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12 Foods to Avoid When Pregnant: Don’t-Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy

12 Foods to Avoid When Pregnant: Don’t-Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy

We should never underestimate how important it can be to eat the right things during pregnancy. After all, you’re growing a baby (yay you!). So, in to help your body prepare for a safe labor, and to protect your baby, it’s best to stay clear of these foods to avoid when pregnant. After all, you need to maintain your body strong and healthy.

Pregnancy can become high risk for many reasons, but no matter what, abstaining from these foods will benefit your overall health.

I gotta say I’m not a person who’ll go to extremes to eat super healthy. But, when I was pregnant, I’m glad I did.

When I was just 20 weeks into my pregnancy, doctors diagnosed me with early-onset pre-eclampsia. We had little chance of making it, and I was very scared. From that moment on, my pregnancy became a high-risk pregnancy.

It was around that time that I changed my eating habits for the better, up until that point I was doing the obvious (no raw stuff, no alcohol). But there are some things on this list I didn’t know about!

Although pre-eclampsia can’t be avoided, or really controlled, doctors told me that eating as healthy as I did played a major role in having a positive outcome. It wasn’t just what I avoided, but I somehow managed to incorporate all the top high-risk pregnancy superfoods into my diet.

The following foods should be avoided or at least limited during your pregnancy.


1. High-Mercury Seafood

foods to avoid when pregnant: high mercury seafood

As a general rule, some of the foods to avoid when pregnant are shark, tilefish, swordfish, or King Mackerel.

This is because of their levels of mercury.

A high intake of mercury can be toxic to the nervous system.

This is why it’s not recommended during pregnancy or if you’re breastfeeding.

Mercury can be found in bodies of water, so if you’re eating fish from a local market, make sure you know that its mercury levels are safe.

Not all fish have high-mercury levels, though, and eating salmon and low-mercury fish is a great way of consuming those omega fatties and folic acid.

Just make sure that it’s low in mercury.

2. Undercooked Eggs, Meat, Fish, Poultry, or Shellfish

Look, I know you’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating: cook your meat and eggs at high temperatures, killing all bacteria and parasites.

You should avoid raw proteins during pregnancy because they pose a risk of having one of the following bacteria and parasites.

Eating undercooked proteins may put you at risk of:

Toxoplasmosis:

This is a disease that usually doesn’t produce any symptoms, but that you may pass to your unborn baby.

Babies born with toxoplasmosis may also be born without showing symptoms.

However, they are at greater risk of developing blindness or learning disabilities later in life.

Listeria:

Listeriosis is a grave infection that raises the risks of fetal death, premature birth, or infection in newborns.

E. Coli:

Many strains of E. Coli are harmless and symptomless.

However, some may cause an infection that can be passed on to your baby.

Women experience cramping, diarrhea, and fever.

Additionally, pregnant women who contract some strains of E. coli are at a greater risk of premature delivery or miscarriage.

Salmonella:

Salmonella infection has symptoms similar to food poisoning.

In pregnant women, who are immunologically more vulnerable, it can even be life-threatening.

Not to worry, though, as I said before, cooking proteins at high temperatures will kill all these parasites and bacteria, you can still eat them, just not raw or undercooked.

3. Unpasteurized Milk, Cheese, and Juice

As it happens with undercooked protein; unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juice are also rich in bacteria and parasites.

Pasteurization is a process in which products are put through high temperatures. And, you know this by now, these parasites and bacteria won’t survive high temperatures.

The Listeria particularly loves growing in unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juice.

Bottom line: Always drink pasteurized milk and cook well your food, which kills the Listeria for good!

4. Poorly Washed Vegetables or Raw Sprouts

Although vegetables are a great source of nutrition and you shouldn’t generally avoid them during your pregnancy, they all need to be thoroughly washed to kill germs and parasites.

Toxoplasmosis can be found on the surface of vegetables, so rinse them under hot, soapy water along with cutting boards, surfaces, and kitchen utensils.

Some raw vegetables, however, do fall under the list of foods to avoid when pregnant, because they grow in ideal habitats for E. coli, salmonella, and listeria.

Make sure you stay clear of raw sprouts, radishes, beans, alfalfa, and clovers.

Unfortunately, no amount of washing can make them safe to eat, since these bacteria and parasites will die only under high temperatures.

But that means that you can always cook them and eat them cooked!

5. Coffee and Energy Drinks

The studies of the effects of caffeine during pregnancy aren’t conclusive but they all have a negative tendency.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women avoid consuming more than 200 mg of caffeine per day.

Any more than that could lead to miscarriage, low birth weight, or stillbirth.

