The Complete List of Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy (and Other Helpful Tips)!
Congratulations! Being pregnant is an exciting time, but pregnancy is not the time to become an adventurous or overindulgent eater. Knowing what you can and cannot eat and keeping your weight in check when you are pregnant can be tricky. To keep you and your developing baby safe, it is important to limit some foods and avoid other foods altogether.
Pregnancy Weight Gain
When you are pregnant it is vital to keep weight gain and nutrition in mind when choosing what you will eat. You will want to avoid gaining too much weight. I gained 50 pounds with my first pregnancy. At the time I thought it was great. Afterwards, not so much. It took me two years of hard work before I finally lost that extra weight I gained. My second pregnancy I only gained about 30 pounds, which was much more reasonable and it was a lot easier to lose the weight afterward.
Sometimes, if you have a lot of morning sickness, hyperemesis graviderum (see my post 14 Ways to Combat Morning Sickness), or you are underweight before your pregnancy, then you may even have a hard time gaining enough weight (although this is less common)!
The chart below gives pregnancy weight gain guidelines. These are just guidelines. Always follow your healthcare provider’s advice for the appropriate weight gain for your pregnancy.
You can calculate your prepregnancy BMI here.
Folic acid (also called folate or vitamin B9) prevents neural tube defects (such as spina bifida and anencephaly) in your developing baby’s brain and spine. These defects occur in the first month of pregnancy, which is why it is so important to be taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid if you are trying to get pregnant or immediately after you find out you are pregnant. Ideally, all women of childbearing age should be taking a multivitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid.
Once you become pregnant, the best way to get the appropriate amount of folic acid is by taking a prenatal multivitamin containing at least 600 micrograms of folic acid. If you are unsure about what prenatal vitamin to take, check with your doctor. Certain foods are high in folic acid, so adding these foods to your diet is suggested. But regardless, it is still recommended that you take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid as it is difficult to be sure that you are getting enough folic acid from food sources.
Foods high in folic acid:
- black beans
- Pinto beans
- fortified orange juice
- leafy greens
- citrus fruits
Did you know that 50% of pregnant women do not get enough iron? Iron is an important part of hemoglobin which helps the red blood cells that supply oxygen to your organs. When you are pregnant, you need about double the amount of iron that a nonpregnant woman needs. The recommendations for iron intake for pregnant women is 27mg per day. Most prenatal vitamins contain iron. Also, many foods are high in iron. Adding these foods to your diet will help ensure that you are getting a sufficient amount of iron per day.
Foods high in iron:
- beef liver
- pumpkin seeds
- baked potatoes
- fortified cereals
To improve the amount of iron your body absorbs, consume your iron-rich foods with foods that contain vitamin C, such as citrus foods or broccoli.
Foods to be limited during pregnancy
Caffeine. The current recommendations are to limit caffeine intake to under 200mg per day. This is equivalent to between one and two 8oz cups of coffee per day (depending on how strong it is!). According to some studies, the risk of miscarriage increases when caffeine intake is greater than 200mg/day.
Fish. Fish and shellfish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is good for your baby’s brain development, so consuming up to 12 oz. of fish and shellfish a week is recommended during pregnancy. But some fish can also contain a metal called mercury, which is not good for your baby. Mercury is higher in certain types of fish. Check with your local state health department for recommendations regarding consumption of fish caught within your state.
- Limit albacore (white) tuna to 6 oz per week.
Fish to be avoided completely
Fish high in mercury should be avoided entirely during pregnancy. These include:
- king mackerel
- orange roughy
- big eye tuna
Other foods to avoid during pregnancy
Pregnant women are at higher risk of getting listeriosis and other food-borne illnesses than the general population. Food-borne illnesses can lead to serious complications in pregnancy such as premature labor and even miscarriage and stillbirth. To keep you and your unborn baby safe, it is important to be extra diligent when it comes to food safety and you should avoid the following foods altogether.
- Sushi containing raw fish
- Raw oysters, clam, mussels or scallops
- Unpasteurized juice, including pressed apple cider, juices found at farmer’s markets, and some juice bars. Only drink juice that states on the container that it has been pasteurized.
- Soft cheeses, including feta, brie, blue cheese, queso blanco, queso fresco, Panela, and Camembert.
- Hot dogs or deli meats. Do not eat unless heated to steaming before eating (you can do this quickly in the microwave).
- Refrigerated smoked seafood such as salmon, trout, or tuna, unless it is in a cooked dish. Shelf stable (unrefrigerated) canned smoked seafood is okay to eat.
- Refrigerated pate or other refrigerated meat spreads. Shelf stable meat spreads and pates are okay to eat.
- Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, mung bean, radish, and clover sprouts. Sprouts have a particularly high risk of being contaminated with harmful bacteria.
- Unpasteurized milk or food made with unpasteurized milk. Milk labels will say if it is pasteurized. Most milk sold at the grocery store will be pasteurized. Milk (and other dairy products, such as cheese) sold at local farms, farmer’s markets, or whole foods co-ops may not be pasteurized so double check the label.
- Raw or undercooked meats. Always cook meat to the recommended cooking temperature and use a meat thermometer to confirm temp.
- Untreated water when traveling
- Raw or undercooked eggs
Store bought mayonnaise, dressings, and sauces are made from pasteurized eggs and are safe to eat.
A few more helpful tips:
- Always be sure to wash hands with soap and warm water after touching raw meat or unwashed vegetables and fruit.
- Thoroughly wash all fruit and vegetables (including peels) under running tap water before eating them, cutting them up, or cooking.
- Wash all cutting boards, countertops, and knives with hot water and soap after using them.
- Use a meat thermometer when cooking meat to be sure it is cooked to the recommended temperature. You can find a chart with recommended meat temperatures here.
- Keep raw meat separate from your other groceries in your cart, in the shopping bag, in your refrigerator and when preparing and handling it.
- Cook eggs until yokes and whites are firm.
There you have it! A quick guide to what is and what isn’t safe to eat during pregnancy. I hope this helps!
If you would like to read more information about pregnancy recommendations, check out the WIC Works website.
Comment below or email me with any questions or comments you have! I would love to hear from you!