List of 23 Foods You Should Avoid Eating during Pregnancy

23 Foods You Must Avoid Eating During Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed By
Megha Mukhija (Paediatric Nutritionist)
View more Paediatric Nutritionist Our Panel of Experts

A lot of things change as you go through one of the most beautiful phases in your life – pregnancy. Not only does your body change, but your entire lifestyle, your priorities, and your thinking take a pleasant turn, too. Prepare for the journey by acquainting yourself with the foods to avoid during pregnancy and ensure good health not only for your baby but for yourself, too.

Food is a very crucial element of your life as a mother-to-be. While good food nourishes you and your baby, potentially harmful food can pose a serious risk. Hence it is important to determine what to eat when pregnant as soon as you see that second line on your pregnancy test.

Video: Top 10 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

What Not to Eat During Pregnancy

Healthy food for pregnant women is vital for a healthy pregnancy. There are several things you should avoid as many different types of food can pose a threat to your child. We simplify your food choices by bringing you this list of what to avoid eating during pregnancy.

Infographics: Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

23 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

1. Raw, Undercooked, or Contaminated Seafood and Fish

Don’t worry; you don’t have to give up on your favourite seafood entirely. You just need to ensure that you steer clear of certain types of seafood.

  • Raw fish in your diet is definitely a big NO. This means that if you’re a lover of sushi, you will have to hold back for the next few months.
  • Certain fishes, like mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish contain high levels of mercury in them, and mercury consumption during pregnancy could lead to delayed development and brain damage to your child. Opt instead for fish like chunk light tuna which has low levels of mercury and can be consumed in moderate amounts. It is best to avoid refrigerated and smoked seafood as it may be contaminated with Listeria, a harmful bacterium. Being exposed to Listeria during pregnancy can put you at an increased risk of preterm birth, or an infection spreading to the newborn.
  • A few kinds of fish may have been raised in contaminated water bodies, like bluefish, salmon, walleye, trout, and striped bass. These fishes are exposed to high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), which is extremely unhealthy for both mother and child. Exposure to PCB while pregnant can also have a negative impact on your baby’s immune system.
  • Raw and undercooked shellfish like clams, mussels, and oysters, carry a majority of the seaborne illnesses. While cooking them can prevent some diseases, they won’t affect the algae-borne diseases. This is why it is a good idea to avoid shellfish entirely during pregnancy

Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which should be a part of your diet as it helps in the baby’s brain development. During pregnancy, you only have to be more cautious when consuming fish. A good idea is to try sticking to freshwater seafood during your pregnancy. This includes salmon, shrimp, trout and sardines. Also, instead of raw fish, try having fish that is cooked at 145℉. Cooking helps destroy many potential infections and toxins present in seafood, thus protecting you and your baby from harm.

2. Raw or Soft Boiled Eggs

Eggs can be almost irresistible when they’re cooked perfectly. Many of us enjoy eating soft boiled or undercooked eggs. However, during pregnancy, they’re definitely a big no-no as they may be contaminated with salmonella which is a bacterium that causes diarrhoea and vomiting. You should also avoid other foods and desserts which are made from raw eggs, including custards and mousse.

The best way to have an egg during pregnancy is by cooking it until the yolk is firm. Otherwise, head for eggless salad dressings, mayonnaise, and other things that have an egg-less counterpart. You can also use pasteurised eggs to eliminate the risk of getting diseases.

3. Raw or Rare Meat

It is vital for a non-vegetarian mother to include meat in her diet, but this should also be done with some care and restrictions. Research suggests that raw meat contains Listeria bacteria and must be avoided during pregnancy. There may also be some other parasites in uncooked and undercooked meat like Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause vomiting, foetal damages, and also miscarriages in expecting women.

Make sure that whenever you eat meat, it is properly cooked. It is also advisable that you cook your own meat at home with the use of a thermometer. Wash the meat properly with salt and water to ensure all the bacteria have been removed.

4. Unpasteurised Dairy

It is extremely important that you consume milk on a daily and regular basis for the proper development of your child. It provides you and your baby with important nutrients like minerals, calcium, and proteins. But, make sure that you consume only pasteurised milk. Unpasteurised milk may contain pathogens that can cause severe food poisoning. It is advisable that you avoid all kinds of dairy products which are not pasteurised.

Make sure that you always consume fresh milk which has been boiled. Always make a couple of simple quality checks so that you can avoid unnecessary diseases and enjoy a happy pregnancy.

