Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Foods to avoid during pregnancy – Pregnancy puts you at higher chance of getting sick. Staying away from certain foods can help keep you and baby safe.

Foods to avoid during pregnancy - Pregnancy puts you at higher chance of getting sick. Staying away from certain foods can help keep you and baby safe.

When it comes to pregnancy we all know a healthy diet is essential, but what about foods to avoid during pregnancy? Are the old recommendations still valid or is there new information? We’ll break it all down in this post.

Raw or undercooked animal products

Foods like rare meat, raw oysters, clams, sushi, and unpasteurized eggs, may contain an array of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Reduce your risk of illness by completely cooking foods. Stick with vegetarian or cooked sushi varieties when the craving strikes.

Hot dogs, deli meat, raw milk, and soft cheeses

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy soft cheese

These foods can harbor listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that causes listeriosis, which may result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or other serious health problems. Soft cheeses are particularly susceptible, but you can get the whole scoop on cheese (including soft, hard, raw, and pasteurized) in this post. Never eat “bathtub” cheese.

Raw milk can be susceptible to Campylobacter and E. Coli. You are more likely to get the latter from leafy greens like spinach, but it is still a food you want to avoid in most cases unless you have a trusted farmer source and feel comfortable with the potential risks.

Other potentially listeria-causing foods are smoked fish, meat spreads, and other refrigerated foods (like pasta salad in the deli case) unless heated to steaming.

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High mercury fish

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy contaminated fish

Mercury produced from coal-fired electricity generation, smelting, and the incineration of waste accumulates in fish, especially large fish like swordfish and some types of tuna so it’s a good idea to steer clear of these fish.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that babies exposed to mercury before birth “may be at an increased risk of poor performance on neurobehavioral tasks, such as those measuring attention, fine motor function, language skills, visual-spatial abilities and verbal memory.”

According to the FDA, pregnant and nursing women should eat no more than 12 ounces weekly of seafood low in mercury, including salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna, pollock, sardines, tilapia, and catfish. Here’s a post dedicated to the safe fish and seafood to eat during pregnancy.

Contaminated fish

Mercury isn’t the only way fish can be contaminated. If you eat locally-caught fish, you may want to ask your local health department or environmental protection agency whether the lakes and streams you catch your fish from are safe.

Sometimes fish can become contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a probable human carcinogen that is known to cause significant neurological and motor control problems, including lowered IQ and poor short-term memory in babies.

Raw sprouts

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy raw sprouts

The FDA advises everyone, pregnant or not, to avoid raw sprouts because they are almost certainly contaminated with bacteria. (News to me!)

Raw sprouts to avoid during pregnancy ­­include broccoli, snow pea, sunflower, alfalfa, clover, radish, mung bean, and pretty much any other type of raw sprout.

Cooked sprouts, however, are safe to eat.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA is a chemical used to make many plastics and especially for food and drink containers. It’s an endocrine disruptor and can interrupt normal fetal development. When BPAs are built up in the body, they may cause infertility and reproductive harm. They’re also linked to cancer, abnormal behavior, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and early puberty, a known risk factor for breast cancer.

Though the FDA has not recommended that pregnant women avoid BPA, they have stated that “recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children.”

How to avoid BPA

Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages

Alcohol should not be consumed during pregnancy as there is no safe limit defined. Its consumption during pregnancy has been linked to irreversible birth defects.

Caffeine, however, is a bit trickier to nail down. I know many of you are thinking, don’t touch my morning Joe!? Numerous studies on animals have shown that caffeine can cause birth defects, premature labor, preterm delivery, reduced fertility, and increase the risk of low-birth weight. There haven’t been many conclusive studies on humans to show a correlation between caffeine and birth defects, but there are some other reasons to avoid caffeine while pregnant.

Caffeine is a stimulant. Raised heart rate during pregnancy is not recommended. Caffeine is also a diuretic which means you may have a harder time staying hydrated and hydration is never more important than during pregnancy.

Some studies have shown a correlation between caffeine consumption above 200mg a day (the amount in a typical 8 oz cup of coffee) and miscarriage, while others found no correlation.

Caffeine crosses the placenta and affects the baby. His metabolism and liver are not mature yet so he can’t process the caffeine the way you can. So the best thing to do is to limit your caffeine as much as possible and don’t drink more than 1-2 cups of coffee a day.

You may want to see the research on caffeine and alcohol during breastfeeding too.

Junk Food

It goes without saying that you should steer clear of junk food all the time, but why is it even more important not to eat junk food during pregnancy? There are a couple of reasons.

Junk food is devoid of nutrition

Folate is so important for avoiding birth defects of the spine and brain, called neural tube defects, that women of childbearing age are recommended to take a folic acid supplements whether or not they are trying to conceive. However, this advice can be extremely detrimental if you have the MTHFR gene mutation because you cannot use this form of folate. Instead, using methylated versions or getting folate from food sources are much better choices. Junk food is not a good source of folate (or any nutrients) but lentils, beans, asparagus, leafy greens, beets, cauliflower, papaya and many other fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of natural folate.

