Which Foods To Eat And Avoid During Pregnancy?
When you're pregnant, it can seem like advice comes at you from every direction. From advice on vitamins and supplements to diet, the amount of information can be overwhelming, especially for a first-time mother.
But when it comes to diet, you don't need to panic. Most foods are okay in moderation, but there are some that should be avoided altogether. We've put together a list of 7 foods to avoid during your pregnancy, as well as 7 foods to incorporate regularly into your diet to promote a healthy baby.
7 foods to avoid during pregnancy
During pregnancy, your nutrition is essential to the health of your growing baby. Eliminating certain foods from your diet will dramatically lower the risk of certain health issues that can be detrimental to you and your baby. Some foods should be cut out completely, while others can still be consumed under certain conditions.
1. Raw or undercooked meat
Eating raw or undercooked meat while pregnant can pose serious health risks for you and your baby. A parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii can be found in many forms of meat, especially lamb, pork and venison. Consumption of this parasite can cause an illness known as toxoplasmosis, which is linked to severe health issues for an unborn child, including:
- Intellectual disability
- Hearing loss
According to the FDA and CDC, toxoplasmosis affects up to 4,000 fetuses in the United States each year. To avoid it, always make sure meat is thoroughly cooked before consuming. Avoid handling raw meat when possible. If you do handle raw meat, wash your hands thoroughly before touching any other surfaces.
Because caffeine crosses the placenta, it affects your baby directly. While your body is capable of fully metabolizing caffeine, your baby's is not. Any amount of caffeine can affect their sleep and movement patterns. Excess consumption of caffeine during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight and even miscarriage.
But don't worry: you don't need to cut your morning coffee out completely. It is advised that caffeine intake be limited to less than 200mg per day while pregnant. A standard cup of filtered coffee contains about 140mg of caffeine, so you can still have your cup of coffee, just don't go overboard.
3. Raw or partially cooked eggs
Growing up, we all heard our parents warn us not to eat raw cookie dough because it contains raw eggs. Raw or undercooked eggs may carry Salmonella bacteria, which causes food poisoning. Many foods may contain raw eggs, including:
- Eggs benedict
- Hollandaise sauce
- Egg nog
- Raw batter or dough
- Homemade ice cream
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and shouldn't be cut out completely; just make sure any eggs you consume have been fully cooked to 160°F. You can also look for pasteurized eggs, which have been heat-processed to kill any harmful bacteria, as an extra step of precaution.
4. Fish with high levels of mercury
While a lot of fish is packed with protein and nutrients that can help your baby grow, some fish is notorious for containing high levels of the metal mercury. Consumption of mercury can have negative effects on the central nervous system, which is especially detrimental to a developing fetus.
When eating fish and seafood, it's important to know which kinds of fish contain a lot of mercury so that you can avoid them during pregnancy. Fish to avoid include:
- Bigeye tuna
- King mackerel
Instead, stick to fish that is low in mercury, like salmon, tilapia or flounder. These fish provide nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids without harmful mercury. Always make sure any fish or meat you consume while pregnant is fully cooked.
5. Unpasteurized juice, milk or dairy products
Most commercially sold milk is pasteurized to destroy harmful bacteria. However, some dairy products are made with unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized milk can carry Listeria, E. Coli or Salmonella, each of which can cause significant health issues for you or your baby. Check the labels of all dairy products before consuming to be sure that they are fully pasteurized.
Unpasteurized juices and ciders can also carry harmful bacteria. They have been linked to outbreaks of E. Coli,which can cause liver failure and even death. Always make sure you only consume juice and cider that has been pasteurized.
6. Soft and mould-ripened cheeses
Many soft cheeses, like brie and feta, should be avoided during pregnancy. Unlike hard cheeses, soft cheeses contain more moisture and are less acidic, making them more likely to foster harmful bacteria. Additionally, many soft cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk.
But if you love soft cheese, don't worry; some soft cheeses are still safe to consume, including mozzarella, feta and cottage cheese. Processed cheese like string cheese is also safe, as it has been treated to eliminate bacteria.
Mould-ripened cheeses, including gorgonzola and brie, should also be avoided. Instead, opt for hard cheeses like parmesan and cheddar.
7. Lunch meat and hot dogs
The dangerous Listeria bacteria can grow in temperatures around 40°F or lower. Most lunch meats and hot dogs are susceptible to this bacteria since they are often kept at regular refrigerated temperatures. These products are at a high risk of carrying Listeria and should be avoided during pregnancy. However, if they are reheated to at least 160°F, the bacteria will be destroyed and they will be safe to eat.
