what should you be steering clear of these days? Here are the foods and drinks worth taking off the menu until your baby is born.
For the next 40-odd weeks, plan to toast events with a mocktail or fruit-juice. Even if you’ve heard that an occasional alcoholic drinks is OK, it’s best to be on the safe side when you’ve got a baby on board.
Why? Alcohol enters your baby’s bloodstream in the same concentration as yours — and takes twice as long to leave it — so whatever you’re drinking, your baby’s drinking one, too.
Had a drink or two shortly before finding out that you were pregnant? Try not to worry. It happens to many Mums, and it’s not a cause for concern.
2. Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese & Fruit Juice
Fortunately, you don't have to worry about finding unpasteurized milk at the supermarket, but soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are another story — they can harbour Listeria and other pathogens.
To stay safe, stick with hard cheeses like Swiss or cheddar, or check a cheese’s label to confirm it’s made with pasteurized milk. Have a hankering for feta, Brie, Camembert, goat cheese, and blue-veined cheeses? Confirm that they’re made with pasteurized products first, or heat them up until bubbly.
You should also steer clear of unpasteurized juices like apple cider or fresh-squeezed OJ. As long as it's been treated through UV radiation, it's probably okay.
Even if you couldn't get by without your daily coffee dose before you became pregnant, now's definitely the time to switch out at least a few of those caffeinated drinks for decaf ones.
While a couple of small cups of coffee a day are fine throughout your pregnancy, you should aim for no more than 0.2 daily grams of caffeine a day. Too much caffeine can also interfere with your body's ability to absorb iron — which can lead to anaemia.
You should also watch your soda and energy drink intake. Remember to pay attention to other sources of caffeine such as chocolate, black or green tea, energy bars and coffee-flavoured desserts, ice creams and yogurts to ensure you don't slip over the caffeine limit.
4. Raw Seafood
Before you visit your favourite raw bar or local sushi bar, keep in mind that uncooked or even seared seafood is off-limits during pregnancy — the risk of ingesting bacteria and parasites along with your meal is too high.
While this doesn't mean you should shun your favourite Japanese restaurant for the next nine months, it does mean that you'll need to be careful about what you order.
5. Rare or underdone meat
When it comes to your meat, now is not the time to be seeing pink or red. While you may have cooked that steak medium-rare before your baby came on board, you'll now need to refrain from blood-red meat.
6. Hot dogs and deli meat
That double turkey, salami and onion with extra mustard might be tempting your pregnancy-crazed appetite, but it may not be the healthiest option out there right now.
As a mum-to-be, you'll want to steer clear of those foods that have been preserved with nitrates and nitrites, chemicals used in food preservation that (in high amounts) aren't good for a developing foetus.
7. Raw or undercooked eggs
While it may seem like common-sense to refrain from raw or runny eggs, you'll find them in more places than the yummy bits of batter that stick to the spatula.
To be absolutely safe, make sure the eggs you buy have been kept refrigerated and the sell-by date hasn't expired.
Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:
- lightly scrambled eggs
- poached eggs
- hollandaise sauce
- homemade mayonnaise
- some homemade salad dressings
- homemade ice cream
- homemade cake icings
Most commercial products that contain raw eggs are made with pasteurized eggs and are safe to consume. However, you should always read the label to make sure. To be on the safe side, make sure to always cook eggs thoroughly or use pasteurized eggs.
8. High-mercury fish
You know fish is loaded with all those brain-boosting (good for baby) and mood-boosting (good for you) omega-3s. But when it comes to eating fish whilst pregnant, it's easy to get confused about which types are bad (i.e. high in mercury) and which types are safe to eat.
High-mercury fish you want to avoid include:
- king mackerel
- tuna (especially bigeye tuna)
- tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
- orange roughly
However, it’s important to note that not all fish are high in mercury — just certain types. Low mercury fish are plentiful and include:
- trout (freshwater)
9. Raw sprouts
Thinking of putting some alfalfa or bean sprouts into your sandwich or salad to give it that extra crunch? Better think again. Raw sprouts have been linked to E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks, so they definitely belong to the "better-safe-than-sorry" category of foods to avoid during pregnancy.
10. Unwashed fruits and vegetables
It’s always worth giving produce a quick rinse before eating, but it’s especially important to clean raw fruits and veggies these days. Harmful bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella or E. coli can lurk on the outsides of produce — and the microbes can easily spread to the inside flesh when a fruit or vegetable is cut, juiced or peeled.
A thorough rinse under running water before eating or prepping will get the job done, and if you spot any lingering dirt, scrape it away with a produce brush. Finally, cut away any bits of produce that seem bruised or damaged, since these areas are more likely to harbour bacteria.
When you’re pregnant, it’s essential to avoid foods and beverages that may put you and your baby at risk. Although most foods and beverages are perfectly safe to enjoy, some, like raw fish, unpasteurized dairy, alcohol, and high mercury fish, should be avoided. Plus, some foods and beverages like coffee and foods high in added sugar, should be limited in order to promote a healthy pregnancy.
QUICK TIPS FOR FOODS TO AVOID WHEN PREGNANT
- Avoid high-mercury fish including shark, swordfish, tuna, and marlin.
- Raw fish and shellfish can be contaminated with bacteria and parasites. Some of these can cause adverse health effects and harm both you and baby.
- Raw or undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria. As a general rule, meat should be cooked all the way through.
- Raw eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella, and may put you and your baby at risk. Be sure to thoroughly cook eggs before eating.
- Limit caffeine intake, which is about 2 to 3 cups of coffee. High caffeine intake during pregnancy may limit baby’s growth and cause low birth weight.
- Raw sprouts may be contaminated with bacteria. Only eat them thoroughly cooked.
- Fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with harmful bacteria, it’s important to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables with plenty of clean water.
- Don’t consume unpasteurized milk, cheese, or fruit juice, as these foods increase the risk of bacterial infections.
- Avoid all alcohol. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and foetal alcohol syndrome.
- Eating processed foods during pregnancy can increase your risk of excess weight gain, gestational diabetes, and complications. This can have long-term health implications for you and your child.