Healthy Diet During Pregnancy

  • Medical Author:
    Erica Oberg, ND, MPH

    Dr. Erica Oberg, ND, MPH, received a BA in anthropology from the University of Colorado, her doctorate of naturopathic medicine (ND) from Bastyr University, and a masters of public health (MPH) in health services research from the University of Washington. She completed her residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health in ambulatory primary care and fellowship training at the Health Promotion Research Center at the University of Washington.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Quick GuidePregnancy: What Not to Eat When Pregnant

Pregnancy: What Not to Eat When Pregnant

Foods to avoid during pregnancy

Pregnant women should stay away from several categories of unsafe foods:

  • ones that have a higher likelihood of being contaminated with bacteria,
  • ones that are toxic to the fetus, and
  • ones that simply waste calories without adding nutrition.

Bacteria

Common bacteria pose a greater risk to pregnant women and their fetus, so extra precautions should be followed.

  • Listeria, salmonella and toxoplasmosis are examples of bacterial infections that should be prevented in pregnancy. These infections can increase the risk of miscarriage, damage to fetal brain development and other organs, plus put the mother at risk with symptoms like diarrhea, dehydration, and fever. To minimize risk, make sure meats are fully cooked and stay away from raw or undercooked meat and seafood. No sushi during pregnancy! Deli meats, meat spreads, and smoked lox are also questionable and should be heated to steaming hot in order to kill any bacteria.
  • Dairy products can also be a source of bacterial contamination. This is why pregnant women are encouraged to stay away from soft unpasteurized cheeses. The important part to remember is that cheeses should be pasteurized; for example, pasteurized Brie would be fine.
  • Vegetables and fruit aren't immune to bacterial contamination that occurs during the harvesting or preparation process. Toxoplasma is present in the soil and can contaminate vegetables. Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.

Alcohol

  • Alcohol, in any amount, should be avoided. There is no known safe amount of intake, and drinking alcohol puts the fetus at risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and associated developmental problems.

Caffeine

  • Caffeine, whether from coffee, soda, or tea, has been associated with decreased birth weight4.

Seafood

  • Some fish, such as tuna, are high in mercury. Mercury is neurotoxic and can impede fetal brain development. Pregnant women should stick with cold water fish. Wild fish is known to be low in mercury (for example, salmon and sardines). A guide to selecting safe fish can be found at Natural Resources Defense Council's Sustainable Seafood Guide5.

Other consumables to avoid during pregnancy

Man-made food additives

Some of the man-made food additives are known to cause problems and should be avoided. For example, trans fats cross the maternal/fetal barrier, and are absorbed by fetus and may cause adverse effects on cellular membrane structure.6 Although limited research is available to quantify the risks of artificial sweeteners in pregnancy, they are able to cross the placenta into the fetal circulation and are typically found in nutrient-poor, processed foods that should be limited regardless.

Drugs (illicit, OTC, and prescription)

Illicit drugs, some over-the-counter (OTC), and prescription drugs should also be avoided. If you are having trouble stopping taking illicit drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, talk to your midwife or obstetrician to get help specifically for pregnant women right away. There is help.

In summary, avoid these foods or products:

  • Uncooked/undercooked animal products (like sushi and rare meat), including eggs
  • Unpasteurized dairy products (like soft cheeses)
  • Tuna, lake fish, and other high mercury fish
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine (in coffee, tea, or soda)
  • Trans fats (anything labeled hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated)
  • Certain drugs
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/28/2015

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