What Not to Eat When Pregnant

Getting the nutrients your body needs is important during pregnancy, but it’s also important to know which foods to avoid while pregnant. You may have questions about what’s safe and what’s not for the health of you and your baby. For example: Can you eat seafood when you’re pregnant? Can you eat deli meat while pregnant? We answer these questions and more in this guide to food and drinks to avoid completely when you’re pregnant. We also explain which foods can be safely consumed in moderation during pregnancy.

If you’d like to know more about what’s in a healthy pregnancy diet, download our Nutrition During Pregnancy Guide. At the same time, you may be wondering how much weight is healthy and appropriate to gain during pregnancy. Our Weight Gain Calculator can provide some accepted weight gain ranges based on your pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), but your healthcare provider is your best source of information about weight gain and the right pregnancy diet for you.

Is It Safe to Drink Alcohol and Caffeinated Beverages While Pregnant?

In addition to having questions about what not to eat when pregnant, you may be wondering whether you should say no to that glass of wine or cup of coffee.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant is best avoided entirely. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is linked to a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, and excessive alcohol consumption can even lead to fetal alcohol syndrome. Your safest bet is to turn down that glass of wine once you know you’re pregnant.

If you indulged in the occasional beer or wine before knowing you were pregnant, it’s unlikely any serious harm will come to you or your baby. The important thing is to not consume any alcohol for the rest of your pregnancy, because experts believe that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. If you are worried about the effects of any drinks you had before your pregnancy was confirmed, talk to your healthcare provider.

When it comes to drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages, most experts agree that sticking to less than 200 milligrams per day is safe. That’s one 12-ounce cup of coffee a day. To give you a rough guide as to what a 200-milligram portion of caffeine looks like in other beverages, it could be 4 cups (8 ounces each) of brewed black tea, 6 cups of brewed green tea, or 4 cups of cola.

Is It Safe to Drink Herbal Tea?

Because you want to keep your caffeine intake down, you may want to sip on a cup of herbal tea. However, there is little data on the effects certain herbs can have on a developing baby. This is why it’s best to play it safe and avoid herbal tea unless you get the OK from your healthcare provider. Check with your provider about those herbal teas marketed as safe for moms-to-be, too.

Can You Eat Meat, Poultry, or Pâtés?

Meat and poultry are an important part of a healthy, nutritious diet; however, make sure you fully cook all meat and poultry before eating. You can use a meat thermometer to guarantee food is fully cooked.

Opt for canned and shelf-stable pâtés rather than refrigerated ones. This helps to avoid foodborne illnesses like listeriosis. Listeriosis is a serious illness caused by bacteria in food, and it can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature delivery. Hot dogs, deli meats, and bacon can also potentially carry the bacteria that causes listeriosis.

If you’re eating bacon, make sure it’s cooked thoroughly. It’s best to avoid deli meats and hot dogs while you’re pregnant, but if you can’t resist, make sure you heat them to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or until they start to produce steam.

Low-fat dairy products, such as skim milk, mozzarella cheese, and cottage cheese, can play a great role in a healthy pregnancy diet, but you should avoid unpasteurized milk and cheeses while pregnant. These can lead to foodborne illnesses like listeriosis. This is why it’s a good idea to avoid foods like unpasteurized Brie, feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, and blue cheeses while pregnant.

Like dairy foods, eggs are also highly nutritious, but you should avoid raw and undercooked eggs. Raw eggs can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, which can be risky for anyone, but especially pregnant women.

When you’re pregnant, it’s best to avoid food made with raw or partially cooked eggs, so you'll want to forgo foods like raw batter, homemade Hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, and eggnog.

Can Pregnant Women Have Seafood?

Seafood is a good choice for pregnant women, but it is important to be careful with the type of fish you eat and where it’s sourced from. Seafood that’s high in mercury (see list below) poses a risk to your baby’s developing nervous system, which is why it’s important to avoid older, larger fish that could contain higher quantities of mercury.

To be safe, it’s best to avoid

  • shark
  • swordfish
  • king mackerel
  • tile fish
  • raw shellfish like oysters and clams.

For the latest information on fish caught in local waters, check with your state health department or with the US Environmental Protection Agency.

When preparing fish and shellfish, it’s also important that you cook

  • fish to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, until the flakes are opaque
  • shrimp, lobster, and scallops until they turn milky white in color
  • clams, mussels, and oysters until the shells open. Throw away those shells that remain closed.

