Pregnancy Nutrition: What Foods to Avoid When Pregnant (P1)

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Pregnancy is a time of joy, anticipation, and numerous changes, especially when it comes to your diet. It’s not just about eating for one anymore; every morsel you consume impacts the growth and development of your little one. 

However, there are foods and beverages that might pose risks during pregnancy, making the decision-making process about what to eat a bit more complex.

Pregnancy Nutrition 1

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the mantra “you are what you eat” takes on an entirely new level of significance. While many foods are safe and beneficial, some can pose potential risks to the health and development of the growing fetus.

 Here’s a detailed look at the top foods to avoid during pregnancy, along with essential reasons why they are best sidestepped.

1.Alcohol

Alcohol sits firmly at the top of the ‘foods and beverages to avoid’ list during pregnancy. The impact of alcohol on fetal development is well-documented, affecting crucial aspects such as brain development, facial features, and overall body growth. 

As alcohol passes through the bloodstream of the pregnant person to the developing fetus, it can lead to a range of complications, including physical and developmental disabilities, collectively known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no amount of alcohol is considered safe for consumption at any stage during pregnancy. This abstinence is critical for safeguarding the well-being and healthy development of the unborn child.

2.Raw or Undercooked Seafood and All Shellfish

Raw or undercooked seafood and shellfish carry the risk of contamination with various bacteria, viruses, and parasites, including salmonella, listeria, and toxoplasma, all of which can lead to foodborne illnesses. 

These pathogens may pose severe threats to both the mother and the fetus, leading to conditions like miscarriage, preterm labor, or other serious health complications. It’s advisable to opt for fully cooked seafood and shellfish to eliminate these potential risks and ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Table 1: Recommended Seafood and Shellfish Consumption during Pregnancy

Safe to Consume Unsafe to Consume
Cooked shrimp Raw oysters
Cooked crab Raw sushi
Cooked lobster Undercooked scallops
Canned tuna Undercooked mussels

3.High-Mercury Fish

Certain fish varieties contain high levels of mercury, a toxic metal that can adversely affect the nervous system development of the fetus.

 Exposure to excessive mercury during pregnancy can lead to impairments in cognitive function, attention, and memory in the child. To minimize these risks, it’s essential to avoid fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, while opting for low-mercury alternatives like salmon, catfish, and tilapia.

List 1: High-Mercury Fish to Avoid during Pregnancy

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish

4.Raw and Undercooked Meat

Consuming raw or undercooked meat presents a significant risk of bacterial and parasitic infections, including toxoplasmosis, E. coli, and salmonella. 

These infections can result in severe illness for both the mother and the developing fetus, potentially leading to complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth defects. Proper cooking and hygiene practices are crucial to mitigate these risks, ensuring that all meats are cooked to a safe internal temperature before consumption.

The above-mentioned foods represent only a fraction of the dietary considerations necessary during pregnancy. Each category of restricted foods presents its unique set of challenges and potential dangers. However, by maintaining vigilance and adhering to proper dietary guidelines, expecting mothers can navigate these obstacles to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

5.Processed meat 

Hot dogs, cold cuts and deli meat are all examples of things you might want to avoid eating while pregnant. These “ready to eat” meats can also contain harmful bacteria or viruses. The FDA does say it’s OK to eat these types of meat, though, if they’re “reheated to steaming hot.” Piping hot bologna, anyone? 

6.Raw eggs 

Undercooked or raw eggs pose the same foodborne illness threat to pregnant people, so it’s best to avoid them. 

Some popular homemade food items that might contain raw eggs include hollandaise sauce, Caesar dressing, aioli dip and mayonnaise (but store-bought dressings and dips are typically safe because they’re made with pasteurized eggs, according to the FDA). It’s also important to cook your eggs thoroughly. That means firm scrambled eggs and hard yolks. 

7.Unwashed fruits and vegetables

You can blame listeria and the other common foodborne illnesses again, but the FDA recommends pregnant people wash their fruits and veggies in the case they’ve been contaminated.

 You should use plain water, scrub away the dirt with a vegetable brush (if you have one) and remove bruises or cuts that can harbor bacteria, per the FDA

8.Unpasteurized milk and cheese

If your cheese or milk product has “unpasteurized” on the label, it’s best to skip because the potential infection with Listeria could lead to miscarriage, preterm delivery or affect a newborn. 

Goat cheese, feta, Brie, blue cheese, Camembert and queso fresco or blanco typically contain unpasteurized milk and are best to avoid, Parents reported. 

Hispanic people who are pregnant might be much more susceptible to listeriosis because their diets are more likely to include soft cheeses like queso fresco or blanco, panela and asadero. If queso blanco and queso fresco are made with pasteurized milk, it’s safe to eat. (As a note of caution, the CDC says that some cases of listeriosis have been linked to contamination in products that were made with pasteurized milk.) 

9.Raw sprouts

Sprouts, though delicious and healthy, can be contaminated with salmonella — a bacteria which causes about 1.35 million infections a year in the US, according to the CDC. While pregnant, it might be best to pass on the sprouts. 

10.Organ meat

Organ meats, especially liver, contain very high amounts of vitamin A which is harmful during pregnancy, sometimes leading to birth defects or miscarriage. Types of synthetic vitamin A like retinol and the acne medication isotretinoin (formerly called Accutane) should also be avoided during pregnancy for this reason.