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Forbidden Foods – What Not To Eat When Pregnant

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“What not to eat while pregnant?” becomes a very pressing question when you become pregnant. No more unhealthy snacks, rare steak, sushi, and caffeinated products that you love and relish.

There is a long list of things you cannot eat. However, on the plus side, for once in your life (unless you are a health nut), you will eat healthy.

The hardest things to give up, for me, were caffeine, sushi and underdone meats. But as much as I loved my early morning coffee and rare steaks, the risks to my baby were just too high to continue consuming these foods.

This article is written in an effort to provide you with a guide to risk-free eating during your pregnancy. It includes listings of:

  • Risky foods to avoid when pregnant
  • Food-related diseases
  • Unhealthy food types to avoid while pregnant



Foods that pregnant women should AVOID consuming include:

  • Fish with high levels of mercury: Avoid eating types of fish that may carry high levels of mercury in their bodies. Large ocean fish for example swordfish, mackerel, monkfish, and shark can carry high levels of mercury. Exposure to mercury can have severe repercussions for your unborn child. Instead, try to switch to types of fish with less risk of high mercury content. For an exhaustive list of seafood to consume during pregnancy and breastfeeding, refer to our forthcoming article Fishy Business – Safe and Unsafe Fish to Consume While Pregnant or Breastfeeding
  • Raw/undercooked fish and shellfish: Avoid consuming any foods containing raw or undercooked fish and shellfish. These include raw sushi, sashimi, shellfish, ceviches, tartars, carpaccios, etc. This is because raw/undercooked fish and shellfish can cause parasitic infections, which can to be very detrimental to a fetus’s well-being. Instead, try eating cooked alternatives such as sushi rolls with cooked fish, grilled or curried fish/shellfish.
  • Deli meat and meat spreads: Deli meats can carry listeria which can give pregnant women listeriosis, a disease that can be very harmful for a fetus. The same goes for meat spreads and pates. Instead, eat grilled or baked meats.
  • Smoked seafood: Try not to consume any cold smoked seafood (usually found in delis and grocery stores) due to the risk of catching listeriosis caused by listeria contamination.
  • Raw/undercooked meat: Raw or undercooked meat can cause salmonellosis and toxoplasmosis, both of which can pose a very serious threat to the fetus. If you feel it is sacrilegious to eat overdone Fillet Mignon, switch to types of meats that taste good when well-done.
  • Fish that was potentially exposed to pollutants: When you buy fish from small local vendors make sure you know where your fish came from. Some local lakes and streams can be contaminated with industrial pollutants and can cause severe harm to your unborn child.
  • Raw eggs: Foods that contain raw eggs (e.g., some sauces, dressings and desserts) expose you to the risk of contracting salmonellosis.
  • Unpasteurized milk and milk products: Unpasteurized milk may contain listeria which can cause listeriosis. If you are pregnant, make sure that any milk you drink is pasteurized and any milk product that you consume is made from pasteurized milk. Try and avoid soft cheeses like feta, gorgonzola, brie, camembert, etc. as these cheeses are usually made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables: Ensure that all raw fruits and vegetables that you eat are washed thoroughly before consumption to avoid the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.
  • Caffeine: Some research indicates that caffeine might be correlated to premature birth, miscarriages and babies with low birth weight. Avoid caffeine in your first trimester. If you want to consume caffeine in your second and third trimesters, limit your intake to less than 200 mg (equivalent to approximately two mugs of coffee or tea and 2-4 cans of soda). Remember that chocolate also contains caffeine. Just be aware of the amount of caffeine in all caffeinated products or better still switch to caffeine free alternatives like decaffeinated coffee/ tea, juice, ginger ale, sprite, etc.
  • Alcohol: No alcohol should be consumed in your first trimester. Talk to your pediatrician about alcohol consumption in your second and third trimesters.

There are healthier alternatives to most of the food and drinks mentioned above. Be creative and substitute the aforementioned foods with less-risky options.



