Foods to avoid while pregnant

What’s OK, what’s questionable and what’s off-limits

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    young pregnant woman enjoying a healthy salad meal

    Nurturing a new life inside you requires a delicate balance of nutrients, love and care. While indulging in pregnancy cravings can be fun, it's equally vital to be mindful of what you eat to ensure the health and well-being of both you and your little one.

    You want to aim for a well-balanced and nutritious diet with essential vitamins and minerals to support your changing body and fuel the growth of your child. Just make sure you take note of any foods (like alcohol, high-mercury seafood, raw meats) that might not be safe for you or your baby. Above all, listen to your doctor regarding what’s OK — and not — to eat during pregnancy.

    Key insights

    • Avoid raw or undercooked meats, unpasteurized dairy, raw eggs and high-mercury seafood — these pose potential health risks for you and the baby.
    • Prioritize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, dairy or alternatives, and healthy fats. These nutrient-rich snacks can help you maintain energy and satisfy cravings.
    • Adequate hydration benefits you and the baby, supporting amniotic fluid balance, nutrient transport and maternal circulation.

    Foods to avoid during pregnancy

    While it's great to enjoy a variety of foods during pregnancy, there are certain items to avoid to ensure a smooth and safe journey. Being cautious about what you eat can help minimize health risks for both you and your baby.


    Consuming alcohol during pregnancy poses significant risks to the developing fetus; there’s no known safe amount as of publishing. Alcohol crosses the placenta and can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), causing lifelong cognitive, behavioral and physical impairments.

    In general, the guidance is to abstain from alcohol to ensure the well-being of both you and your unborn child.

    High-mercury seafood

    Certain fish and shellfish may contain high levels of mercury, which can harm the developing nervous system of the baby. Avoid consuming high-mercury seafood, such as:

    • Bigeye tuna
    • King mackerel
    • Marlin
    • Orange roughy
    • Swordfish
    • Shark
    • Tilefish

    Instead, opt for low-mercury seafood options, including anchovies, catfish, salmon and shrimp.

    Raw or undercooked meats

    Raw or undercooked meats can harbor harmful organisms like Toxoplasma, E. coli, listeria and salmonella. To ensure safety, use a meat thermometer and cook meats to the following temperatures:

    Avoid raw shellfish and undercooked seafood, beef or poultry due to the risk of contamination with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis and salmonella. Refrain from consuming raw oysters, clams, scallops, sushi, sashimi and ceviche.

    Smoked seafood should be treated with care. Avoid refrigerated smoked seafood, pates and meat spreads unless it's part of a cooked dish that’s reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit internally. Canned, shelf-stable or cooked smoked seafood is safe to enjoy during pregnancy.

    Soft and unpasteurized dairy products

    Raw milk, which is milk that’s not been pasteurized, can harbor harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, listeria, salmonella or tuberculosis-causing bacteria. Prioritize pasteurized milk and milk products, including cheese, to prevent foodborne illnesses. Many low-fat dairy products, like skim milk, mozzarella cheese and cottage cheese, can be a healthy part of your diet.

    Pregnant women are approximately 10 times more vulnerable to listeria infections due to a weakened immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Soft cheeses like brie, feta and blue cheese should be approached with caution, unless they’re clearly labeled as being pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk. Imported soft cheeses, in particular, may contain listeria bacteria, which poses a risk to pregnant women and their unborn babies.

    Raw eggs

    Raw eggs can harbor dangerous bacteria, such as salmonella, which can lead to severe food poisoning. Some examples of such dishes to avoid during pregnancy include:

    • Eggnog
    • Raw batter
    • Homemade hollandaise sauce
    • Caesar salad dressing

    To minimize the risk of exposure to harmful bacteria, pregnant women can opt for pasteurized eggs when preparing homemade food. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria while retaining the egg's nutritional value, making it a safer option. Ensure that both the yolks and whites are fully cooked until they’re firm. A casserole or any dish containing eggs should be cooked to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to effectively kill germs.

    Processed deli meats and organ meats

    Processed meats, such as hot dogs, lunch meat, pepperoni and deli meat, can serve as breeding grounds for harmful bacteria and parasites. It’s advisable to steer clear of deli meats altogether. If you do consume any of these, ensure they’re cooked meticulously.

    While organ meats are rich sources of nutrients, tongue, heart, kidneys, brain, tripe and intestines (chitterlings or chitlins) should be approached with caution during pregnancy. These organs can carry high levels of contaminants and toxins, potentially posing risks to fetal development.

