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.
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.
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.
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.