Here is a list of the most common types of food related diseases (some of which have been mentioned above) that can prove to be very harmful for fetuses:

  • Listeriosis: Pregnant women are more susceptible to catching listeriosis than non-pregnant, healthy women. Listeriosis is an infection that is contracted when someone eats food that has been contaminated with the bacteria listeria monocytogenes. Listeriosis can cause severe problems for pregnant women such as miscarriage, premature delivery, and infection to the newborn, stillbirth or neonatal death.
  • Mercury: Once mercury enters the human body, it acts as a neurotoxin, interfering with the brain and nervous system. Exposure to mercury can be particularly hazardous for pregnant women as it may impair the fetus’s neurological development. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to mercury in-uteri.
  • Parasitic Infections: Pregnant women who contract parasitic infections could suffer from liver or gastrointestinal problems that might in turn affect the fetus. Some parasitic infections can cause anemia and serious malnourishment in pregnant women and can even lead to miscarriages.
  • Salmonellosis: Salmonellosis is a very common food infection that occurs when foods containing the Salmonella bacteria are consumed. The bacteria are spread through direct or indirect contact with the intestinal contents or waste of animals. Salmonellosis in pregnant women may produce severe disease and death of the fetus, even when the infection in pregnant women is mild. There are reported cases of intrauterine death, premature delivery and neonatal infection due to Salmonellosis.
  • Toxoplasmosis: This is caused by a parasite which can potentially be contracted by consuming raw or rare meat. Even though toxoplasmosis is rare, if contracted, it can cross the placenta and cause abnormalities of the retina in the fetus, low birth weight, premature birth, fever, jaundice, mental retardation, abnormal head size, convulsions, and brain calcification.




Here is a list of the types of food pregnant women should try and avoid:

  • Processed carbohydrates: These include foods made from refined white grains which have a high glycolic index (glycemic index measures the effects of carbohydrates in food on blood sugar levels). Most popular junk food such as crisps, cookies, etc. fall into this category. Additionally, this group also includes white bread, white rice, white pita bread, etc. Healthier alternatives include whole grain products, vegetables, fruits and beans. 
  • Refined and processed sugar: This includes all foods that contain sugar that has been processed to the point that the sugar particles are extremely fine. Types of refined sugars include white sugar, refined honey, refined maple syrup and refined corn syrup. Examples of common types of foods that contain refined sugar includes: sodas, candy bars, doughnuts, ice cream and most commercially made desserts.
  • Bad fat (Saturated and Trans fat):These include all foods that contain saturated and Trans fat including spreads that contain fats (such as butter, stick margarine), fried foods (such as French fries, fried chicken), candy bars, ice cream, and commercially produced pastries and cookies. Healthier alternatives to saturated and Tran’s fat products include flax seed oil, olive oil, wild fish (for example: salmon and herring), hazelnuts, almonds, avocados, cashews, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
  • Processed meats: Processed meats that are high in fat should be avoided during pregnancy. Examples include: hot dogs, canned meat, and hamburger with more than 15 percent fat.




Hopefully this article provided you with a good guide on what not to eat when pregnant. Printout a copy of this list and take it with you on your next grocery shopping expedition. This is a good guide not only for a healthy pregnancy but also for when you are breastfeeding your baby. Additionally, always remember a useful rule of thumb – when in doubt, don’t eat it. It is just not worth the risk.



  • Photograph credit: Copyright (c) <a href=’http://www.123rf.com’>123RF Stock Photos</a>
  • “American Pregnancy Association.” Promoting Pregnancy Wellness” http://www.americanpregnancy.org
  • “Natural Resources Defense Council – The Earth’s Best Defense | NRDC.” http://www.nrdc.org
  • “US Environmental Protection Agency.” EPA. http://www.epa.gov




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Contributed by saimaismail

Saima is the Editor-in-Chief, and co-founder of Bright Babyhood. She is a management consultant and a Columbia University alumni. She currently spends her days managing and writing for Bright Babyhood, and brainstorming ways to convince her toddler to eat. You can find her writings at www.BrightBabyhood.com.

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