Foods to Avoid or Limit During Pregnancy

Updated on 27. Dec. 2018

Your body goes through many changes when you are pregnant. From morning sickness to change in food tastes, what you eat can have a huge impact on the smoothness of your pregnancy.

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Keeping yourself in the best health when pregnant is very important, and a large part of that is your diet. There are certain things you should avoid or limit to keep yourself and your growing baby healthy. These foods (and drinks) can cause major harm to your baby, so it is important to be cautious about what you are eating. EAT SMARTER has put together an easy guide to help you stay as healthy as possible while pregnant, but it is always best to speak with a doctor about what is best for your particular situation and body.


According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, there are three foodborne dangers that pregnant women should be cautious about. They are mercury, listeria, and toxoplasma.


Mercury is a metal and is toxic when consumed. During pregnancy, it can do damage to the nervous system, lungs, and kidneys, as well as the eyesight and hearing of the baby. Mercury is often found in fish, who get it either from environmental pollution or from consuming smaller fish and therefore their mercury. The fish with the highest concentrations of mercury are typically the ones that are the largest and live the longest. This includes swordfish, tuna, tilefish, king mackerel, and marlin. These should be limited at all stages in life, but avoided completely when pregnant.


There are many other types of fish that can be consumed while pregnant, and it is actually an important part of a healthy pregnancy because some fish contains high levels of omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the brain development of fetuses. Fish like salmon is a great, and healthy choice for pregnant women.


Listeria is also a concern for pregnant women. It has been known to cause miscarriages, as well as early labor and low birth weight. If the infection happens later in the pregnancy, it may cause developmental disabilities as well as issues with the vital organs.


Listeria is found in ready-to-eat, refrigerated meat and cheese products as well as some produce. Pregnant women should either avoid deli meats and items such as hot dogs, or heat them until they are steaming, which will kill the listeria bacteria. This includes items such as smoked salmon (lox) and pate, when they are purchased prepared and refrigerated. Unpasteurized dairy products also pose a risk for listeria infection, this includes most soft cheeses such as brie, queso fresco, and feta. If dairy products are pasteurized they should be safe, but there have been some cases of pasteurized cheeses causing listeria infections in pregnant women.


Some produce may contain the listeria bacteria if they are grown and harvested in soil that is contaminated. It is important to always thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables before eating, and if you are going to drink juice either get the pasteurized varieties or make your own at home with well-washed produce.  


Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that can cause brain damage or eye problems at birth, but in a lot of cases, the symptoms do not develop until later in life. The parasite is found in a variety of sources, including contaminated water, undercooked meat, unwashed vegetables, and cat feces.


Pregnant women should make sure all meat is cooked to the proper temperature. Red meat and pork should be cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees, 160 degrees when it is ground. Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees, whether is it intact or ground. Fish should be cooked to a temperature of 145 degrees, and raw seafood should be avoided throughout the duration of pregnancy.


Women who are pregnant should also avoid coming into contact with cat feces, including cleaning out the litter box. And, all fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed or peeled to reduce the risk of a parasite infection through the dirt they were grown in.


Although not listed as one of the major risks of foodborne illness for pregnant women by the US Department of Health and Human Services, salmonella is also a concern. Salmonella is a bacteria, which can be passed to humans through the foods we eat or the animals we come in contact with. Most cases of salmonella are found in undercooked or raw meat and raw eggs. All meat should be cooked to the temperatures listed above to prevent the risk salmonella, and raw eggs should be avoided when possible. If you do want to consume something containing raw eggs, such as caesar dressing or hollandaise sauce, pasteurized eggs have a lower risk of salmonella.


In addition, alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. Although some physicians claim there is no risk in having the occasional glass of red wine, there is currently no scientific evidence regarding the long-term effects that could have on an unborn child so it should still be avoided. If a woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, the fetus has the risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Scientists do not yet know what level of alcohol consumption causes FAS and that is why it is recommended that pregnant women avoid drinking it completely.


Caffeine is another one that scientists are still figuring out. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it may cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure so it should be limited to 200 milligrams per day during the last two-thirds of pregnancy, some doctors and scientists say that it should be avoided altogether during the first trimester.


Maintaining a healthy diet while pregnant is an important part of making sure your baby grows healthy and strong. Everything you eat is in some way or another passed along to your baby, so eating nutritious, whole foods and avoiding potentially hazardous items are good habits to follow why pregnant.

Talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes while pregnant and to discuss what is the best plan for you to follow for the health of you and your baby during pregnancy.

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