    Fresh produce

    Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly during pregnancy to avoid potential exposure to toxoplasmosis. Avoid consuming raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover and radish — these may be contaminated with bacteria.

    Foods to limit during pregnancy

    While small amounts of caffeine, supplements, artificial sweeteners and herbal teas should be fine, avoid consuming them in large quantities during pregnancy.

    • Caffeine: Limit caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day to reduce the risk of pregnancy loss and developmental issues. Caffeine passes easily into the placenta, affecting the baby's metabolism. While moderate intake is generally considered acceptable, it's advised to avoid caffeine during the first trimester.
    • Vitamin supplements: Many expecting mothers consider taking supplements to meet their nutrient needs, but while some supplements may make sense, be cautious. Consult a health care provider before introducing any new supplements to your diet.
    • Herbal tea: Herbal teas have been used for years to treat certain ailments, but some have been linked to miscarriages. Before you consume any herbal teas, consult a health care provider first to see what’s best for you.
    • Artificial sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners don’t offer much nutritional value and can lead to weight gain. Experts recommend caution due to the limited research on their effects on pregnancy.

    Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy

    Foods to avoid during pregnancy

    • Alcohol
    • High-mercury seafood
    • Processed deli meats
    • Organ meat
    • Raw or undercooked meats
    • Raw eggs
    • Fresh produce
    • Soft and unpasteurized dairy products

    Foods to limit

    • Caffeine
    • Vitamin supplements
    • Herbal tea
    • Artificial sweeteners

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    What to eat when pregnant

    A well-rounded diet not only supports the growth of the baby and prevents birth defects but also contributes to a healthy pregnancy weight, reduced risk of complications and a bolstered immune system for the mother.

    Consult your health care provider regarding the most suitable dietary choices throughout your pregnancy.

    Aiming for a diverse and balanced diet is key to ensuring you and your baby receive the necessary nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Try prioritizing the following:

    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grains
    • Protein
    • Dairy or dairy alternatives
    • Healthy fats
    • Water

    Hydration is particularly crucial during pregnancy. Adequate hydration maintains the amniotic fluid balance, supports nutrient and oxygen transport to the developing fetus and regulates body temperature. It also aids circulation, prevents digestive discomfort and reduces the risk of preterm labor and urinary tract infections. Aim for around 8 to 10 cups of water daily.

    Healthy snack ideas

    Maintaining a nourishing diet doesn't have to be challenging, even when you’re prone to snacking. Some nutrient-rich snack ideas to keep you energized and satisfied during pregnancy include:

    • Fresh fruit with Greek yogurt
    • Hummus and vegetable sticks
    • Trail mix
    • Nut butter and whole-grain crackers
    • Hard-boiled eggs
    • Whole-grain toast with avocado
    • Cottage cheese and fruit
    • Oatmeal with berries
    • Cheese and whole-grain crackers
    • Smoothies
    • Popcorn
    • Greek yogurt parfait
    • Edamame
    • Cucumber and cream cheese

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      Is it safe to eat spicy foods during pregnancy?

      Generally, eating spicy foods in moderation is safe during pregnancy. However, some women may find that spicy foods exacerbate heartburn or indigestion. Listen to your body and adjust your diet as needed.

      Can I enjoy foods that contain artificial colors or additives while pregnant?

      While consuming foods with artificial colors and additives in moderation is generally considered safe, some studies suggest that limiting exposure to certain artificial additives might be beneficial. Opt for whole foods whenever possible.

      Can I eat sushi that contains cooked seafood while pregnant?

      Yes, sushi made with cooked seafood is generally considered safe during pregnancy. Raw seafood, however, should be avoided due to the risk of harmful bacteria.

      What are some healthy and safe ways to satisfy pregnancy cravings?

      Opt for healthier versions of your cravings, such as fruit sorbets instead of ice cream, baked sweet potatoes instead of fried snacks, or whole-grain versions of comfort foods.

      Article sources
      ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
      1. March of Dimes, “ Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy .” Accessed July 28, 2023.
      2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “ Listeria (Listeriosis) .” Accessed July 28, 2023
      3., “ People at Risk: Pregnant Women .” Accessed July 28, 2023.
      4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “ Advice About Eating Fish .” Accessed July 28, 2023
      5. March of Dimes, “ Eating healthy during pregnancy .” Accessed July 28, 2023
      6. Nemours KidsHealth, “ Using Artificial Sweeteners During Pregnancy .” Accessed July 28, 2023.
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