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11 Foods and beverages to Avoid while Pregnant

baby baby safety Eating Eating pregnant health Pregnancy pregnancy advice what not to eat while pregnant

Pregnancy can be one of the most demanding and sensitive periods in a woman’s life. Therefore, it’s very important for pregnant women to eat a healthy diet.

Expecting mothers have to pay close attention to what they eat and make sure to avoid harmful foods and beverages. Certain foods should only be consumed rarely, while others should be avoided completely.

Here are 11 foods and beverages to avoid or minimise during pregnancy. Eating right while you’re pregnant means knowing what foods to steer clear of. Be sure to check with your doctor first to get the full picture of what to stay away from.

1. Unpasteurised foods and drinks

Soft cheeses like brie, goat cheese and blue-veined cheeses that aren't pasteurised can contain listeria and other bacteria. Check the labels to make sure you're getting the pasteurised kind.

Unpasteurised juices like apple cider and fresh squeezed orange juice can harbour harmful bacteria, too. Keep them off the menu to be safe.

Pasteurisation is the most effective way to kill any harmful bacteria, without changing the nutritional value of the products.

2. Alcoholic drinks

Alcohol enters your baby’s bloodstream in the same concentration as it does yours but takes twice as long to leave it. It’s best to play it safe and stay away from alcohol altogether while you’re pregnant.

3. Raw seafood

Uncooked or undercooked seafood is completely off-limits during pregnancy; the risk of ingesting bacteria and parasites is too high. Raw fish, especially shellfish, can cause several infections. These can be viral, bacterial or parasitic, such as norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella and Listeria.

Some of these infections only affect the mother, leaving her dehydrated and weak. Other infections may be passed on to the unborn baby with serious, or even fatal, consequences.

Pregnant women are especially susceptible to Listeria infections. In fact, pregnant women are up to 20 times more likely to get infected by Listeria than the general population.

This bacteria can be found in soil and contaminated water or plants. Raw fish can become infected during processing, including smoking or drying.

Listeria can be passed to an unborn baby through the placenta, even if the mother is not showing any signs of illness. This can lead to premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and other serious health problems

That means no raw oysters, clams, sushi or lox. Check with your doctor for the full list.

4. Drinks with too much caffeine

Caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world and mainly found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and cocoa. A couple small cups of coffee a day are fine during pregnancy, but going over that can pose a risk. Watch for sneaky sources of caffeine, like energy drinks and soda.

Pregnant women are generally advised to limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day, or about 2–3 cups of coffee.

Caffeine is absorbed very quickly and passes easily into the placenta and fetus.

Because unborn babies and their placentas don’t have the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, high levels can build up. Too much caffeine can also interfere with your ability to absorb iron, an important nutrient for baby's development.

High caffeine intake during pregnancy has been shown to restrict fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.

Low birth weight — defined as less than 2.5 kg — is associated with an increased risk of infant death and a higher risk of chronic diseases in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

5. Undercooked meat

Even if you’re a medium-rare kind of girl, this is not the time for blood-red meat. Any meat you eat while pregnant must be well-cooked. Otherwise you and your baby are at risk for bacteria like salmonella and E. coli.

Eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection from several bacteria or parasites, including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella.

Bacteria may threaten the health of your unborn baby, possibly leading to stillbirth or severe neurological illnesses, including intellectual disability, blindness and epilepsy.

6.  Raw, runny eggs

Undercooked eggs can harbour salmonella, so make sure any eggs and omelettes you do eat are cooked through. Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella.

Symptoms of Salmonella infections are usually experienced only by the mother and include fever, nausea vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

However, in rare cases, the infection may cause cramps in the uterus, leading to premature birth or stillbirth.

Luckily for us in the UK, eggs that are stamped 'Red Lion' are safe to eat.

Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:

Lightly scrambled eggs

Poached eggs

Hollandaise sauce

Homemade mayonnaise

Salad dressings

Homemade ice cream

Cake icings

Most commercial products that contain raw eggs are made with pasteurised eggs and are safe to consume. However, you should always read the label to make sure. Your best bet is to avoid raw eggs entirely until after baby arrives.

7. Hot dogs and deli meat

Turkey, bologna, salami and ham from the deli, as well as hot dogs, are often preserved with nitrates and nitrites, chemicals that aren't good for a developing foetus. These types of meat may become infected with various bacteria during processing or storage.They can also occasionally contain listeria. Be sure to check labels (and ask your doctor), or cut them out of your diet while you're expecting.

8. High-mercury fish

Fish that are high in mercury can be risky too. Mercury is a highly toxic element. It has no known safe level of exposure and is most commonly found in polluted water. That means no swordfish, shark, bigeye tuna, marlin, king mackerel and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, to name a few. Also stay away from fish that may contain high levels of contaminants. These include grouper, albacore tuna, non-organic farmed salmon, amberjack and mahi-mahi, among others. 

Consuming low-mercury fish during pregnancy is very healthy, and these fish can be eaten up to 2 times per week. Fatty fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for your baby.

9. Raw sprouts

This crunchy snack is normally healthy — but you’ll have to put it aside for now. Raw sprouts have been linked to E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, so leave them out of your diet during pregnancy.

10. Organ meat

Organ meat is a great source of many nutrients. These include iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A and copper — all of which are good for an expectant mother and her child.

However, eating too much animal-based vitamin A (preformed vitamin A) is not recommended during pregnancy.

It may cause vitamin A toxicity, as well as abnormally high copper levels, which can result in birth defects and liver toxicity.

Therefore, pregnant women should not eat organ meat more than once a week.

11. Unwashed produce

The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with several bacteria and parasites. These include Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, which can be acquired from the soil or through handling.

Contamination can occur at any time during production, harvest, processing, storage, transportation or retail.

Bacteria can harm both the mother and her unborn baby. One very dangerous parasite that may linger on fruits and vegetables is called Toxoplasma.

The majority of people who get Toxoplasmosis have no symptoms, while others may feel like they have the flu for a month or more.

Most infants who are infected with Toxoplasma while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth. However, symptoms such as blindness or intellectual disabilities may develop later in life.

What’s more, a small percentage of infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.

While you’re pregnant, it’s very important to minimise the risk of infection by thoroughly rinsing, peeling or cooking fruits and vegetables.

It’s best to avoid the foods on this list as much as possible. Don't worry if you've accidentally consumed any of these foods or drinks. Just check with your doctor and keep a little list handy of what to avoid. Your health and that of your unborn child should come first. 

Next week we will explore the 13 foods to eat when pregnant. Happy eating!


Health information is based on ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), What to Expect books by Heidi Murkoff, and Healthline Parenthood.

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