5 Foods You Absolutely Should Not Eat During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman in supermarket buying groceries

A nutritious diet is an important part of a healthy pregnancy, but there are some foods that you should avoid when you're pregnant. However, if you mistakenly consume something on the list of foods to avoid, try not to panic and give your healthcare provider a call. The foods are on this list to reduce risk—they won't automatically make you sick if you eat one.

There are also misconceptions about what you can and can't eat during pregnancy. Your provider can help you sort out any myths and misunderstandings, as well as ensure that you aren't cutting out any food that you don't need to avoid.

The list might seem long, especially if it contains more or more of your favorite foods. It will help to understand why it's recommended that you avoid these foods while you are pregnant.

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What Do You Have to Give Up While Pregnant?

What to Avoid Eating While You're Pregnant

  • Raw or undercooked meat. Raw meat, poultry, and fish can infect you with Listeria monocytogenes (which causes listeriosis), Salmonella (which causes salmonellosis), or Toxoplasma gondii (which causes toxoplasmosis). Avoid any raw or undercooked meats, undercooked poultry, and sushi.
  • Unpasteurized cheeses. Unpasteurized milk can contain harmful bacteria, such as listeria. Cheeses made from unpasteurized milk can also harbor those pathogens. Many kinds of cheese are made with pasteurized milk, but you'll want to check the label to be sure (the ingredient list might say that the cheese was made with pasteurized milk).
  • Raw or undercooked eggs. Consuming raw or undercooked eggs carries the risk of ingesting Salmonella. Foods to avoid include: any uncooked batter or dough (cake batter, raw cookie dough) homemade foods that contain undercooked/uncooked egg (homemade ice cream, custards, mayo, eggnog, Hollandaise sauce, mousse, merengue, tiramisu), homemade or fresh-made dressings that contain raw or undercooked egg (fresh Caesar dressing). Commercial mayo, dressings, and sauces contain pasteurized eggs and are safe to eat.
  • Large fish. While fish in a nutrient-rich source of protein during pregnancy, some fish contain potentially dangerous amounts of methylmercury. Large fish are more likely to accumulate methylmercury. Mercury can be harmful to your developing baby because it can lead to brain damage. Foods to avoid: tilefish, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, bigeye tuna, and swordfish. The FDA has a full list of fish you can eat more often.
  • Locally-caught fish. If you or someone you know fishes, there are certain things to be aware of before eating locally caught fish. Levels of contaminants (including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)) vary by location. You must check for safety advisories for fish in your area before eating any locally caught fish. In addition, because contaminants may accumulate in the skin, fat, and organs of fish, it's a good idea to remove these before cooking.

Foods That Require Special Attention

These foods might be OK to consume while you're pregnant if you take extra precautions.

  • Deli meats. To reduce your risk of listeriosis, ensure that all deli meats are thoroughly reheated (including hot dogs). The meat should be steaming hot or reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • Liver (in large or frequent amounts). Liver contains vitamin A. Excessive vitamin A in non-beta-carotene form can cause birth defects.

Things You Give Up During Pregnancy

1 Source
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  1. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Advice About Eating Fish.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.