Five foods to avoid during pregnancy (and five foods to start eating)
The moment you get that positive result on a Clearblue® pregnancy test, you might be wondering how your eating habits might need to change. Eating a balanced, healthy diet while pregnant is crucial for your health and your baby’s — even if it means giving up a few favorite foods. Here are five foods to avoid during pregnancy, and examples of some of the best foods to eat while pregnant instead.
What to not eat when pregnant
Certain fish, seafood and meat products
Some types of fish have higher levels of mercury than others, and mercury has been linked to birth defects.1 Avoid high-mercury fish, which includes tuna (especially bigeye), king mackerel, marlin, shark, swordfish or tilefish. Also skip any undercooked or raw fish, including sushi.
As far as meats go, stay away from hot dogs, deli meats or refrigerated meat spreads (like pâté), which may be infected with various bacteria during processing or storage. With all foods consumed during pregnancy, you should clean, handle, cook and chill food properly to prevent foodborne illness, including listeria and toxoplasmosis.2 If you’re craving a hot dog at a family get-together, just make sure it’s steaming hot.
What to eat instead
Thankfully, not all seafood is off the menu. Cooked fish and shellfish are part of a healthy diet as great sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Research even suggests that fish helps with brain and eye development for the baby, and depression for mom during pregnancy.2 You can eat up to 12 ounces (about 2 servings) per week of cooked fish and shellfish with little or no mercury, like shrimp, tilapia, cod, salmon or scallops.
As you’re shopping for groceries, you might see products marked as unpasteurized. The process of pasteurization exposes food products to high temperatures to destroy harmful microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, to prevent foodborne illnesses.3 Unpasteurized milk, juice or cheese are all prone to bacterial contamination, which can be harmful to an unborn baby.4 Unpasteurized soft cheeses might include feta, brie, queso blanco, queso fresco and blue cheese.
What to eat instead
Dairy is part of a balanced diet and a source of Vitamin D and calcium, so you can still consume pasteurized dairy products. Stick to fortified milk, pasteurized fruit juice and hard cheeses, such as cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella or pepper jack.
Unwashed fruits and vegetables
Like the other foods we’ve covered so far, the danger with unwashed produce lies in harmful bacteria. According to the FDA, fresh produce can become contaminated during the growing process, harvesting, storage or preparation, so it’s important to wash your food properly. The FDA’s recommendations are a good place to start.
What to eat instead
This one is easy; You should be eating fruits and vegetables! Citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli and tomatoes are good sources of Vitamin C, which helps you build strong bones and strengthens your immune system. Oranges, strawberries, broccoli and peppers help your body absorb iron, which helps your body make the extra blood needed during pregnancy. Healthy foods and prenatal vitamins work together to supply the vitamins and minerals you need during pregnancy — just make sure your grocery store produce is washed when you get home.1
Foods that are undercooked put you and your baby in danger of — yep, you guessed it — exposure to bacterial food poisoning. That means you should avoid medium-rare steaks, pink burgers and runny egg yolks. Keep dressings or sauces like hollandaise off your menu, too.
What to eat instead
Poultry, beef and pork are great sources of protein for meat-eaters. Check the internal temperature of your meat-based protein with a food thermometer to be sure everything is cooked properly. If you’re a vegetarian, you can have beans, peas, soy products and fully-cooked eggs.
Beverages with caffeine or alcohol
There is no known safe amount of alcohol you can drink while pregnant. The alcohol in your blood can slow down the baby’s growth, affect the baby’s brain and cause birth defects.2 While moderate amounts of caffeine appear to be safe during pregnancy, the effects of too much caffeine are unclear.2 Check with your doctor, or avoid both completely, to be safe.
What to drink instead
Giving up coffee might be difficult, but there are alternative beverages that help boost your energy throughout the day. Try fruit-infused water, smoothies or pasteurized juice. Decaf coffee might not have the same energy boost, but it could help if you miss the taste. And if you’re feeling left out while your friends have a cocktail, get creative with mocktail mixology.
When all else fails, water is your best option. When you’re pregnant, your body needs even more water to stay hydrated. Water can help prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, excessive swelling and urinary tract or bladder infections. Not getting enough water can even lead to premature or early labor, so your water intake is important.2
There are many myths out there for pregnancy nutrition, both while you’re trying to conceive and while you’re pregnant. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and consult a medical professional about what you should and shouldn’t eat, especially if allergies or intolerances limit your diet. Balanced, healthy meals are important in all stages of life, but what you eat is particularly crucial during pregnancy.
- “Nutrition During Pregnancy”, (March 2022), The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
- "Staying healthy and safe”, (February 22, 2021), Office on Women’s Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/staying-healthy-and-safe
- Moye, Z. D., Woolston, J., & Sulakvelidze, A., (2018), “Bacteriophage Applications for Food Production and Processing, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923499/
- Tam, C., Erebara, A., & Einarson, A., (2010), “Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy: prevention and treatment”, Canadian family physician, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2860824/