And although the evidence isn’t yet conclusive, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

For high-risk pregnancies, the risk can be even greater depending on your condition.

Caffeine raises your blood pressure and heart rate, so if you have developed pre-eclampsia in a previous pregnancy, have a history of high blood pressure, or are at risk of developing pre-eclampsia, you shouldn’t drink caffeine at all.

I’m a coffee addict, and I gotta say, staying clear of caffeine during my pregnancy wasn’t easy, but it was worth it!


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6. Unripe Papaya

If the outer skin of the papaya is green (or greenish), it puts it in the list of foods to avoid when pregnant.

Ripe papayas are a great source of vitamins.

However, unripe papayas are especially dangerous for pregnant women and those who are at risk of developing a high-risk pregnancy.

Unripe papayas contain a pepsin called papain, which does wonders for the digestive system! But, if you’re pregnant the risks overcome the benefits.

Papain causes a reaction in the body that is similar to what happens when doctors administer prostaglandins to promote labor.

It can cause contractions and lead to miscarriage or preterm labor.

It also weakens membranes that are vital to the fetus.

So, if you’re eating papaya, make sure it’s ripe.

7. Trans Fats

Trans fats are everywhere, which makes them difficult to avoid (but so worth it!). So, before we go into detail, don’t overstress if you can’t completely remove them from your diet, just be aware of their effects on your pregnancy and avoid them whenever you can.

Trans fats are linked to heart diseases and affect brain function.

This makes them one of the foods to avoid when pregnant, but also one of the foods to avoid in your daily diet.

If a pregnant woman consumes trans fats in excess, they can affect the baby’s brain cells. Incipient studies have started gathering evidence that trans fat can cause memory problems, hyperactivity, and emotional issues.

Additionally, it’s linked to cardiovascular diseases and may affect negatively your blood pressure.

This hidden poison has a negative effect that’s completely opposite to those omega 3 fatty acids, which boost brain development.

Try to limit your consumption of trans fats as low as possible during pregnancy and lactation, and, if you can, to your regular daily diet.

Your body (and your baby) will thank you.

8. Sugar

For non-high-risk pregnancies, eating sugar is risky.

But, for high-risk pregnancies, it can be downright dangerous.

Eating sugar may…

  • Promote the development of the fatty liver.
  • Contribute to baby’s low birth weight (due to Intrauterine Growth Restriction.)
  • Increase the risk of gestational diabetes.
  • Cause unborn babies to be prone to metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
  • Contribute to increasing the risk of pre-eclampsia.
  • Increase the risk of heart diseases in your unborn baby’s lifespan, and…
  • May cause preterm delivery.

Straight to the point: Avoid sugar as much as you can!

9. High-Sodium Foods

Salt consumed in moderated amounts is healthy and needed to maintain the fluid volume in your body.

In fact, pregnant women are advised to have 1.5 grams of sodium per day.

The problem with salt is how it affects high-risk pregnancies.

In my case, I developed pre-eclampsia because of high blood pressure, and my doctor recommended keeping my salt (and sodium) intake at a minimum, avoiding it at all if possible.

For women with pre-eclampsia or chronic hypertension, eating food with sodium may increase the risk of superimposed pre-eclampsia.

10. Soda

Granted, this isn’t one of the foods to avoid when pregnant, it’s one of the drinks to avoid when pregnant.

Soda is a big no-no for pregnancies, high-risk or not because it contains sodium, sugar, and caffeine.

As you know now, those three are risky elements, particularly in an already high-risk pregnancy!

Sweetened drinks, such as canned iced tea, or bottled juices, are also dangerous for the same reasons!

Stay on the natural side with water and juices with no sugar.

11. Alcohol

There is no safe amount of alcohol consumption for pregnant women.

So doctors recommend abstaining completely.

Alcohol travels fast in your bloodstream and penetrates the placenta to reach your baby.

This may directly cause preterm labor, miscarriage, stillbirth, and low birth weight.

Heavy consistent drinking can cause damage to the nervous system of the baby, heart defects, problems in mental and/or physical development, and partial or total vision and hearing problems.

12. Processed Junk Food

Last but not least, you should avoid processed junk foods.

The last of my list of foods to avoid when pregnant is one of the most important ones!

They contain high levels of sodium, trans fat, and sugars. And they pose additional risks of their own.

Junk foods may…

  • Increase the risk of having gestational diabetes.
  • Promote digestive problems.
  • Cause low birth weight in babies.
  • Increase the chances of genetic abnormalities in babies.
  • Increase the risk of your unborn child developing allergies later in life.
  • According to a study done on pregnant rats, babies may develop a liking for fatty, unhealthy foods.