You may also be wondering whether pregnant women can eat sushi. Uncooked fish and shellfish come with an increased risk of harmful bacteria, so avoid sushi made with uncooked fish or shellfish, as well as refrigerated smoked fish, like salmon. The good news? There are plenty of sushi alternatives you can eat while pregnant, like vegetarian sushi or sushi rolls made with cooked fish or seafood, like shrimp tempura.

Continue eating a variety of fruits and vegetables during your pregnancy, but remember to always wash raw fruits and vegetables to get rid of any harmful bacteria. Carrots and leafy greens are excellent sources of vitamin A, and strawberries and tomatoes can each provide a good dose of vitamin C. You can also ask your local grocer what fruits and vegetables may be in season at the moment, and you might find that you can add something more exotic, like papaya or pineapple, to the mix from time to time.

Most fruits and vegetables are safe to eat if washed properly; however, raw sprouts carry a higher likelihood of carrying foodborne illnesses. Unlike most other fresh vegetables or fruits, sprouts are grown in warm, humid conditions, which is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. This is why it’s safest to avoid raw sprouts like alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung beans.

If you do want to consume sprouts, make sure you cook them thoroughly.

For a handy checklist of foods and drinks not to eat during pregnancy, check out the below:

More Foods to Avoid While Pregnant

It may seem daunting to keep track of all the foods you can and can’t eat while pregnant. Here, we’ve compiled some frequently asked questions about specific foods to help make it a little easier.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Bacon?

As with many other meats, bacon is fine to enjoy in moderation during pregnancy, as long as it is cooked thoroughly. Make sure to store your bacon properly before cooking, because raw meats carry the risk of contamination. A good rule of thumb is to keep your bacon refrigerated (to 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for no longer than 7 days, and frozen (to 0 degrees) for no longer than 30 days before eating.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Blue Cheese?

The key to choosing safe cheeses during pregnancy is making sure you’re only eating cheese that is pasteurized or that is made with pasteurized milk. You can always ask for clarification from your healthcare provider, but unless the package clearly says “pasteurized,” it’s best to steer clear of blue cheese until after you give birth.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Calamari?

Calamari and other types of squid are fine to eat in moderation during pregnancy if well cooked. And, because calamari is often served fried, there’s little chance of it reaching your table undercooked. Grilled calamari can be safe, too, as long as it’s cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Just avoid uncooked or lightly seared calamari or squid during your pregnancy.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Crab?

Shellfish, like crab, can present a slightly higher risk of foodborne illness for moms-to-be, if it is undercooked. It may be safer to stick to canned fish or other seafood that you’re certain has been cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Crawfish?

Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs… whatever you call them, these little guys are low in mercury, so they’re high on the list of the safest seafood to eat during pregnancy. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends moms-to-be eat only seafood that’s been cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Because crawfish are usually boiled (reaching temperatures of 200 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit), the risk of undercooking is very low.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Cream Cheese?

Most cream cheeses are pasteurized and safe to enjoy. But, as with other cheeses, you’ll want to make sure your cream cheese is pasteurized (check the ingredients list to find out).

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Deli Meat?

Deli meats can potentially carry the bacteria that causes listeriosis, so it’s best to avoid these types of cold cuts during your pregnancy. You can reheat deli meats like ham or turkey slices to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating them to make sure you’ve killed the listeria bacteria if it’s present.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Feta Cheese?

Avoid soft cheeses, like feta, that have not been pasteurized. You can always check the product’s label to see if it has been made with pasteurized milk, or ask the staff at your local grocery store’s cheese counter for clarification. If you’re in any doubt as to whether or not it’s safe to eat feta, check with your healthcare provider first.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Fish?

Fish provide a great source of protein and other important nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids for you and your baby while you’re pregnant. However, some types of fish contain levels of mercury that can be harmful to your baby’s development, namely king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tile fish. Other types of fish, such as salmon, flounder, haddock, and freshwater trout, contain less mercury. These can be safe to consume during pregnancy, as long as they are cooked properly. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re wondering how safe it is to eat a type of fish that isn’t mentioned in this article.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Goat Cheese?

It’s important to check whether the goat cheese has been made with pasteurized or unpasteurized milk. If you want to be on the safe side, you could simply avoid goat cheese altogether during your pregnancy; otherwise, ask your healthcare provider for clarification or read the packaging to double check whether your goat cheese has been made with pasteurized goat milk.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Honey?

Although honey does contain a type of bacteria (clostridium botulinum) that can cause botulism in infants, it’s generally safe for adults. This is because infant intestinal tracts lack the right amount of good bacteria necessary to protect against botulism. As an adult, your intestinal tract contains enough protective bacteria to keep you and your baby safe. So, your baby won’t be affected if you’d like to add a little honey to sweeten up some of your favourite foods from time to time.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Hot Dogs?

