Food safety for moms-to-be is my specialty. Here’s a list of 7 foods to avoid when you’re pregnant, plus a list of the best foods for pregnancy too!
Most foods are completely safe for you to enjoy without worry. However, there are some foods that should be avoided during pregnancy (or even when you’re TRYING to get pregnant). These foods can be potentially harmful to a developing baby as well as a pregnant mom. The risk isn’t the food itself, but the potential for the food to contain harmful bacteria that can lead to food poisoning—think salmonella, E. coli, or listeria. Foods that are raw and unpasteurized are often a risk. You so do not want food poisoning while you are pregnant, so it’s better to skip these foods. It’s not forever—just 40 weeks (give or take)!
Here’s why food safety is so important during pregnancy
The thing is, when you are pregnant, your immunity to certain foodborne pathogens decreases, so you and your unborn babe are at higher risk for food poisoning. Take listeria, for example: studies show that the incidence of listeria among pregnant women remains about 20 times higher compared with the general population.[i] And it’s not just dealing with some mild diarrhea. Listeria can cause miscarriage. The good news is that food manufacturers take measures to reduce things like listeria, so it’s rare that you’d get sick from eating any of these foods. But mistakes still happen. Better to be safe, right?
But, take a deep breath first, and don’t worry
Okay, so raise your hand if you read that list and freaked out because you totally ate Brie, Caesar dressing, or sushi before you knew you were pregnant? Take a deep breath. You are fine. Your baby is fine. The risk from eating foods on this list is getting food poisoning from salmonella or listeria or other bacteria. But you didn’t get food poisoning—and you’re fine. Food poisoning is not going to happen now if you ate the sushi 3 months ago. You’re good to go! Take another deep breath.
Play it safe by avoiding these foods while pregnant:
- Certain fish and shellfish
- Some meats
- Undercooked eggs
- Some dairy foods
- Unpasteurized juices
- Unwashed veggies
- What to know about fish and mercury during pregnancy
1. Certain fish and shellfish
- Refrigerated, smoked seafood like smoked salmon (lox) or smoked trout
- Raw fish or shellfish: Yes, this includes sushi. Try a dynamite roll (cooked shrimp) or a California roll (imitation crab), or stick with vegetable rolls for a while. Many people believe that consuming flash-frozen raw fish from reputable sushi restaurants is low-risk. But low-risk isn’t no-risk, and ultimately, it’s up to you. If you do eat sushi, make sure it’s low-mercury fish.
- High-mercury fish (see more info down below)
2. Some meats
- Deli meats and hotdogs: Only eat them if you cook them thoroughly until steaming.
- Raw meat: This includes raw chicken, beef, pork, lamb, etc. And by raw, we mean both really raw (like steak tartare) and sorta raw, as in you didn’t cook it well enough. For $10, invest in a meat thermometer to ensure you are cooking your meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature. Use this chart on safe cooking temperatures as your guide.
3. Undercooked eggs
Eggs are extremely nutritious and are perfectly safe to consume during pregnancy if cooked well (aren’t raw, undercooked or runny). But certain sauces, spreads, and drinks, such as Caesar salad dressing, hollandaise sauce, unpasteurized eggnog, custard, and homemade ice cream, may contain raw eggs, so it’s important to ask questions. Commercially manufactured ice cream, dressings, mayonnaise, and eggnog are made with pasteurized eggs and do not increase the risk of salmonella.
4. Certain dairy products
Milk and milk products are also very nutritious and are safe to consume during pregnancy for the most part. But milk or cheese made with unpasteurized milk should be avoided due to the risk of listeria. Experts disagree about the safety of soft cheeses like Brie, feta, and goat. Some say they are fine if they are pasteurized, and some say not to consume them in any format. If you want to play it 100% safe, avoid soft cheese altogether during pregnancy (including feta and goat). If you can’t live without feta cheese (hello, Greek salad), make sure that the cheese is pasteurized by checking on the label or calling the manufacturer.
5. Unpasteurized juices
Was the fruit washed before it was juiced? Was the equipment properly sanitized? Was it kept refrigerated?Not sure? Skip it. Washing and then juicing at home should be fine as long as fruits and vegetables are washed properly and equipment is sanitized properly. And plus, I’m a much bigger fan of smoothies during pregnancy because you can pack so much more nutrition into them (and you get the fibre part of the fruits and veggies, not just the juice!).
6. Unwashed veggies:
YES, you should be eating several servings of veggies per day while pregnant (and when not pregnant), but it’s important to make sure that your veggies are thoroughly washed to avoid any risk of Toxoplasmosis, because the soil in which veggies are grown may be contaminated.
If you’re needing plant-based recipe inspiration, you’re going to love these cookbooks!
7. High mercury fish
Fish primer: Omega-3 fat = good, Mercury = bad. You want a fish that is high in omega-3 fat , but low in mercury. Your best bets are salmon, trout, low mercury skipjack tuna, anchovies, herring, and sardines. Avoiding high intake of fish species that are high in mercury, including king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, and bigeye tuna. ) because mercury has been linked to an increased risk of birth defects and learning disabilities in children. Larger predatory fish (e.g., Chilean sea bass, grouper, swordfish) end up absorbing larger quantities of mercury, and as larger fish eat smaller ones, toxins build up and become concentrated. Unfortunately, cooking doesn’t lessen the amount of mercury in these. The fish you can eat can changes as environmental conditions change, so as a safeguard, download an app that’s up to date. Try “Fish4Health” or “Should I Eat This Fish?”
What about tuna?
There are several varieties of tuna, and some have more mercury than others (1 serving = 4 oz.).
- Best choice (2-3 servings per week): canned, fresh or frozen skipjack tuna. If buying canned tuna, look for “light” instead of “white” tuna, and ensure the ingredient list says “skipjack.” Here are a few recipes using low mercury tuna.
- Good choice (1 serving per week): Canned, fresh or frozen yellowfin or albacore tuna. Canned albacore tuna is called “white” tuna.
- Choices to avoid: bigeye tuna (not available canned – usually used as steaks, sushi or sashimi)
What about ahi tuna? Be careful here. Ahi may refer to yellowfina tuna, which is safe to consume, but it may also refer to bigeye tuna, which you should avoid. If you are offered ahi tuna, find out which species it really is.
What foods or nutrients are good for a healthy pregnancy?
Check out my article here to learn the top 5 nutrients for a healthy pregnancy.
[i] Carolyn Tam, Aida Erebara, and Adrienne Einarson, “Food-borne illnesses during pregnancy:
Prevention and treatment,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2860824/.