During a pregnancy is one of the few times when the “moderation is key” dietary advice does NOT apply. There are some foods that should be completely avoided and some that should be limited during pregnancy.
Foods to AVOID During Pregnancy
- Unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, and juice – During pasteurization, the product is heated to a point where the dangerous bacteria are destroyed. Consuming products that are unpasteurized increases the risk of developing a foodborne illness. Soft cheeses (brie, feta, gorgonzola, etc.) are frequently made with unpasteurized milk. Read food labels carefully. Choose products that clearly state “pasteurized” or “made with pasteurized milk.”
- Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs – In addition to taste, one of the key reasons why we cook our food has to do with food safety. Food that has not been cooked completely is more likely to contain dangerous bacteria that can make us (and our unborn baby) sick. Cook meat, poultry, and seafood to the temperatures shown. You can’t tell by looking whether a food has been cooked to the correct temperature. The only way to know for certain is to check it with a meat thermometer. When eating eggs, a good rule of thumb is to stick with scrambled or hard boiled. The yolk and egg whites should be firm. This also means that eating cookie dough or licking the beaters when making a cake is off-limits too! Sorry! 🙁
- Refrigerated deli meats and hot dogs – This is probably the one that I had the hardest time with during my pregnancy. I LOVE turkey sandwiches! In most cases, refrigerating foods slows the growth of bacteria. There is one particular microbe that thrives in cool temperatures, and it can prove to be fatal for your unborn baby. Consuming refrigerated deli meats and hot dogs during pregnancy can increase your risk of contracting listeriosis, which can lead to miscarriage. The only safe way to consume these products is to cook them before you eat them until they are steaming hot!
- Refrigerated pates, meat spreads, and smoked seafood – Just like refrigerated deli meats & hot dogs, these refrigerated foods can also cause listeriosis and ultimately miscarriage.
- Fish that contain HIGH levels of mercury – Mercury is a metal, and eating fish that contain high levels of mercury can be dangerous for your developing baby. Avoid eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish during your pregnancy. If you are catching fish yourself, check with your local health department to determine the mercury & risk level of those specific fish & waters.
- Raw sprouts – All types of raw sprouts should be avoided (alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean). Sprouts can frequently contain bacteria that can be dangerous for you and your baby. If you going to eat sprouts, cook them thoroughly first.
- Alcohol – There is no safe level of alcohol that has been proven safe during pregnancy. It is best to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy. If you have specific concerns or questions, please talk with your doctor.
Foods to LIMIT During Pregnancy
- Fish that contain LOWER levels of mercury – Eating fish can be a great way to add protein to your diet as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Some fish are lower in mercury and can be eaten up to 2 times/week (8-12 ounces total per week). Shrimp, salmon, tilapia, cod, trout, catfish, and tuna (canned light) are examples of fish that are lower in mercury. Albacore tuna (canned white) and tuna steak can also be consumed, but they should be limited to once/week (6 ounces) since they contain higher mercury levels than the canned light variety.
- Caffeine – Caffeine is a stimulant, and it does cross the placenta. Anything that crosses the placenta will reach your baby. Since it is a stimulant, it can increase heart rate and blood pressure. Studies have shown mixed results, but it generally agreed that limiting caffeine intake to 200 mg/day is safe during pregnancy. To put that into perspective, a 12-ounce cup of coffee contains about 200 mg of caffeine.
Additional Helpful Tips
- Wash raw fruits & vegetables thoroughly before cutting and eating.
- Pay careful attention to the expiration dates on food products. Do not eat anything past its expiration date!