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Foods to Avoid while Pregnant and Why | Balance

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman's life, and it's important to prioritize the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby.

One crucial aspect of a healthy pregnancy is proper nutrition. While there are numerous foods that provide essential nutrients for the mother and promote the baby's development, there are also certain foods that should be avoided.

In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the foods that expectant mothers should steer clear of during pregnancy, the reasons behind these recommendations, and alternative options for a safe and healthy diet. So let's dive in and explore the do's and don'ts of pregnancy nutrition!

The Importance of a Balanced Diet When Pregnant

Before delving into the specific foods to avoid, it's crucial to understand the significance of a balanced diet during pregnancy.

A pregnant woman's midsection

A well-rounded and nutrient-rich diet is essential for the mother's overall health and the baby's growth and development.

A healthy diet during pregnancy can help prevent complications, support the immune system, and provide the necessary nutrients for the baby's organ development, brain function, and overall growth.

A balanced pregnancy diet typically includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It is important to consume adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients to support both the mother's and the baby's nutritional needs.

Additionally, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water is crucial for maintaining good health during pregnancy.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

While there are many nutritious foods that should be included in a pregnancy diet, there are also certain foods that should be avoided to ensure the well-being of both the mother and the baby. Let's take a closer look at the foods that expectant mothers should steer clear of during pregnancy.

1. High-Mercury Fish

Fish can be a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, which are important for the baby's brain and eye development.

However, some fish contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful to the baby's developing nervous system. It is important to avoid fish that are known to have high mercury content, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico. These larger and older fish tend to accumulate more mercury in their bodies.

Instead, opt for fish that are low in mercury and provide beneficial nutrients. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 8 to 12 ounces (224 to 336 grams) of seafood per week during pregnancy.

Safe options include anchovies, catfish, cod, herring, light canned tuna, Pacific oysters, pollock, salmon, sardines, shrimp, tilapia, and trout. However, it is advisable to limit the consumption of white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces (168 grams) per week.

2. Raw or Undercooked Seafood

Raw or undercooked seafood, including fish, shellfish, and sushi, should be avoided during pregnancy.

These foods may contain harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites that can lead to foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella, listeria, or toxoplasmosis.

These infections can pose risks to both the mother and the baby.

To minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses, ensure that all seafood is thoroughly cooked before consumption. Cooking seafood to a safe internal temperature kills any potential bacteria or parasites, making it safe to eat during pregnancy.

3. Unpasteurized Dairy Products

During pregnancy, it is important to choose pasteurized dairy products. Unpasteurized dairy products, such as raw milk, soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, and certain types of ice cream, can harbor harmful bacteria, including listeria. Listeria infection can lead to flu-like symptoms in the mother and can be particularly harmful to the baby, potentially causing miscarriage, premature birth, or severe health issues.

Always check food labels to ensure that dairy products are made from pasteurized milk. Pasteurization involves heating the milk or cheese to kill any harmful bacteria, making it safe for consumption during pregnancy.

4. Undercooked or Raw Meat

Eating undercooked or raw meat, including poultry, beef, pork, and lamb, is not recommended during pregnancy. These meats may contain harmful bacteria, such as salmonella, E. coli, or toxoplasma, which can lead to foodborne illnesses. These infections can cause severe complications for both the mother and the baby, including miscarriage, stillbirth, or developmental issues.

To ensure the safety of meat consumption during pregnancy, it is important to cook meats thoroughly. Cooking meat to a safe internal temperature kills any potential bacteria, making it safe for consumption.

Eggs at a farmer's market

5. Raw or Undercooked Eggs

Raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of salmonella contamination. Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning and can be particularly harmful to pregnant women. It can lead to severe illness, dehydration, and even preterm labor.

When consuming eggs during pregnancy, make sure they are properly cooked until both the yolk and the white are firm. Avoid dishes that contain raw or partially cooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise, mousse, or hollandaise sauce.

6. High-Caffeine Foods and Beverages

While moderate caffeine intake is generally considered safe during pregnancy, it is important to limit caffeine consumption to avoid potential complications. High levels of caffeine can increase the risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and even miscarriage.

The recommended maximum daily caffeine intake during pregnancy is 200mg. It is important to be aware of the caffeine content in various foods and beverages. For example, a mug of instant coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine, while a mug of filter coffee contains approximately 140mg. Tea, cola, and energy drinks also contain varying amounts of caffeine.

It is advisable to limit caffeine intake from all sources, including coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks, to stay within the recommended limits during pregnancy.

Opting for decaffeinated versions of these beverages can be a safer choice.

7. Alcohol

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is strongly discouraged. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, it crosses the placenta and reaches the developing baby. This can cause a range of health problems known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). FASDs can result in physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that can last a lifetime.

To protect the baby from the potential harm of alcohol, it is best to abstain from drinking alcohol entirely during pregnancy. If you have any concerns or need support, consult with your healthcare provider for guidance.

8. Excessive Intake of Vitamin A

While it is important to consume adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, it is equally important to avoid excessive intake of certain vitamins, such as vitamin A. High levels of vitamin A can be harmful to the baby's development and increase the risk of birth defects.

Avoid high-dose multivitamin supplements or any supplements containing high levels of vitamin A. Instead, focus on obtaining essential nutrients from a balanced diet and consult with your healthcare provider about appropriate prenatal vitamin supplementation.

9. Processed and Junk Foods

During pregnancy, it is best to limit the consumption of processed and junk foods. These foods are often high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium while lacking essential nutrients. Excessive intake of processed and junk foods can lead to excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, and other health issues.

Instead, focus on whole, unprocessed foods that provide essential nutrients for both you and your baby. Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into your diet to ensure optimal nutrition during pregnancy.

Herbal supplements

10. Certain Herbal Teas and Supplements

While herbal teas can offer various health benefits, not all herbal teas are safe for consumption during pregnancy. Some herbs can stimulate the uterus or have other effects that may be harmful during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester.

It is essential to consult with your healthcare provider before consuming any herbal teas or supplements to ensure they are safe for you and your baby.

Additionally, be cautious when taking any over-the-counter supplements during pregnancy. Some supplements may contain ingredients that are not recommended for use during pregnancy. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.


Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is crucial during pregnancy to support the mother's well-being and promote the optimal development of the baby.

While there are certain foods to avoid during pregnancy, there are still plenty of delicious and nutritious options available. By making informed choices and prioritizing the safety of both you and your baby, you can ensure a healthy and enjoyable pregnancy journey.

Remember to consult with your healthcare provider for personalized guidance and recommendations tailored to your specific needs. Enjoy this special time and nourish yourself and your baby with love and care!

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