Your body also needs a large amount of calcium to grow your baby and if you aren’t eating enough, baby will take it from your bones. Many junk food products contain are fortified with synthetic iron, calcium, b vitamins, which is much harder for your body to use and can have negative health consequences. For example, high doses of synthetic calcium can cause health issues like heart disease and kidney stones. Ironically, natural calcium helps lower your risk for both of these illnesses.

Junk Food contains artificial dyes and preservatives

Numerous studies link food dyes to various kinds of cancer, allergic reactions, birth defects, and hyperactivity. These finding are from the chemical industries own studies. The FDA has acknowledged that food dye Red 3 is a known carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply?! Stay away from artificially colored foods by avoiding processed foods as much as possible. Artificial dyes are hiding in some sneaky places too, like pickles, brown foods, and meat (like ham).

How to avoid artificial colors

  • Stick with organic whenever possible
  • Read labels and avoid these: Blue 1 and 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Red 3 and 40, Yellow 5 and 6
  • Look for natural food coloring if you want to make homemade treats

Unwashed fruits and vegetables

I know, I just told you to eat more fruits and vegetables and now I’m telling you these are foods to avoid during pregnancy? The truth is fruits and vegetables are indispensable to a healthy diet, pregnant or not, so it’s a matter of taking precautions against contamination.

Some produce, especially if it’s home grown, can contain a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis. Properly washing your produce can protect you from this parasite. Also, midwives can perform a blood test to check for toxoplasmosis immunity, which can happen if you’ve gardened, cleaned a litter box, or done many other normal activities before becoming pregnant. Owning a pet usually means you are immune but get tested if you are concerned.

How about you?

What foods to avoid during pregnancy did you crave? Share with us in the comments.

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a doula and childbirth educator. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 135,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.


  1. Any thoughts on microgreens? I know you said no sprouts, but microgreens are not grown in water, and I’ve read are safe for pregnancy, but wanted to ask here.

  2. Im 7 weeks along in my pregnancy and my pegestrone levels have decreased in the last few days. My original reading was at a 13 on the 25th of November and as of November 30th a 10.. what’s best for my baby at this point? My dr is doing more blood work December 2nd and suggested progesterone shot.

  3. You have papaya as a safe food to eat and it absolutely is NOT and should be avoided during pregnancy

  4. AVOID JUNK FOOD! I rarely ever craved junk food, but since being pregnant I occasionally crave Doritos or cookies! Please tell me I’m not the only one on here that eats this too! Who has the time and energy to make every treat homemade. 80% of the time I eat so healthy but if me and the baby want a cinnamon bun we are going to love that cinnamon bun, is that bad though?

    • Yessss I been craving that too

    • It’s because Doritos and Oreos have some of the most addictive additives in them.

  5. Hi! I’ve recently learned a bit (from you and others) about raw dairy and how great it is. However, I’m from Canada and don’t have access to raw dairy 🙁 I don’t eat lots of dairy to begin with, but would you suggest opting for the most natural and organic dairy I can get my hands on, even if it’s pasteurized, or just cutting dairy out? I’d greatly appreciate your insight! Thanks 🙂

    • Whatever you feel most comfortable with.

  6. I just found out i’m 7 weeks pregnant with twins, I’m scared.

    • You’re gonna do great! Look online for online or local groups for parents of multiples. They’ll be able to give you all the ins and outs of twins. Congratulations!

    • Twins are such a blessing and so fun! My girls are 6 now. They are BFF’s. Don’t be scared. You got this!!! Don’t let negativity get you down. You are a lucky mama! It’s not that bad. Yes, your a bit busier with two babies compared to 1. It’s so worth it!! You got this!!! Find some other local twin mamas to connect with and walk alongside of you. Have a wonderful pregnancy and enjoy your sweet babies!!!

  7. What about nitrates and nitrites, assuming meat is cooked to proper temperature? I’ve read some information that says it’s fine but others say to avoid. I know you can buy nitrate free but we have pounds in our freezer from a local source and I’m assuming the brats have nitrates in them. What are your thoughts?

    • These are found in higher concentrations in vegetables, specifically celery. It doesn’t appear that they are unsafe, but you should check out the video by Dr Ken Berry to get the details.

  8. A very useful article, thanks for sharing. Please share this article as much as possible with all women who are going through pregnancy, it would be of great help to them.

  9. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on homemade kombucha?

  10. I visited a local sheep creamery and sampled many cheeses (all of which were hard and semi-hard). I assumed they would be pasteurized, but asked after sampling and found that they were all made from raw milk, aged for 60 days. Now I’m freaking out about listeria! What are you thoughts?

    • According to the American Pregnancy dot org site: Symptoms of listeriosis may show up 2-30 days after exposure. Symptoms include mild flu-like symptoms, headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Infection can occur at any time during pregnancy, but it is most common during the third trimester when your immune system is somewhat suppressed. Be sure to contact your provider if you experience any of these symptoms. A blood test can confirm an infection from listeriosis.

