11 Foods To Avoid While Pregnant

Published July 8th, 2022 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Camille Freking
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

Even after you’ve read all the pregnancy books and called your doctor’s office multiple times, you can still find yourself scratching your head, trying to learn what to do and what not to do while pregnant. 

When it comes to food, it gets a little dicey. You can have fish, but only some fish. Dairy, but only pasteurized.

Make sure you avoid lunch meat unless you steam it first. It can be challenging for anyone to keep up with all the rules. 

We’re here to give you the ultimate guide on what foods to avoid while pregnant.

We’ll explain why each food should be off the menu until you have your baby.

We’ll also give you a few tips about essential vitamins and nutrients your body needs more of while you’re pregnant and which foods contain them. 

11 Foods To Avoid While Pregnant

Your growing baby and your ever-changing body have different needs during your pregnancy.

Due to the risk of congenital disabilities and pregnancy complications, some foods aren’t advisable to eat during any portion of your pregnancy. 

1. Unpasteurized Anything

Your immune system isn’t as strong when you are pregnant as it is when you are not pregnant.

This immune response is an important defense mechanism that helps ensure your body doesn’t attack your baby. However, it does mean that you are more susceptible to becoming ill. 

Unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juice can contain harmful bacteria like Campylobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, and E. Coli.  

Foods that may not be pasteurized include soft cheese like brie or camembert or hard cheese like feta. Additionally, cheeses that contain blue veins like gorgonzola are a no-go during pregnancy.

Remember to check juices also to ensure they are pasteurized. 

2. Some Fish

Are you confused about whether or not you can safely consume fish while pregnant? Wonder no more.

The real issue with fish is a two-part problem: 

  • Some fish contain high levels of mercury, which is unsafe for everyone, especially pregnant women. It can cause developmental issues in babies in utero. 
  • Undercooked or raw fish can carry a similar risk of bacteria exposure. Raw fish can also have norovirus, a stomach virus that can leave you severely dehydrated. 

Fish with the highest levels of mercury are found in polluted waters. Large fish usually have higher levels of mercury, so it’s important to avoid them during pregnancy. Fish to avoid include:

  • Marlin
  • Bigeye tuna
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tilefish
  • King mackerel
  • Orange roughy

It’s also essential to ensure that any fish you consume is cooked thoroughly.

If you love sashimi, you’ll have to switch to volcano or dragon rolls until your baby arrives.

The same goes for shellfish — as long as your mussels and clams are well cooked, shellfish is generally safe. 

3. Undercooked Eggs

Salmonella and food poisoning are two risks associated with eating undercooked eggs.

As such, cook your eggs thoroughly (until the yolks are completely solid).

You will also want to avoid foods made with undercooked or raw eggs like cookie dough and hollandaise sauce. 

In addition, you’ll also want to avoid unpasteurized eggs, which can become contaminated with bacteria and cause you to become ill. 

4. Undercooked Meat

Switching your order from medium-rare to medium-well is a good idea when you are pregnant.

The reasons you want to avoid undercooked fish, raw eggs, and unpasteurized foods apply to meat as well. 

Undercooked meat also puts you at risk of developing toxoplasmosis, a common parasite that can cause brain damage in an unborn baby.

Although this condition is rare, it is life-threatening and serious. If you are concerned that you’ve consumed raw meat, contact your doctor. 

5. Processed Meat

Hot dogs and deli meat aren’t undercooked, so what’s the problem with eating them while pregnant?

Unfortunately, many of these foods can become contaminated with bacteria during packaging and storage. 

If you want to eat these foods, make sure you steam, boil, or bake them first to ensure you eliminate any bacteria they carry.

Some doctors give you the green light to consume non-steamed lunch meat after the first trimester is over. Ask your doctor before you make the call. 

Also included in this group is pâté, a processed meat paste. Because it can be virtually impossible to heat this, you will want to avoid it altogether. 

6. Vitamin A

Foods rich in vitamin A, like organ meats, should be consumed on a limited basis.

High vitamin A levels during the first trimester of pregnancy can contribute to congenital disabilities and an increased risk of miscarriage. 

If you are taking a prenatal vitamin, talk to your doctor about whether or not it is safe to consume foods rich in vitamin A, especially if your prenatal vitamin already contains it. 

7. Unwashed Produce

Living near a farmer’s market means you can access genuine farm-to-table produce. However, even the most safely grown organic produce can contain bacteria.

Always wash your produce before you consume it, especially if you plan to eat it raw.

Some fruits and vegetables carry a higher risk of bacteria than others. In particular, raw sprouts and greens can have a higher risk of E. coli bacteria than other vegetables.

It may be wise to avoid mung beans, sprouts, and greens from clover and radish while you are pregnant. 

8. Excess Caffeine

Pregnancy is exhausting; sometimes, you just need a cup of coffee to recharge.

While limited amounts of caffeine won’t hurt your baby, limiting your caffeine intake is vital to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. 

