What Foods Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?

What you eat during pregnancy is your baby’s main source of nourishment for healthy growth and development. The average pregnant woman needs about 300 additional calories a day and higher amounts of calcium, folate, iron, and protein.

The goal is to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods to ensure that your baby’s nutrient needs are met. In addition to filling your cart up with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, low-fat dairy, and lean protein, you should also know what to steer clear of. Read on to learn about red-flag foods during pregnancy.

Raw and undercooked animal foods

If you’re a fan of sushi, steak tartare or a juicy rare burger, you’ll need to wait until after pregnancy to indulge in your favorite fare. From E. coli to Salmonella, undercooked meat and fish increase your risk of contracting a foodborne illness that can seriously harm your baby. Make sure any animal foods you eat are cooked all the way through.

Alfalfa sprouts

Alfalfa sprouts are a low-calorie, high-nutrient member of the legume family. While they’ve long been prized for their nutrient content, they also carry the risk of contamination with various bacteria and parasites. In fact, most experts consider raw alfalfa sprouts the riskiest food at your local market.

Not only are they responsible for dozens of deadly outbreaks, but due to the way they’re grown, contamination is difficult to prevent. It’s best to avoid raw alfalfa sprouts, especially if you’re pregnant.

High-mercury fish

Fish contain essential fatty acids that your body can’t produce on its own. The docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish helps support the development of your baby’s brain and central nervous system. However, you’ll want to exercise some safety when eating fish during pregnancy.

Stay away from high-mercury fish, as too much mercury is dangerous for your baby. As a good rule of thumb, larger fish live longer and thus accumulate much higher mercury levels than small fish that have a short lifespan.

Fish to avoid include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, marlin, and orange roughy. Lower-mercury fish are salmon, herring, haddock, flounder, perch, sardines, anchovies, and rainbow trout.

Junk food

Pregnancy may seem like a time where you can eat whatever you want, but the opposite is true. During pregnancy, your baby relies on the foods you eat to get the proper nutrition.

Not only is junk food void of the vital nutrients your baby needs, regularly eating junk food during pregnancy increases the risk of gaining too much weight and developing gestational diabetes, a condition where your blood sugar is too high during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes increases the risk that you’ll deliver a bigger baby and raises the chances that you’ll develop Type 2 diabetes within 10 years of giving birth. Not only that, junk food typically contains artificial color, flavors, and dyes.

Unpasteurized foods

Raw milk, raw honey, and unpasteurized juices pose a danger to your unborn child. The pasteurization process kills bacteria and toxins to make pasteurized products safe. Raw milk and honey are often sold at farmers markets and promoted for added health benefits. However, they’re too risky to consume while you’re pregnant. Your baby’s immune system isn’t developed yet and the risk of contamination is high.


While your morning cup of coffee poses little harm to you, it’s not good for your baby. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system. Because your baby’s central nervous system is still developing, it can’t safely handle caffeine.

Even small amounts of caffeine can cause changes in your baby’s sleep and movement pattern and large amounts increase the risk of premature labor and birth defects. Keep in mind that caffeine is found in more than coffee. It’s added to a wide variety of foods and beverages and is naturally present in chocolate. Read labels to make sure the foods and beverages you ingest during pregnancy are caffeine-free.

Our doctors at The Association for Women’s Health Care are devoted to providing exemplary care during and after your pregnancy. Call our Chicago or Northbrook office, or book online to schedule your prenatal appointment.

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