5. Unpasteurised Soft Cheese

Cheese is a favourite of almost everyone who has ever tasted it. But when you’re pregnant, you will have to follow some rules even when consuming this delicacy. A lot of unpasteurised soft cheeses contain the Listeria bacteria and rank high in the list of what women should not eat during pregnancy.

Instead of soft cheese, simply opt for hard cheeses. Some of these are Cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese. Always make sure that you buy cheese after you check the label for Listeria-free pasteurisation.

6. Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables

There is no doubt that fruits and vegetables are extremely healthy for you and your child during pregnancy. But you may be surprised to hear that almost 78% of the people around the world consume unwashed fruits and vegetables. Not only can the skins of unwashed fruits and vegetables contain harmful pesticides and herbicides, but they may also be home to deadly pathogens like Toxoplasma gondii and Listeria. Unwashed raw vegetables like sprouts, lettuce and cabbage should be especially avoided during these times.

When it comes to fruits, the ones that should be avoided during pregnancy include papayas and pineapples. In fact, in some cultures, papayas are in the list of natural foods to avoid pregnancy and are believed to cause miscarriages. Unripe papaya can be especially dangerous as it has certain compounds that trigger uterine contractions.

It goes almost without saying that you should wash fruits and vegetable thoroughly before consuming them. You can also peel the skin off and keep them in separate utensils. Also, avoid leaving the vegetables and fruits in the refrigerator for long and then consuming them. Try cooking all of your vegetables, and make sure that the leafy ones are cooked well.

7. Raw Sprouts and Nuts Which Cause Allergies

Raw sprouts are an amazing source of protein and minerals, but they are still in the list of food not to eat when pregnant. This is because they may contain harmful viruses and bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Make sure that every time you eat sprouts, you either shallow fry them or better even, cook them thoroughly. They can still taste nice with proper seasoning.

You may enjoy various kinds of nuts in moderate amounts during pregnancy as they are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, and are highly beneficial for foetal development. But there are some nuts that can cause allergies and rashes on your body. Even if you weren’t initially allergic to them, you could develop allergies over time with extended exposure. Too many nuts can cause constipation & other issues, too. Therefore, ensure that you consult with your doctor to know which nuts you can include in your diet, in what quantities, and which nuts you should avoid entirely during pregnancy.

8. Restaurant Food or Store-bought Salads

It is advisable to be extra cautious when ordering food for pregnant women at a restaurant, as one can never be sure of the ingredients that go into making it. It is best to avoid having salads that are available in restaurants or even in the store. The fruits and vegetables used in the salad may not have been washed properly, or they may have been cut a long time ago.

You can always make your own salad at home. Ensure you clean the fruits and vegetables properly and cook your meat thoroughly. Cooking your own food also gives you the liberty to prepare it just the way you like it.

9. Unhygienically Extracted Juices

You may argue that fresh fruit juice is always a good choice during pregnancy. But raw fruits and vegetables may carry the risk of being contaminated by deadly bacteria or viruses. Make sure you quench your thirst for some fresh juice at home so that you are assured of its freshness and hygiene.

When buying packaged juices, choose the ones which have been pasteurised and refrigerated.

10. Excessive Caffeine

You might be a fan of coffee. But including caffeine in your diet is not a good idea during pregnancy. It is a diuretic, which can lead to excessive urination, causing you to get dehydrated faster. Caffeine has also been linked to low birth-weight. Excessive consumption of caffeine can lead to higher risks of foetal deaths, stillbirths, and also abortions.

Make sure that you don’t consume more than 200 ml or 2 cups of coffee in a day. Also, enlist your doctor’s or pharmacist’s help in eliminating hidden caffeine in other products like energy drinks and medicines.

11. Herbal Supplements and Herbal Tea

Many people may suggest that you start taking herbal tonics and teas when pregnant, but these may cause more harm to you than good. Some herbs can even increase your risk of preterm labour or miscarriage when taken in large amounts. There are also chances that you may end up buying unsafe or spurious herbs because there isn’t a way you can check their quality.

Avoid herbs like Wormwood, Saw Palmetto and Senna as they aren’t tested thoroughly like other medicines, and opinion is still divided on the advisability of consuming them during pregnancy. If you feel a lack of energy or fatigue, do ask your doctor to prescribe a multivitamin and continue with your regular tea instead of experimenting with herbal concoctions.

12. Canned Food

Canned foods are to be particularly avoided during pregnancy as they may contain preservatives and food additives which increase their shelf-life. Besides, the walls of the can may contain Bisphenol A, a chemical which affects the endocrine activity of your child. Due to their long shelf life, the food may also contain harmful bacteria.

