Pregnancy is one of the most vital and sensitive periods in a woman’s life.
Therefore, it’s very important for pregnant women to eat a healthy diet.
Expecting mothers have to pay close attention to what they eat and make sure to avoid harmful foods and beverages.
Certain foods should only be consumed rarely, while others should be avoided completely.
Here are 11 foods and beverages to avoid or minimize during pregnancy.
1. High-Mercury Fish
Mercury is a highly toxic element. It has no known safe level of exposure and is most commonly found in polluted water.
In higher amounts, it can be toxic to your nervous system, immune system and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in children.
Since it’s found in polluted seas, large marine fish can accumulate high amounts of mercury.
Therefore, pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of high-mercury fish to no more than 1–2 servings per month.
High-mercury fish include:
Tuna (especially albacore tuna)
However, it’s important to note that not all fish are high in mercury — just certain types.
Consuming low-mercury fish during pregnancy is very healthy, and these fish can be eaten up to 2 times per week. Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for your baby.
2. Undercooked or Raw Fish
Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections. These can be viral, bacterial or parasitic, such as norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella and Listeria.
Some of these infections only affect the mother, leaving her dehydrated and weak. Other infections may be passed on to the unborn baby with serious, or even fatal, consequences.
Pregnant women are especially susceptible to Listeria infections. In fact, pregnant women are up to 20 times more likely to get infected by Listeria than the general population.
This bacteria can be found in soil and contaminated water or plants. Raw fish can become infected during processing, including smoking or drying.
Listeria can be passed to an unborn baby through the placenta, even if the mother is not showing any signs of illness. This can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious health problems (9).
Pregnant women are therefore advised to avoid raw fish and shellfish. This includes many sushi dishes.
3. Undercooked, Raw and Processed Meat
Eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites, including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella.
Bacteria may threaten the health of your unborn baby, possibly leading to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including mental retardation, blindness and epilepsy.
While most bacteria are found on the surface of whole pieces of meat, other bacteria may linger inside the muscle fibers.
Some whole cuts of meat — such as tenderloins, sirloins or ribeye from beef, lamb and veal — may be safe to consume when not cooked all the way through.
However, this only applies when the piece of meat is whole or uncut, and completely cooked on the outside.
Cut meat, including meat patties, burgers, minced meat, pork and poultry, should never be consumed raw or undercooked.
Hot dogs, lunch meat and deli meat are also of concern. These types of meat may become infected with various bacteria during processing or storage.
Pregnant women should not consume processed meat products unless they’ve been reheated until steaming hot.
4. Raw Eggs
Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella.
Symptoms of Salmonella infections are usually experienced only by the mother and include fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhe.
However, in rare cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth.
Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:
Lightly scrambled eggs
Homemade ice cream
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.
Pregnant women should always cook eggs thoroughly or use pasteurized eggs.
5. Organ Meat
Organ meat is a great source of several nutrients.
These include iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A and copper — all of which are good for an expectant mother and her child.
However, eating too much animal-based vitamin A (preformed vitamin A) is not recommended during pregnancy.
It may cause vitamin A toxicity, as well as abnormally high copper levels, which can result in birth defects and liver toxicit.
Therefore, pregnant women should not eat organ meat more than once a week.
Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world and mainly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and cocoa.
Pregnant women are generally advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, or about 2–3 cups of coffee.
Caffeine is absorbed very quickly and passes easily into the placenta and fetus.
Because unborn babies and their placentas don’t have the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, high levels can build up.
High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.
Low birth weight — defined as less than 5 lbs, 8 oz (or 2.5 kg) — is associated with an increased risk of infant death and a higher risk of chronic diseases in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
7. Raw Sprouts
Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean sprouts, may be contaminated with Salmonella.
The humid environment required by seeds to start sprouting is ideal for these kinds of bacteria, and they’re almost impossible to wash off.
For this reason, pregnant women are advised to avoid raw sprouts altogether. However, sprouts are safe to consume after they have been cooked.
8. Unwashed Produce
The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria and parasites.
These include Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, which can be acquired from the soil or through handling.
Contamination can occur at any time during production, harvest, processing, storage, transportation or retail.
Bacteria can harm both the mother and her unborn baby. One very dangerous parasite that may linger on fruits and vegetables is called Toxoplasma.
The majority of people who get Toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, while others may feel like they have the flu for a month or more.
Most infants who are infected with Toxoplasma while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth. However, symptoms such as blindness or intellectual disabilities may develop later in life.
What’s more, a small percentage of infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.
While you’re pregnant, it’s very important to minimize the risk of infection by thoroughly rinsing, peeling or cooking fruits and vegetables.
9. Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese and Fruit Juice
Raw milk and unpasteurized cheese can contain an array of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter.
The same goes for unpasteurized juice, which is also prone to bacterial contamination.
These infections can all have life-threatening consequences for an unborn baby.
The bacteria can be naturally occurring or caused by contamination during collection or storage.
Pasteurization is the most effective way to kill any harmful bacteria, without changing the nutritional value of the products.
To minimize the risk of infections, pregnant women are advised to consume only pasteurized milk, cheese and fruit juice.
Pregnant women are advised to completely avoid drinking alcohol, as it increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Even a small amount can negatively impact your baby’s brain development.
It can also cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which involves facial deformities, heart defects and mental retardation.
Since no level of alcohol has been proven to be safe during pregnancy, it’s recommended to avoid it altogether.
11. Processed Junk Foods
Pregnancy is a time of rapid growth.
As a result, pregnant women need increased amounts of many essential nutrients, including protein, folate and iron.
Yet even though you’re essentially eating for two, you don’t need twice the calories— about 350–500 extra calories per day during the second and third trimesters should be enough.
An optimal pregnancy diet should mainly consist of whole foods, with plenty of nutrients to fulfill the needs of the mother and growing child.
Processed junk food is generally low in nutrients and high in calories, sugar and added fats.
What’s more, added sugar has been linked to a dramatically increased risk of developing several diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
While some weight gain is necessary during pregnancy, excess weight gain has been linked to many complications and diseases.
These include an increased risk of gestational diabetes, as well as pregnancy or birth complications. It can also increase your risk of having an overweight child.
This causes long-term health issues since overweight children are much more likely to become overweight adults.
Written by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS on July 18, 2018