You probably know that food plays an important role in your pregnancy. You want the best for your baby, and that’s why you’re likely busy making sure you’re getting those extra calories from a well-balanced diet and taking all your prenatal vitamins. But did you know that there are foods you should avoid during your pregnancy as well?

We understand it may seem overwhelming to have to think about foods to avoid on top of general Healthy Eating During Pregnancy. But don’t fret! We’ll break it down for you.

We’ll give you all the information you need to know about avoiding certain foods, including a list of the most common foods to avoid while you’re pregnant. But before we jump into WHAT foods to avoid, it can be helpful to understand WHY you need to be cautious of certain foods while you’re pregnant.

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Why Should You Avoid Certain Foods While You’re Pregnant?

Certain foods have a higher risk of containing bacteria, viruses, and parasites which can be especially harmful to you and your baby throughout pregnancy.

This is because the hormonal changes taking place in your body can actually make your immune system more vulnerable than usual, making it more challenging to fight off these food-borne illnesses. (1)

The bacteria Listeria Monocytogenes that’s found in certain food for example, can cause a very rare, but harmful infection called listeriosis. This infection can be transmitted to your baby and can lead to complications for your pregnancy (2).

This is why it is especially important to be mindful of the foods you are eating, because everything you eat affects your growing baby too!

Now that you have a good understanding of WHY certain foods should be avoided, let’s break down what those foods are.

Foods You Should Avoid While Pregnant

Here is a quick list of foods you should be avoiding while pregnant. We’ll break down each one below with more examples

  • Raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs
  • Fish high in mercury
  • Raw or unpasteurized dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk)
  • Unpasteurized fruit juices
  • Cold deli meats, meat spreads and pâtés
  • Unwashed fruit and vegetables
  • High amounts of caffeine
  • Alcoholic beverages

Raw Meat, Poultry, Fish, Shellfish and Eggs

Raw or undercooked meats, poultry, fish, and eggs are more susceptible to carrying harmful bacteria and viruses like salmonella and toxoplasmosis.

Avoid raw eggs: For example, avoid foods made with raw or partially cooked eggs, like raw batter, and certain dressings like Caesar,  eggnog and homemade mayonnaise.

Avoid raw fish and shellfish. For example, sushi, raw oysters, scallops and clams. Not all sushi contains raw fish, so if you want to enjoy some sushi, just make sure it is fully cooked!

Make sure you are cooking seafood (and all meats) properly. For example:

  • cook fish to an internal temperature of 145 F or 63 C. When fish is fully cooked it will appear opaque and will flake easily with a fork. Use a thermometer to make sure.
  • Scallops, shrimp and lobster will appear milky white when they are cooked through.
  • Cook oysters, mussels, and clams until the shells open, and toss any that did not open.

Avoid refrigerated and uncooked seafood. For example, seafood labeled lox, kippered, jerky, and nova style. Smoked seafood is okay if it’s in a cooked meal. Shelf-stable and canned options are generally safe as well. Just make sure the cans aren’t dented or opened when you buy them, and check the labels. For example tuna labeled “light” is lower in mercury.

Follow these tips to ensure best food safety practices:

Clean: always wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after handling food, especially raw meats and poultry. Don’t forget to wash your cutting boards, utensils, food contact surfaces and reusable grocery bags!

Separate: prevent cross contamination by separating raw meat, seafood and poultry from other foods.

Cook: Keep hot foods hot. Cook foods to their safe internal temperatures.

Chill: Keep cold foods cold. Refrigerate cold foods at 4 C (40 F) or below! Never defrost meat at room temperature. Instead, defrost in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

Fish high in mercury

Fish is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fats that are essential for your baby’s proper growth and development. In fact, it is recommended to include fish in your diet 2 times per week. However, some fish have higher levels of mercury, which is a harmful heavy metal you want to avoid. Check out this resource for a more extensive guide to eating fish for women, children and families.

 If you eat fish locally, make sure to pay special attention to local fish advisories, especially if you know pollution is a concern in your area.

