Pregnancy nutrition: Foods to avoid during pregnancy

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You want what’s best for your baby. That’s why you add sliced fruit to your fortified breakfast cereal, top your salads with chickpeas and snack on almonds. But do you know what foods to avoid during pregnancy? Here’s help understanding pregnancy nutrition basics.

Avoid seafood high in mercury

Seafood can be a great source of protein, and the omega-3 fatty acids in many fish can promote your baby’s brain and eye development. However, some fish and shellfish contain potentially dangerous levels of mercury. Too much mercury could harm your baby’s developing nervous system.

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The bigger and older the fish, the more mercury it’s likely to contain. During pregnancy, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages you to avoid:

  • Bigeye tuna
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Tilefish

So what’s safe? Some types of seafood contain little mercury. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 8 to 12 ounces (224 to 336 grams) — two or three servings — of seafood a week during pregnancy. Consider:

  • Anchovies
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Herring
  • Light canned tuna
  • Pacific oysters
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Shad
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia
  • Trout
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However, limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces (168 grams) a week.

Avoid raw, undercooked or contaminated seafood

To avoid harmful bacteria or viruses in seafood:

  • Avoid raw fish and shellfish. Examples of raw or undercooked foods to avoid include sushi, sashimi, ceviche and raw oysters, scallops or clams.
  • Avoid refrigerated, uncooked seafood. Examples include seafood labeled nova style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky. It’s OK to eat smoked seafood if it’s an ingredient in a casserole or other cooked dish. Canned and shelf-stable versions also are safe.
  • Understand local fish advisories. If you eat fish from local waters, pay attention to local fish advisories — especially if water pollution is a concern. If you are uncertain about the safety of fish you have already eaten, don’t eat any other fish that week.
  • Cook seafood properly. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 145 F (63 C). Fish is done when it separates into flakes and appears opaque throughout. Cook shrimp, lobster and scallops until they’re milky white. Cook clams, mussels and oysters until their shells open. Discard any that don’t open.

Avoid undercooked meat, poultry and eggs

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During pregnancy, you’re at increased risk of bacterial food poisoning. Your reaction might be more severe than if you weren’t pregnant. Rarely, food poisoning affects the baby, too.

To prevent foodborne illness:

  • Fully cook all meats and poultry before eating. Use a meat thermometer to make sure.
  • Cook hot dogs and luncheon meats until they’re steaming hot — or avoid them completely. They can be sources of a rare but potentially serious foodborne illness known as a listeria infection.
  • Avoid refrigerated pates and meat spreads. Canned and shelf-stable versions, however, are OK.
  • Cook eggs until the egg yolks and whites are firm. Raw eggs can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Avoid foods made with raw or partially cooked eggs, such as eggnog, raw batter, and freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce, and Caesar salad dressing.

Avoid unpasteurized foods

Many low-fat dairy products — such as skim milk, mozzarella cheese and cottage cheese — can be a healthy part of your diet. Anything containing unpasteurized milk, however, is a no-no. These products could lead to foodborne illness.

Avoid soft cheeses, such as brie, feta and blue cheese, unless they are clearly labeled as being pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk. Also, avoid drinking unpasteurized juice.

Avoid unwashed fruits and vegetables

To eliminate any harmful bacteria, thoroughly wash all raw fruits and vegetables. Avoid raw sprouts of any kind — including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean — which also might contain disease-causing bacteria. Be sure to cook sprouts thoroughly.

Avoid excess caffeine

While caffeine can cross the placenta, the effects on your baby aren’t clear. To be safe, your health care provider might recommend avoiding or limiting the amount of caffeine in your diet to less than 200 milligrams (mg) a day during pregnancy.

For perspective, an 8-ounce (240-milliliters, or mL) cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine, an 8-ounce (240-mL) cup of brewed tea contains about 47 mg and a 12-ounce (360-mL) caffeinated cola contains about 33 mg.

Avoid herbal tea

There’s little data on the effects of specific herbs on developing babies. As a result, avoid drinking herbal tea unless your health care provider says it’s OK — even the types of herbal tea marketed specifically for pregnancy to pregnant women.

Avoid alcohol

No level of alcohol has been proved safe during pregnancy. The safest bet is to avoid alcohol entirely.

Consider the risks. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy leads to a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Drinking alcohol may also result in fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause facial deformities and intellectual disability.

If you’re concerned about alcohol you drank before you knew you were pregnant or you think you need help to stop drinking, consult your health care provider.

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