Hot dogs can carry the bacteria that causes listeriosis, and they’re probably best avoided while you’re pregnant. If only a good, old-fashioned hot dog will satisfy a craving, just make sure it’s been heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, or until it’s visibly steaming.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Lobster?

Lobster is another variety of shellfish that’s low in mercury, so it’s a good choice to add to your pregnancy diet in moderation. The key is to make sure lobster is cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The outer shell should be red and the flesh of the lobster should be pearly white in colour.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Mayo?

Wondering if you can eat mayo when you’re pregnant? Although it’s best to avoid homemade mayonnaise, which may contain undercooked or raw eggs, commercial mayo is safe to eat during pregnancy as it’s made with pasteurized eggs.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Pineapple?

You may have heard an old wives’ tale about avoiding pineapple during your pregnancy, but the fruit is actually perfectly safe to eat. Pineapple is rich in potassium and vitamin C, so there’s no reason to avoid this tropical favourite.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Salmon?

Salmon is a great addition to your pregnancy diet, as it contains a significant amount of vitamin D while still being very low in mercury. Make sure you’re enjoying your salmon cooked through, not raw. Also, it’s OK to refrigerate uncooked salmon for one or two days before cooking, and it’s fine to freeze it for two to three months before cooking and eating.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Sausage?

It’s important to make sure any sausage you eat is cooked thoroughly to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or to the point at which it’s visibly steaming. If you’re cooking sausage at home, don’t store dry sausages in the fridge for more than one or two days before cooking. Dry or raw sausages can last one to two months in the freezer, safe from contamination, though!

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Scallops?

Raw scallops are to be avoided. Cooked scallops can be safe if prepared to a temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If cooked properly, the flesh should appear milky white in colour.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Seafood?

Basically, eating seafood is beneficial for your health and your baby’s development, with protein, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids in the mix. However, avoid fish types that are high in mercury, and steer clear of raw or undercooked fish or seafood that can harbour bacteria, which can be harmful to you and your baby. Cooked shrimp, salmon, and catfish are good choices that are low in mercury. You’ll want to avoid fish with higher mercury levels like shark, swordfish, tile fish, and king mackerel, for example.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Shrimp?

Shrimp contain low amounts of mercury and are considered safe for pregnant women when cooked. When cooking or eating shrimp, just make sure the shell is red, and the flesh is an opaque white colour. These are both good indications that the shrimp has been cooked to the necessary 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Spicy Food?

If you love spicy foods, and they don’t cause you any discomfort, then go ahead and enjoy! Keep in mind that spicy foods can sometimes cause heartburn, so if you get this symptom, it might be a good idea to ease up on the heat to see if the condition improves. Of course, your healthcare provider is the best person to consult if you get heartburn.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Sushi?

You might need to adjust your sushi order slightly while you’re pregnant, but you don’t have to forgo it altogether. Cooked sushi and vegetarian sushi are good options during this time, but save the raw or seared seafood for after your baby arrives. If you’re a sushi-lover, it will be a nice treat to look forward to after you give birth.

In the meantime, it’s wise to take a pass on rolls made or garnished with mayo. Many restaurants make their own house mayo, and these can sometimes be made with raw eggs, which can cause foodborne illness. Rolls that are made with cooked eggs, like omelette rolls, are fine as long as the eggs have been cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Skip any rolls made with refrigerated, smoked fish like salmon or tuna, also. Unless you’re certain the fish has been cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to choose something else off the menu.

  • Can Pregnant Women Eat Tuna?

There are a variety of different types of tuna, and the safest option for moms-to-be (with the lowest mercury content) is canned light tuna. Other varieties, like albacore tuna, have a slightly higher mercury content, and are therefore slightly riskier. Albacore tuna is still on the FDA’s list of “good choices,” so it’s not entirely off the menu while you’re pregnant, but you may want to discuss this with your healthcare provider first.

It may seem like a lot to consider, but a healthy pregnancy diet is as much about enjoying what you can eat as it is about looking out for what you cannot eat while pregnant. You might see this as an opportunity to sample some previously unknown foods — a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried, for example. Or, you might even learn how to cook an old favourite in a new way, like baked salmon prepared at home instead of salmon rolls from your neighbourhood sushi spot.

Try not to dwell on any food restrictions, and instead focus on the endless opportunities to enrich your pregnancy diet. You can have a lot of fun sampling a rich variety of foods during your pregnancy, with your prenatal vitamins providing any extra nutrients you need.

You have a lot to think about in the coming months, but we’re here to help make this journey easier.

DietHealthy pregnancy

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