Almost all canned foods can be purchased fresh. Therefore, always pick fresh fruits and vegetables. It is a good idea to choose seasonal fruits and vegetables for a meal to ensure you get maximum nutrients from your food.

13. Nitrate-Rich Food

Nitrate is a chemical that is added to some foods to prolong their shelf life. However, it can cause a lot of health issues, especially for pregnant women. When nitrates react with haemoglobin in the blood, they produce modified proteins which interfere with your body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the placenta. Some of the foods that contain nitrate in high quantities are diet sodas, bacon, sausages and artificial sweeteners. These foods also have a very low nutritional value and must be avoided during pregnancy at all costs.

14. Excessive Sugar-rich Food

You might crave for ice creams and chocolates several times during your pregnancy. However, excessive intake of desserts could increase the sugar level in your blood, which could affect foetal health, too. Always keep a check on how much sugar you are consuming in a day and try your best to avoid excessive intake of sugar as much as possible.

Remember, there is no need to turn your back to the ice cream truck altogether; an occasional treat will do you no harm.

15. Street Food

Try your best to avoid your favourite street food during pregnancy. Not only is it unhealthy, but street food can also cause food poisoning and other digestive problems. Don your chef’s hat and try your hand at preparing them at home where you are assured of quality and hygiene.

16. Excessive Fatty Food

Are you looking forward to eating as much fatty food as you want to during pregnancy because you’re going to gain weight anyway? Resist the temptation, as too much fatty food can increase your blood cholesterol levels, making you vulnerable to obesity and heart disease. Make sure that you eat fatty food in moderation.

Consume food containing omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids as these are beneficial for your baby’s development. Other foods which are good sources of these fatty acids are – avocados, nuts, olives and pumpkin seeds. However, never binge-eat even on these foods, and always exercise in moderation.

17. Excessive Artificial Sweeteners

You may think that artificial sweeteners are a great substitute for sugar, but it is not healthy to consume them during pregnancy. The placenta doesn’t filter the most commonly used artificial sweeteners, like saccharin, which means your child will be consuming the artificial sugar too. You can have them, but always make sure that you do so in moderation.

18. Unprescribed Vitamins

Vitamins are surely a good source of nourishment for pregnant women, but they can be harmful when consumed in excess. They can affect the normal growth of your foetus and can also cause preterm labour. Don’t make your own decisions when it comes to vitamins. Always consume them as prescribed by the doctor.

19.  Excess Simple Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy in your body, which makes them an important part of your pregnancy diet, too. However, be careful with simple carbs foods such as cookies and corn syrup. Although they are not really harmful to your child, simple carbs tend to cause painful constipation. Try and avoid them by avoiding foods that are made from fine flour. Instead, consume high-fibre foods like those made of wheat and whole grains.

20. Liquorice

Many cuisines use liquorice, which is normally a harmless spice. But during pregnancy, it tends to cause uterine contractions and can lead to preterm labour. Therefore, try and avoid liquorice in all forms during pregnancy.

21. Leftover Food

You may feel guilty throwing away leftover food, but you should avoid eating any during your special nine months. Even if it is stored in the refrigerator, there are chances that the food can attract disease-causing bacteria. Always eat freshly cooked food. If you have no other option, heat the leftover food in another clean utensil properly before consuming it.

22. Highly Spicy Food

Spicy food is best avoided by a mother-to-be. During pregnancy, the chance of acid reflux and heartburn is a lot higher, and consuming spicy food will only aggravate it. It can also lead to morning sickness. Always consume spice in moderation, and whenever you eat spicy food, make sure that you also have a glass of milk or a tablespoon of honey to prevent heartburn.

23. Alcohol

It goes without saying that alcohol consumption is bad for your health, not only when you’re pregnant, but at any time in your life. But in case you think that an occasional drink is okay when you’re pregnant, you’re terribly wrong.

Alcohol is another thing that isn’t filtered by the placenta and can reach your baby through the umbilical cord. This can cause not only miscarriage and stillbirth but also a range of lifelong physical and intellectual disabilities to your child through a condition called Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). There is no known safe time or safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is best that you avoid consumption of alcohol entirely during pregnancy.

With this, you have the top 24 types of foods to avoid during pregnancy. However, you should consult your doctor before you decide to avoid any of the above-mentioned foods in your diet. Consulting a nutritionist about the best diet for pregnancy will help you put together a balanced meal. Needless to say, you may indulge your pregnancy cravings as long as you do so in moderation and stick to safe dietary choices.

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