Foods to avoid during pregnancy typically include those that carry a risk of infection, such as undercooked or raw meat or fish, but you’ll want to limit your intake of caffeine and processed foods, too.

It’s essential to eat well during pregnancy to nourish both yourself and your unborn child. You may have to give up some of your favorite foods, such as sushi, coffee, or rare steak.

Thankfully, there are plenty of foods you can eat during pregnancy to stay healthy.

Here are 15 foods and beverages to avoid or minimize while pregnant.

Mercury is highly toxic element and can occur in polluted waters.

In higher amounts, it can affect your nervous system, immune system, and kidneys. It may also cause serious developmental problems in children, with adverse effects even in lower amounts.

Large marine fish can accumulate high amounts of mercury, so it’s best to avoid high mercury fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

High-mercury fish to avoid include:

  • shark
  • swordfish
  • king mackerel
  • tuna (especially bigeye tuna)
  • marlin
  • tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
  • orange roughy

Learn more here about mercury poisoning.

Raw fish, especially shellfish, have a high risk of containing bacteria or parasites such as norovirus, Vibrio, Salmonella, and Listeria.

Raw fish can become infected during handling, storing, and processing, including smoking or drying.

These types of infections can cause dehydration and weakness in the parents, and some can pass through the placenta to your baby, even if you don’t have any symptoms. They can increase the risk of preterm delivery, pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and other serious health problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC notes that the chance of having a listeria infection is up to 10 times higher during pregnancy than at other times.

Is raw fish safe to eat outside of pregnancy?

Eating undercooked or raw meat can also increase your risk of infection from bacteria or parasites, including Toxoplasma, E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.

Bacteria may threaten your own health and the health and safety of your little one.

Most bacteria occur on the surface of whole pieces of meat, but other bacteria may linger inside the muscle fibers.

Some whole cuts of meat — such as tenderloins, sirloins, or ribeye from beef, lamb and veal — may be safe to consume when not cooked all the way through. However, this only applies when the piece of meat is whole or uncut, and completely cooked on the outside. During pregnancy, it’s best to avoid any undercooked meat.

Cut meat, including meat patties, burgers, minced meat, pork, and poultry, are never safe to eat raw or undercooked.

Is raw meat generally safe to eat?

Hot dogs, lunch meat, pepperoni, and deli meat can also become infected with various bacteria during processing or storage. Cured meats are not cooked and may have bacteria or parasites.

In addition, processed meats can contain high levels of sodium and unhealthy fats.

It’s best to avoid deli meats and ensure processed meats you cook, such as sausages, are cooked through.

Why is processed meat bad for you?

Raw eggs can contain Salmonella bacteria.

Symptoms of a salmonella infection include fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. It may also cause cramps in the uterus, potentially leading to preterm birth or stillbirth.

Foods that commonly contain raw eggs include:

  • lightly scrambled eggs
  • tiramisu
  • raw batter
  • hollandaise sauce
  • homemade mayonnaise
  • some homemade salad dressings
  • homemade egg nog
  • homemade ice cream
  • some homemade cake icings
  • eggs Benedict

Most commercial products containing raw eggs are made with pasteurized eggs and are safe to consume. However, always read the label to make sure.

Make sure to always cook eggs thoroughly or use pasteurized eggs.

Are raw eggs generally safe to eat?

Organ meats provide a range of essential nutrients, such as iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A, zinc, selenium, and copper — all of which are good for you and baby.

However, consuming too much preformed vitamin A, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy, can lead to congenital malformations and pregnancy loss.

Although this is mostly associated with vitamin A supplements, it’s best to eat just a few ounces a week of meats like liver or kidney.

What’s the nutritional value of organ meats?

Raw sprouts, including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts, are popular in salads.

However, the humid environment the seeds need to start sprouting is ideal for the growth of Salmonella, and it’s almost impossible to it wash off.

For this reason, it’s best to avoid raw sprouts altogether, although sprouts are safe to consume when cooked, according to the FDA.

What’s to know about raw sprouts?

The surface of unwashed or unpeeled fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with bacteria and parasites such as Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. These can come from the soil or through handling.

Contamination can occur at any time during production, harvest, processing, storage, transportation, or retail.

Toxoplasma is a parasite that can linger on plant foods. Most people have no symptoms, but the parasite can cross the placenta and cause vision loss and learning difficulties later in life. In some cases, severe eye or brain damage may be present at birth.

To minimize the risk of infection, thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables with clean water and peel or cook them before eating.

It is ever a good idea to drink raw milk?

Raw milk and other unpasteurized dairy products can contain harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. These bacteria can cause a range of infections commonly called food poisoning.

These infections can all have life-threatening consequences for an unborn baby.

The bacteria can occur naturally or result from contamination during collection or storage. Pasteurization can kill any harmful bacteria without changing the nutritional value of the products.