Too much caffeine can contribute to low birth weight, which carries a higher risk of infant death and an increased risk of life-long health issues. 

Experts agree you shouldn’t consume more than 200 mg of caffeine — or two cups of coffee — daily when pregnant.

Remember, it’s not just coffee that contains caffeine. Tea, soda, and chocolate are all sources of caffeine that you’ll need to account for in your daily allowance. 

9. Alcohol

There’s no safe level of alcohol you can consume while pregnant.

Alcohol crosses the placenta and can have detrimental effects on your baby — exposure to alcohol while pregnant can cause developmental delays and learning disabilities. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome is another risk of consuming alcohol while pregnant, which can result in congenital disabilities, facial deformities, and problems with development. 

10. Energy Drinks

Energy drinks contain double or even triple your daily allotment of caffeine, but they can also contain ingredients that aren’t safe for your pregnancy.

Typically, energy drinks contain additional stimulants that either have not been studied in pregnant women or aren’t safe to consume. 

If you need an energy boost in your day, try green tea instead. You’ll get less caffeine in a safer, purer form. 

11. Junk Food

While it probably won’t make you sick or harm your baby, consuming junk food while pregnant is an easy way to put more strain on your joints.

Fried foods, prepackaged snack cakes and cookies, and beverages like soda can hide tons of extra calories, trans fats, and sodium. 

When you crave something sweet, try a healthy alternative, like berries. You’ll load up on antioxidants and fiber, which can also help keep you full and improve digestion. 

Although you are “eating for two,” you technically only need to supplement your diet with an additional 350 calories per day while you are pregnant. That’s roughly the number of calories in one cheeseburger or two cookies. 

While those foods may satiate a craving, they provide empty calories and little nutrition for your growing baby. Instead, you can choose nutrient-dense foods packed with fiber and healthy fats for your baby and your body. 

What Foods Should I Choose While Pregnant?

Don’t worry; not all the foods you love are off the table.

You can eat a healthy and satisfying diet while pregnant if you know how to shop and which foods are best for your body and your baby’s. 

Here are five foods that will help curb your cravings, fuel your body, and support your baby’s growth and development in utero. 

1. Lean Protein

Protein is a building block necessary for proper embryonic growth. Choosing lean meats like chicken, pork, and lean ground beef can help support a healthy pregnancy.

Make sure to cook the meat thoroughly before you eat it, and avoid cooking methods that involve breading and frying, which can pack in additional calories and unhealthy fats. 

2. Salmon

Not all fish are full of mercury, and some fish are an extremely healthy part of pregnancy. Salmon, for instance, contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, which means our bodies need them to function properly but can’t make them independently. We have to get them from food or supplements. 

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is crucial for your baby’s eye and brain development. Consuming salmon several times a week is an excellent way to support a healthy pregnancy. 

3. Water

No matter how much water you think you are consuming, you probably need more.

Make your goal to consume eight to 10 glasses of water daily, keeping in mind that other fluids count towards that goal.

However, caffeinated beverages have a diuretic effect, which can cause you to lose more fluid.

You're probably doing it right if you find yourself in the restroom more often than not. 

4. Berries

These pregnancy superfoods are a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth without packing in added sugar and calories.

Berries are antioxidant-rich, which means they help protect your body against free radical damage. They also contain vitamins and nutrients to support healthy growth and function. 

Try adding a handful of berries to your morning oatmeal, blending them into a smoothie, or enjoying them with a small dollop of whipped cream as a treat. 

5. Dairy

As long as it is pasteurized, dairy products are a pregnancy staple.

Your body and your baby need calcium to support growth and development.

If you have issues with lactose, it’s still important to get enough calcium.

Opt for Greek yogurt, which may be more tolerable than other forms of dairy, or talk to your doctor about different ways to supplement. 

When Should I Call My Doctor About Diet Concerns?

If you think you’ve eaten something that isn’t safe for your pregnancy, let your doctor know.

Additionally, if you feel like you might have food poisoning, contact your doctor or seek medical attention immediately. 

Symptoms of food-borne illness can include: 

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Stomach cramping

If you experience any of these symptoms for more than 24 hours, contact your doctor to determine what you should do. 

Supporting a Healthy Pregnancy

The goal of every pregnant person is a healthy pregnancy, and keeping your diet on track can be challenging when you constantly battle cravings.

It’s also difficult to remember which foods are safe and which you should avoid. 

If you have a question about food, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider to ask if it’s safe for you to eat.

Simply asking a question could help prevent undue exposure to unsafe food for your baby and keep you both healthy. 

Lastly, it’s important to get all the nutrients you need while pregnant is important.

In addition to the pregnancy-approved foods listed above, check out our blog post that contains foods you should always eat while pregnant. 

References, Studies and Sources:

Mercury exposure and children's health | PubMed

Undercooked Meat Is Chief Cause Of Parasite Infection In Pregnancy | ScienceDaily

4 million neonatal deaths: when? Where? Why? | PubMed  

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