Advice

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy: Which Foods are Off-Limits and Why?

You know that alcohol is off the table now that you’re pregnant, but what foods should you also avoid during pregnancy? Sometimes, the things we enjoy the most, or crave the most, are the ones we sadly have to do without. This is especially difficult when you’re pregnant.

During pregnancy, your immune system is weaker, so fighting illnesses and infections caused by bacteria and parasites found in some foods becomes more of a challenge.

Keeping track of what foods to avoid when pregnant can be overwhelming, especially because some are seemingly healthy and harmless. According to the most recent guidelines, here are a few foods to avoid during pregnancy:

Common foods to avoid during pregnancy

Deli Meats, Soft Cheeses, Pâte, and Soft Serve Ice Cream

Avoid all soft cheeses, such as brie, blue cheese, and Mexican styles cheeses, that have not undergone the process of pasteurisation, which is a mild heat process used to kill harmful organisms and reduce spoilage.

Unless the package specifically states the cheese has been pasteurised, do not consume it.

But don’t worry, you can still enjoy all hard cheeses, such as cheddar and Parmesan, and some semi-hard cheeses, like cottage cheese, ricotta, mozzarella, and even goat’s cheese, so long as they don’t have any white coating on the outside (rind).

listeria warning on soft cheese for pregnant women
Source: Bigstock

Also, skip any meat spreads unless they are canned or labeled “shelf-stable.” Hot dogs and deli meats should be avoided as well unless they are heated until steaming hot.

Additionally, avoid soft-serve ice cream. Soft-serve ice cream is rarely free of bacteria as the machines used to make it are not easy to keep clean.

All food items in this category could be a source of Listeria.

Raw/Undercooked Meats, Poultry, and Eggs

Thankfully, you don’t have to do without your steak or eggs, you’ll just have to make sure they are thoroughly cooked. This also includes that delicious, aromatic rotisserie chicken. Use a food thermometer to ensure your steak or chicken reach the proper cooking temperature.

Consuming raw or uncooked meats can put you at risk for toxoplasmosis.

Raw or undercooked poultry or eggs can be a source of Salmonella. So, skip the runny eggs and that yummy cookie dough for now.

Smoked and Uncooked Seafood

Consuming any smoked seafood (nova style, lox, kippered, or jerky) is off-limits unless it is an ingredient in cooked dishes or if it is canned since it can be a source of Listeria.

Uncooked seafood, such as raw oysters, pre-cooked prawns, and sushi carry a high risk for listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, and salmonellosis.

Making your sushi at home is ok, as long as the seafood is fully cooked, or you make a vegetable-only version and you consume it right away.

mum central
Source: Bigstock

Additionally, although fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, you want to limit your consumption as they pose a risk of mercury poisoning. Stay away from predatory fish, such as sharks, marlin, broadbill, swordfish, orange roughie, and catfish since they contain higher levels of mercury.

Unwashed or Pre-cut/Pre-prepared Food

While pregnant, you’ll have to limit your salad and sandwich consumption to what you prepare at home since pre-made salads and sandwiches from your local deli, grocery stores, and restaurants can be a source of Listeria.

Raw or Lightly Cooked Sprouts

Unfortunately, even if you make your salads and sandwiches at home, you’ll have to skip those crispy sprouts until bub is born since they can also be a source of that pesky Listeria and Salmonella.

Leftovers

Believe it or not, you even have to be weary of leftovers! But the good news is that day-old leftovers are ok. Anything older than that and you risk Listeria infection.

If you do consume your day-old leftovers, make sure they were kept in refrigeration and are thoroughly cooked at a high temperature before enjoying.

Alcohol and Caffeine

In addition to foods to avoid during pregnancy, there are some drinks that are off-limits too. While some of us may crave it while pregnant, consuming alcohol while your little bun is in the oven is a no-no.

