12 foods to avoid during pregnancy (and why)

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Deciding which foods to avoid during pregnancy can be confusing which is why we have condensed all the information for you.  Keep this list on hand but don’t focus on the negative aspects of eating during pregnancy. Instead, concentrate on the foods that will enhance you and your unborn baby’s health.

1. Big fish: Avoid longer-living big fish including swordfish, shark, tilefish and king mackerel because they contain higher levels of methyl mercury which can harm an unborn baby’s immature nervous system. The FDA recommends no more than 12 ounces of low mercury fish including shrimp, salmon, catfish and canned light tuna (no more than 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna) a week. See Top Ten foods for the very good news about why pregnant women should eat fish.

2. Sushi and other raw fish. Make sure to only eat cooked fish. Raw fish is more likely to contain bacteria or parasites that could cause serious gastrointestinal distress. For more on fish advice go here.

3. Luncheon meats, deli meats and hot dogs. According to the CDC, pregnant women are 20 times more likely of getting listeriosis, a food-borne illness. Because this bacteria is transferred to the fetus through the placenta, problems such as still birth, premature delivery or miscarriage can occur. Other foods that shouldn’t be eaten due to listeriosis are listed in 4, 5 and 6.

4. Soft cheeses such as Brie, feta, camembert, Mexican style cheeses (queso blanco fresco) and blue-veined cheeses.

5. Unpasteurized dairy products such as milk and cheese. Remember to include items made with unpasteurized dairy as foods to avoid during pregnancy.

6. Refrigerated smoked seafood, pate or meat spreads. Refrigerated smoked seafood include fish labeled as “lox,” “smoked” or “jerky.” For more information on listeriosis check out this brochure from the International Food Information Council.

7. Alcohol and drugs. This one is a no-brainer — doing drugs during pregnancy can cause a variety of problems ranging from premature birth to birth defects. Excessive alcohol intake during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and significantly increase the risk of still birth. New research shows that moderate alcohol intake can have adverse effects on children later in life.

8. Caffeine.  Health organizations haven’t agreed on how much is safe but most recommend no more than 200-300mg daily of caffeine during pregnancy. Adding fuel to the fire was a 2008 study showing that women with caffeine intakes greater than 200mg were at increased risk of miscarriage and another study showing that 100mg or more of caffeine is associated with growth restriction. To be safe, strive to keep caffeine intake less than 100mg/day. Not sure how much caffeine is in your favorite beverage? Try this comprehensive online listing.

9. Unpasteurized juice and raw vegetable sprouts (clover, alfalfa, mung bean and radish). These items may carry certain bacteria that can lead to food-borne illnesses.

10. Under-cooked meat and eggs increase the risk of a number of food-borne illnesses which can adversely affect your baby’s health. Cook meat to an appropriate internal temperature (chicken breasts 170, ground beef, lamb, pork and veal 160, ground poultry 165, whole poultry 180) and cook eggs until the yellow and white parts are firm. Eating foods during pregnancy made with raw eggs (hollandaise sauce) or undercooked meat are also a bad idea.  For more tips on food safety go here.

11. Herbal supplements.  Because their safety during pregnancy is not known, it’s best to avoid herbal supplements during pregnancy. Always talk to a healthcare provider before continuing herbal supplements during pregnancy.

12. Liver.  This one may not be so hard to avoid. Because liver contains high levels of vitamin A, which is not recommended in pregnancy, it’s best to stay away from it. In some studies high levels of vitamin A early in pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of birth defects.

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Previous Page: Top 10 Foods for a Healthy Pregnancy Diet

Websites

March of Dimes: Food-borne Illness During Pregnancy

References

Caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of fetal growth restrictions: a large prospetive observational study. BMJ. 2008;337:a2332

ADA Position Paper: Nutrition and Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:553-561.

Weng X, Odoulik, Li DK. Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: a prospective cohort study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008; 198(3):27-.e1-8.

National Toxicology Program: Dept of Health and Human Services