  11. I have been craving tuna sandwiches this whole pregnancy, and I gave in a few times, I did try to stick to the chunk light as I’ve heard the mercury is significantly lower then albacore chunk white. I always found it funny though that they’ll warn us about the mercury in fish! Sheesh!

    Love your blog, btw!!!

  12. What about Kefir and home made yogurt made with pasteurized milk? They’re so yummy! but are they safe during pregnancy?

    • If it’s made with pasteurized milk, it’s safe. 🙂

  13. So should I not eat spinach then? I buy the tubs of organic baby greens. Is it fine if it is sauteed in a pan?

  14. Watched last weeks vlog and so excited for the book!!

  15. The thing about coffee is wrong. If you are still drinking a whole pot smarten up! Otherwise a coffe in the morning is fine. At our hospital you have to see whichever OBGYN is available so you usually end up seeing all six of them and I asked every single one. They all said coffee is fine in moderation. Especially if you are someone who gets headaches from not drinking it.

  16. Sushi rice is a big risk. Cooked rice allowed to cool or sit out should totally be avoided so just suggesting you adjust the comment re vegetarian or any sushi. This includes rice salad or any rice not hot from being just cooked.

    • Sushi rice from a reputable place is ok. It’s made with a rice vinegar. That eliminates the bacteria, without the overwhelming vinegar taste.

    • If the rice is thoroughly washed before hand is the risk still there? In my food microbiology class I was taught that washing rice before cooking it removed this risk.

  17. What are your thoughts on organic raw honey?

    • I’m wondering about consuming raw honey too.. Any thoughts?

      • I’m curious about this as well.

  18. What’s your milk suggestion, then, if no raw milk? I’ve been reading over the Weston A Price diet guidelines and was planning on picking up a jug of raw milk this week. It is a trusted local farm, so I might get some anyway, but I’m curious as to what you recommend as an alternative. During my last pregnancy, I ended up being calcium deficient from a run of pregnancy-nursing-pregnancy, and I broke my leg. Doing my best to avoid that this round!!

    • I actually drank a quart of raw milk the entire first trimester with Paloma. I got from a trusted farmer and I CRAVED IT! So, each mom needs to decide what is best for them. There are risks with many foods… in fact, leafy greens like spinach are particularly susceptible to e. coli.

    • Oh, to answer your question :), I would say a low-temp pasteurized milk like Kalona Farms or Organic Valley. You can also do high quality, organic yogurt or kefir from grass-fed animals. Dairy really is the best, most absorbable form of calcium.

    • There are days when I crave dairy. I feel comfortable getting raw dairy from a farm I trust. I have never done well digesting pasteurized dairy products.

  19. I have been a vegetarian for 10 years, but ever since I started this pregnancy, I can’t get enough smoked salmon. If I cook it at home the smell is nauseating, but smoked eliminates that issue. Plus, it tends to diminish my overwhelming desire for crab – which my mom stopped cooking when I was 9 years old because it gave me terrible diarrhea (even though I loved it). I have heard conflicting reports about smoked fish being safe for pregnancy. I can only find refrigerated smoked fish at my grocery store, not canned. I have been heating it in the oven for 15-20 minutes before eating. Not sure the safety of that…

  20. I know this is a silly question, but there are so many ideas out there…In your opinion/experience, what is the best/most effective way to wash your produce? I’ve done the pre-bought veggie washes, I’ve made my own spray w/ vinegar, water and lemon oil, I’ve even seen people use dish soap (I’ve not done this). Sometimes I just use good old water and a brush or my hands for tender veggies. What is truly most effective in removing pesticide residue or other harmful organisms? Thanks!

    • I hear ya! We just use water, but if you’re concerned I’d try using a little raw apple cider vinegar in your water. With organic vegetables, I’m not too finicky about getting all the dirt off – a little bit is good for us! 🙂

      • The possibility of listeria, e.coli, toxoplasmosis and other bacteria is really scaring me when it comes to raw vegetables (and fruit). I wash my produce in water and vinegar now but that apparently doesn’t even rid all bacteria. Did you eat raw produce or only cooked? The idea of cooked vegetables all summer long seems like torture. Thanks!

  21. Thank you for posting this article. What are your thoughts on raw, fermented sauerkraut? I just found some for my husband, and… it keeps calling my name.

    • Belleylaugh,
      Home made sauerkraut keeps calling my name too. I didn’t give it a second thought and was indulging in it all I could until reading your question. It would be good to know. But on the other hand there are so many things that could harm you in general and your unborn baby during pregnancy is it even possible to avoid them all?

    • That should be fine! Good for gut health too 🙂

      • Oh my goodness!! I keep craving beets! But I hear that they can be high in nitrates. So I’m really nervous about it. What are your thoughts?
        Also, any calcium ideas for people who are intolerant to dairy? ?

        • I’m not sure why it popped up under this comment! Sorry! I’m new to this whole thing

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