If watching your partner parade around with a refreshing cold one or glass of wine is too much, ask them to do so where you can’t see them, or ask them to join you for the next nine months. Yes, it’ll be tough, but you’ll have each other for support!

Yes, giving up your daily cup of joe is a tough one. The good news is you do not have to give it up altogether. Keeping your caffeine consumption to 1-2 cups of coffee, or less than 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day should be ok.

pregnant women using coffee induce labour
Source: Bigstock

If you are still concerned, you can always switch to decaffeinated coffee. It’ll give you that warm, aromatic pick-me-up, without the high caffeine dose.

Also, be aware of other sources of caffeine, such as teas, chocolate, soft drinks, and energy drinks.

The Bad Guys of Food Safety

It feels like there are so many foods to avoid during pregnancy. But there’s a good reason to err on the side of safety.

Here is some information on the food safety bad guys:

Listeria (Listeriosis)

Listeria infection, or listeriosis, is caused by the bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. It is found in soil, water, animal feces (poo), raw vegetables contaminated from soil or manure fertilizer, contaminated meat, unpasteurised food, and some processed foods.

This bacterium can cross the placenta through mum’s bloodstream and can survive cold environments just fine.

Although mum may show mild symptoms if infected, Listeria infection can cause premature birth, miscarriage, or stillbirth. If infection occurs late in the pregnancy, bub can develop a variety of health problems after birth, such as intellectual disability, seizures, blindness, or blood infections.

Toxoplasmosis

Caused by the parasite, Toxoplasma gondi. This single-celled organism is found throughout the world. Hosts tend to include birds and mammals.

Luckily, there is no person-to-person transmission since this organism infects through ingestion; therefore, eating raw or undercooked lamb, pork, and kangaroo meat and contact with animal poo should be avoided, especially if you’re pregnant.

Cats seem to be the most common hosts in Australia. So, do your best to avoid contact with your feline friend for the next nine months. This means you should let someone else handle the litter tray. Also, be sure the tray is cleaned daily.

Toxoplasma infection while pregnant can cause skin rashes, nervous system damage, mental retardation, liver damage, and even fetal death.

Salmonella

Infection by this bacterium can cause salmonellosis, a type of gastroenteritis, or food poisoning.

Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, fever, and headaches. In pregnant women, it may trigger miscarriage.

Mercury

Although omega-3 fatty acids are good for mum and bub’s heart, health, and immunity, consuming too much fish can lead to mercury poisoning.

High levels of mercury can lead to brain and nervous system damage in your unborn tot. So, try to limit fish consumption to twice a week and supplement your fatty acid intake with nuts and flaxseed.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and brain and spinal cord damage.

There is no known safe level for alcohol intake, so steer away from it completely while you have bub growing in your belly.

Caffeine

Caffeine cannot be considered a full-on bad guy since it has been deemed safe to consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day.

Do keep in mind that caffeine can increase your risk of miscarriage, premature birth, or a tot with low birth weight.


Being pregnant can be a joy, but it can also be stressful and overwhelming. You want to do the best for your little guy.

Eating healthy, nourishing meals can have a positive impact on you and bub. However, it is important to be aware of the foods to avoid during pregnancy and some of the issues associated with consuming certain foods can cause.

Washing your hands before and after preparing food, as well as utensils, cutting boards, and food preparation surfaces in between foods, washing fruits and vegetables before eating, and cooking all your meats thoroughly (until the juices run clear) can provide added protection for you and bub.

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Avatar of Gloria Ramirez

Gloria Ruby Ramirez is a writer, mother, and lover of coffee, twinkle lights, and rain who believes in the magical power of words. She is passionate about parenting, mental health, and the environment. She is a former agricultural microbiologist/plant pathologist with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Arizona State University. Born in the desert of northern Mexico, she is mum to her beautifully energetic son and Shih Tzu, Gerty. When not writing, Gloria can be found spending time with her son and family, reading, or embroidering.

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