That’s a Wrap

It all comes down to eating healthy. But you don’t need to obsess over it!

When I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, the doctors told me to eat healthily but weren’t too emphatic about that.

We could hold on for 12 weeks with pre-eclampsia, and Oliver went from an unviable baby to a preemie (and now, a healthy child).

The doctors, then, told me that my choice to eat healthily and avoid this list of foods probably contributed to our happy outcome.

Although having a preemie has complications of its own, Ollie was expected not to survive at all, so it was a big win for us.

Are you currently pregnant? What do you like to eat?

Let us know in the comments below!


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Trina C

Tuesday 13th of October 2020

I’m pregnant now and I’m high risk from a previous stillborn pregnancy.. it was my first and I didn’t check my diet or lifestyle at all! Now after 2 kids, I know much better. I ate horribly then. With my last, I ate borderline.. some days good. Some days bad.. now I’m older, so it’s another risk factor, so I’m trying. The only thing that I like that’s healthy is salads😩.. For the most part, I’m always looking for a healthy alternative. I’m a picky eater prior to pregnancy so that makes it even more difficult... but I’m grateful for articles such as this. It reminds me that I have to stay on a healthy track.

Tere

Monday 19th of October 2020

Hi Trina, Thank you so much for your comment. And I'm sorry for your loss :( I understand what you mean, I'm also a super picky eater and only started eating super healthy during pregnancy after I became high risk. But we're not perfect, mama! As you say, we just need to look for healthy alternatives. In some cases, such as preeclampsia, there's no conclusive evidence that eating healthier will help, but in my particular case the doctors assured me it would, and it did. As a general rule, looking for healthy alternatives will never hurt us! Good luck, mom, you rock! x, Tere

Diana

Tuesday 9th of June 2020

The biggest adjustments for me had to be reducing caffeine and eating undercooked fish. I love my coffee first thing in the morning and will usually have more than just one cup. During the first trimester I couldn't stomach the smell of coffee, so that did end up helping me avoid having too much caffeine in my diet. My husband and I also love sushi, so that has been an adjustment not being able to eat that anymore. Definitely on my list of foods to have again once I am able to!

Marissa Khosh | MamaRissa.com

Tuesday 7th of April 2020

This is a pretty all-inclusive list of foods that are dangerous to eat while pregnant. It really convicts me! I'm not pregnant currently but I am breastfeeding and I have not been eating as healthy lately as I normally do. I also failed frequently at eating as healthy as I should have during my pregnancy with my daughter due to food aversions.

It's pretty amazing how many toxins and dangers there are in our everyday lives that can effect our unborn children. You don't realize it until you really start looking into it. I found some shocking things when I was researching things to avoid while pregnant (read what I discovered here: https://mamarissa.com/4-things-you-didnt-know-you-should-avoid-during-pregnancy/).

But it is also amazing how resilient the human body is. Despite being exposed to so much in the environment and our unhealthy diets, babies are often born healthy - although that is certainly not a guarantee.

I am so glad to hear that your healthy diet saved your baby's life! What a motivation for eating healthy! You have certainly inspired me.

Peach

Monday 12th of November 2018

First of all, I’m so happy to hear that your preemie is doing well these days! :)

While I’ve avoided the big “no-no”s, I’ve had hyperemesis, and the good food I was eating regularly before pregnancy just wouldn’t stick. Well, nothing at all stuck for 3 weeks, but even when it began improving, it was things like chocolate and hash browns that actually worked for me when nothing else would.

I admire your good diet and wish it was still mine; I’ve come to realise, however, that each woman and pregnancy is different. Another woman who also had hyperemesis told me the only thing she could keep down in the first trimester was Wagon Wheels (a marshmallow ice cream). In summary, I’ve learnt not to judge myself for my diet, just to do the best I can and then get back on track after pregnancy...when I can drink all the water I want again without having reflux!!! ?

Tere

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

I love your reflection!!

I had hyperemesis as well, and the only thing that would stay down at first was pizza! So I totally get what you mean, sometimes, we just can't avoid it!

However, after my 12th week got close my doctor grew concerned about my risk of getting pre-eclampsia (to this day, I have no idea how she knew so early that I was high-risk), so I had to start paying more attention to my diet, and slowly I could adapt to healthier choices!

A super choice for hyperemesis in my case was frozen fruit. I would freeze it and then take small bites. It helped. I also suffer from sensitive teeth, but I stuck with it. It was the lesser of two evils!

Good luck, mama! Thank you for sharing!