7 best foods to eat during pregnancy
As important as it is to avoid certain foods, it's just as important to make sure you're fueling up with the right nutrients and minerals for your baby's growth. Maintaining a vitamin- and nutrient-rich diet will promote healthy growth and development for your fetus. Not sure where to start? We've put together 7 of the best foods to eat during pregnancy.
1. Pasteurized dairy products
Dairy is a great source of calcium, which is essential for the health of both you and your growing baby. As long as it is pasteurized to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria, dairy should be included regularly in your diet.
Look for pasteurized milk and cheese, as well as yogurts. These provide high levels of calcium that promote strong bone development in both you and your fetus. In some studies, consumption of dairy during pregnancy was shown to have a positive impact on fetal growth and birth weight.
2. Sweet potatoes
Rich in antioxidants and vitamin A, sweet potatoes are a superfood to include in your diet. With as much vitamin A as most leafy greens, these sweet-tasting potatoes provide numerous health benefits when compared to regular white potatoes. Vitamin A is essential for proper cell growth, especially during pregnancy and lactation.
Their anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to reduce inflammation in brain and nerve tissue. In addition, they may be helpful in regulating blood sugar.
This healthy carbohydrate can be steamed, baked or grilled. It's also a great way to curb your sweet tooth without indulging in unhealthier dessert options.
You're probably already at least somewhat familiar with the importance of omega-3 in your diet. This essential fatty acid is especially important during pregnancy, as it plays a crucial role in the development of the baby's brain and eyes. On top of omega-3, salmon is rich in vitamin D, which promotes immune health and bone function.
Consuming salmon 2-3 times per week during your pregnancy will ensure that you maintain optimal levels of omega-3 in your diet. Unlike some other fish, like tuna and swordfish, it contains minimal levels of mercury and is safe for consumption during pregnancy.
Packed full of vitamins and nutrients, avocados are an excellent source of nutrition for pregnant women. A serving of avocado contains all of the following vitamins and nutrients:
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
In addition, they contain high amounts of healthy fats and fiber which are essential for fetal skin and tissue development. On top of that, the high amount of potassium in avocados can relieve your symptoms if you suffer from leg and muscle cramps during pregnancy.
5. Whole grains
Starches and grains provide energy and help keep you feeling full and satisfied. However, refined carbohydrates like white bread and refined sugar can cause unhealthy spikes in blood sugar and provide no real nutrition. Instead of filling up with refined carbohydrates, look for whole grains, which are unrefined and contain higher levels of the nutrients you need during pregnancy.
Consuming whole grains like whole wheat, oats and barley during pregnancy delivers many essential nutrients, including:
- Fiber: Reduces blood cholesterol and helps you feel fuller longer
- Magnesium: Promotes immune function and healthy bones and muscles
- Iron: Is essential for carrying oxygen in the blood; many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years suffer from iron-deficiency anemia
- B-vitamins: Promote a healthy nervous system, metabolism and the formation of red blood cells
6. Cooked eggs
Eggs are some of the most wholesome and nutritious foods available. Packed full of protein and virtually every nutrient you need to maintain good health, they're a great part of a healthy diet. When fully cooked, they don't carry the risk of Salmonella or other harmful bacteria.
In addition to protein, eggs are loaded with the essential nutrient choline. Choline promotes a wide range of health functions, from the brain and nervous system to maintaining a healthy metabolism. Upwards of 90% of pregnant women are not consuming enough choline in their diets.
Luckily, eggs are versatile and easy to include in your diet. Whether you like them scrambled, hard-boiled or baked into dishes like quiche, they're a versatile and nutritious snack.
Folate, a B-vitamin that is especially important during pregnancy, is found in high quantities in many types of beans. Consuming enough folate during pregnancy promotes a healthy neural tube and birth weight, as well as decreasing the child's risk of infections and disease later in life.
Try to incorporate beans in your diet fairly regularly during pregnancy, including:
- Black beans
- Kidney beans
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
Caring for your child starts long before they're born. While you're carrying, you are solely responsible for your unborn baby's nutrition. Cutting out certain harmful foods like undercooked meat and excess caffeine will protect your baby from dangerous diseases and medical issues. Try to fill up on wholesome, nutritious foods like whole grains and vitamin-rich vegetables to deliver optimal nutrition.