To reduce the risk of infections, eat only pasteurized dairy products.

Some soft cheeses contain listeria, a type of bacteria that can cause severe illness and pregnancy loss.

Examples include queso fresco, queso blanco, queso blando, queso panela, and queso ranchero.

Only eat soft cheeses that have a label to show they are pasteurized.

What cheeses are safe to eat during pregnancy?

Highly processed foods tend to be low in nutrients and high in calories, sugar, and added fats, and they may increase the risk of weight gain.

During pregnancy, you need a good intake of nutrients, such as protein, folate, choline, and iron.

Also, while some weight gain is necessary, excess weight gain can increase the risk of delivery complications and childhood obesity.

Stick to meals and snacks that focus on protein, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and starchy vegetables.

Explore some new ways to sneak veggies into your meals without sacrificing taste.

Fruit juices can be beneficial during pregnancy, but opt for juices that are pasteurized and have no added sugar.

Raw juices, like those squeezed on market stalls, may contain harmful bacteria. Smoothies may also contain unpasteurized juice, so ask about the ingredients beforehand if you’re in a restaurant.

Which fruits are good to eat in pregnancy?

During pregnancy, alcohol increases the risk of pregnancy loss, and stillbirth, and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). FAS can affect many aspects of development, including the heart and the brain.

Since no level of alcohol has been proven to be safe during pregnancy, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Learn more about pregnancy, alcohol, and drugs.

Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and cocoa all contain caffeine.

Research has linked a high intake of caffeine to a risk of pregnancy loss, stillbirth, small weight at birth, and various developmental issues.

Caffeine is absorbed very quickly and passes easily into the placenta. Because babies and their placentas don’t have the main enzyme needed to metabolize caffeine, high levels can build up.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends limiting caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams (mg) per day during pregnancy.

How much caffeine is safe in pregnancy?

It’s essential to drink plenty of water during pregnancy to avoid dehydration.

Most tap water in the United States is safe to drink, but contaminants in unclean or polluted drinking water can harm you or your unborn baby. This may affect you if you use water from a private well, as the Environmental Protection Agency does not test this water.

Contact your local health authority or environmental agency if you have concerns about your water.

Is tap water safe to drink?

What foods should be avoided in the first trimester?

Foods to avoid are those that pose a risk of infection, those containing substances that may harm your baby, and foods that don’t benefit your health overall. They include raw or undercooked meat or fish, raw eggs or sprouts, fish that may contain mercury, and ultraprocessed foods.

What are high risk foods during pregnancy?

It’s best to avoid processed meats during pregnancy, as they may become contaminated with various bacteria during processing or storage. Also, they can contain high levels of sodium and additives that don’t promote optimum health.

Can you eat grapes while pregnant?

Yes, you can eat grapes if you’re pregnant. All fruits provide essential nutrients and are beneficial during pregnancy. However, it’s best to avoid unwashed fruits and those that may have come into contact with contaminated water or other pollutants.

Is it safe to eat mozzarella when pregnant?

Yes, it’s safe to eat mozzarella if you’re pregnant. It’s also safe to eat hard cheeses like cheddar or Parmesan; pasteurized cheeses like cottage cheese, cream cheese, or feta; and any cheese that has been cooked until very hot.

When you’re pregnant, it’s essential to avoid foods and beverages that may put you and your baby at risk.

Although most foods are safe to enjoy, it’s best to avoid items such as raw fish, unpasteurized dairy, alcohol, and high mercury fish. It’s also best to limit your intake of processed foods, as they can also be high in added sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

Quick tips for foods to avoid when pregnant
  • Avoid high-mercury fish including shark, swordfish, tuna, and marlin.
  • Raw fish and shellfish can be contaminated with bacteria and parasites. Some of these can cause adverse health effects and harm both you and baby.
  • Raw or undercooked meat may contain harmful bacteria. As a general rule, meat should be cooked all the way through.
  • Raw eggs may be contaminated with Salmonella, and may put you and your baby at risk. Be sure to thoroughly cook eggs before eating.
  • Organ meat is a great source of iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A, and copper. To prevent consuming too much vitamin A limit your intake of organ meat to a few ounces once a week.
  • Limit caffeine intake to under 200 mg per day, which is about 2 to 3 cups of coffee. High caffeine intake during pregnancy may limit baby’s growth and cause low birth weight.
  • Raw sprouts may be contaminated with bacteria. Only eat them thoroughly cooked.
  • Fruits and vegetables may be contaminated with harmful bacteria, including Toxoplasma. It’s important to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables with plenty of clean water.
  • Don’t consume unpasteurized milk, cheese, or fruit juice, as these foods increase the risk of bacterial infections.
  • Avoid all alcohol. Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Eating processed foods during pregnancy can increase your risk of excess weight gain, gestational diabetes, and complications. This can have long-term health implications for you and your child.