Some examples of fish to avoid (this is not an exhaustive list):

Halibut

Perch

Trout (lake, various species)

Tuna steak

Tuna, canned, white

Pickerel (pike, walleye etc.,) – Pickerel is not high in mercury, but higher in PCBs (pollutants)

Some examples of fish that is safer to eat more often:

Salmon

Arctic char

Atlantic Salmon

Anchovies

Herring

Rainbow Trout

Sardines

Tuna, canned, light

Raw or Unpasteurized dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk)

Pasteurization is a process where bacteria from foods is killed by the food being quickly heated at high temperatures for a short period of time.

Avoid unpasteurized milk. In Canada, milk must be pasteurized by law to be sold. However, it may still be available on a farm or at a farmer’ market. (3)

Avoid unpasteurized cheeses. These cheeses are made from unpasteurized milk and some are legal to sell in Canada. Be especially mindful of soft and semi-soft cheeses like Brie, blue-veined cheeses and Camembert. Check the label to make sure it is pasteurized, or ask if you are unsure. (3)

Unpasteurized fruit juices

Although most fruit juices are pasteurized, in Canada, fruit juices and ciders are not required to be pasteurized. And labeling as “unpasteurized” is voluntary. (4)

If juices and ciders have not been handled properly during processing and transportation, they may become contaminated. So, it is best to avoid fruit juices and ciders that have not gone through the pasteurization process.

Check for the word “unpasteurized” on the product label, and if you are unsure, ask the seller before deciding to drink the juice.

Cold deli meats, meat spreads and pâtés

Deli meats can be a source for Listeria to develop, so it’s safest to avoid them all together or make sure they are cooked thoroughly until steaming hot.

Cold deli meats can include sandwich or lunch meat, cold cuts, sliced meats and hot dogs. 

Refrigerated meat spreads and pâtés should also be avoided. However, shelf stable options should be safe.

Unwashed fruit and vegetables

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is highly encouraged for everyone, and provides many benefits to your health. Just make sure to give all your produce a good wash before eating it!

One group of veggies that is highly encouraged to avoid throughout your pregnancy is raw or undercooked sprouts (e.g. alfalfa, mung bean, onion, radish, broccoli..). Although sprouts are a nutritious food choice, they have been linked to bacteria like salmonella and E.coli that can lead to food poisoning. Check out this resource to learn more about food safety and sprouts.

High amounts of caffeine

Caffeine is safe to drink throughout your pregnancy, but in small amounts.

It is recommended to either avoid caffeine, or keep your caffeine intake below 300 mg a day (about two 8oz (237mL) cups of coffee or regular tea).

There are a number of reasons why you should limit your caffeine intake while you are pregnant (5):

  • Caffeine is a stimulant as well as a diuretic, meaning it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure which is not ideal during your pregnancy.
  • Caffeine can disrupt you and your baby’s normal sleep patterns. 
  • Caffeine can increase your need to urinate, which could lead to dehydration and loss of essential nutrients.

Remember that caffeine is found in other drinks and chocolate as well, and your total intake includes ALL sources of caffeine. For example, tea (black, white, green, oolong), caffeinated pops, energy drinks and chocolate. check the labels to find out about the caffeine content.

Herbal teas are naturally caffeine free, however there is a lack of data around consuming certain herbal teas and their effects on pregnancy. Check out this resource to learn more about herbal teas and pregnancy.

Herbal Teas that are Likely Safe

Red Raspberry Leaf

Peppermint Leaf

Lemon Balm

Herbal Teas that are Likely/Possibly Unsafe

Nettles (stinging nettles)

Alfalfa

Yellow Dock

Chamomile

Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure your favourite herbal teas are safe for you and your baby.

Alcoholic beverages

It is highly recommended to avoid all alcohol during your pregnancy.

Alcohol consumption can be harmful to the development of your baby at any point during your pregnancy. And excessive drinking while you are pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome,

If you are finding it challenging to avoid alcohol while you are pregnant, reach out to a trusted health clinic, family member or social services who can help you get the support you need.

Final thoughts:

Food safety is something you should be mindful of all the time. But it is ESPECIALLY important to think about during your pregnancy.

Avoiding certain foods while you are pregnant can help protect you and your baby from food safety concerns, like foodborne illnesses.

Talk to your doctor or trusted healthcare professional if you think you may have a foodborne illness.