When you’re pregnant, there are a lot of new things to think about, especially when it comes to healthy eating. You may need to drop some long-established eating habits and learn how to walk a fine balance between getting enough nutrition for your baby, and avoiding foods that can harm the both of you.
Foods to Avoid When You’re Pregnant
Why are some foods off-limits when you’re pregnant — but fine if you’re not? First, changes to your immune system now make you more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses. What would’ve meant stomach upset before could mean serious complications now — from dehydration to miscarriage.
So to be safe, avoid the common culprits of food-borne illness:
Because raw eggs may be tainted with salmonella, a bacterium that can cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, watch out for restaurant-made Caesar salad dressing, homemade eggnog, raw cookie dough, and soft scrambled or sunny-side up eggs — any dish in which the eggs (both yolk and white) are not cooked completely. “If eggs are cooked, the risk is gone,” adds Madeleine Sigman-Grant, PhD, maternal child health and nutrition extension specialist at the University of Nevada.
With the exception of California rolls and other cooked items, sushi is not safe when you’re expecting, either, because it may contain illness-inducing parasites.
Salad bars and prepared salads
Salads are often prepared with fresh fruits and vegetables, making them one of the healthiest meals you can eat—so you may be surprised to learn that you will need to avoid salad bars and prepared salads at delis and cafeterias. “There are several concerns here,” says Krieger. “Has the temperature been consistently less than 40 degrees? Has the food been sitting out for less than two hours? And is there any unpasteurized cheese in the food?” If the answer is yes to any of these, the food may have been exposed to Salmonella, Listeria, or E. Coli. It’s much safer to prepare your own salads at home, after giving the leafy greens a thorough wash.
Undercooked meat and raw fish
Say goodbye to rare steak and sushi while you’re pregnant. “Bacteria and other pathogens thrive in undercooked meat and seafood,” says Krieger, so expectant women need to take extra care that their meats are heated to a high enough temperature. “You will need to cook meat to at least 145 degrees and leftovers to at least 165 degrees.”
Most experts agree that women should avoid alcohol during pregnancy to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Some doctors say an occasional glass of wine is fine, but the CDC and the U.S. Surgeon General still advise against it. Though there’s no evidence that drinking a small amount of alcohol will harm a baby later in pregnancy (the most dangerous time to drink appears to be later in the first trimester), there’s also no evidence that it won’t hurt the baby. Krieger’s take: “Avoid all alcohol during all trimesters of pregnancy.”
Stay away from juice (like cider) sold at farm stands; it may not have undergone pasteurization, a processing method that kills bacteria and toxins. Though the majority of milk and juices sold in stores today are pasteurized, there are still some brands on shelves that aren’t, so read labels.
Other foods are unsafe due to possible contaminants that can harm the fetus:
Some Varieties of Fish
Fish, which boasts omega-3 fatty acids that help baby’s brain development, is a great meal choice right now. But some varieties should be shunned due to high levels of methyl-mercury, a pollutant that can affect baby’s nervous system. These include swordfish, shark, and tilefish — all big species that live longer, accumulating more mercury in their flesh. (You may want to avoid these fish entirely during your childbearing years because your body stores mercury for up to four years, Ward advises.)
In fact, most types of fish contain traces of mercury, so you’ll want to limit your weekly consumption of safer varieties too. According to the newest guidelines from the FDA, you can enjoy up to 12 ounces a week (roughly two meals) of lower-mercury fish such as salmon, catfish, pollack, shrimp, and canned light tuna. Of those 12 ounces, only 6 should come from canned “white” albacore tuna, which tends to contain more mercury than light tuna. If you’re eating fish caught in local waters, check online with your state’s department of health for advisories (if you can’t find any information, limit yourself to 6 ounces).
Foods to Eat When You’re Pregnant
Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is very important. During this time, your body needs additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals. In fact, you may need 350–500 extra calories each day during the 2nd and 3rd trimester. A diet that lacks key nutrients may negatively affect the baby’s development. Poor eating habits and excess weight gain may also increase the risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy or birth complications.
Dairy products, especially yogurt, are a great choice for pregnant women. Dairy products help meet increased protein and calcium needs. Probiotics may also help reduce the risk of complications.
Legumes are great sources of folate, fiber and many other nutrients. Folate is a very important nutrient during pregnancy, and may reduce the risk of some birth defects and diseases.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene, which the body transforms into vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for the growth and differentiation of cells in the growing fetus.
Salmon contains the essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important for brain and eye development in the growing baby. Salmon is also a natural source of vitamin D.
Whole eggs are incredibly nutritious and a great way to increase overall nutrient intake. They also contain choline, an essential nutrient for brain health and development.
Lean meat is a good source of high-quality protein. Beef and pork are also rich in iron, choline and B-vitamins, all of which are important nutrients during pregnancy.
Fish liver oil
A single serving of fish liver oil provides more than the required amount of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and vitamin A. Fish liver oil may be particularly important for women who don’t eat seafood.
Berries contain water, carbs, vitamin C, fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and plant compounds. They may help pregnant women increase their nutrient and water intake.
Whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins and plant compounds. They are also rich in B-vitamins, fiber and magnesium, all of which pregnant women need.
Avocados contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, folate and potassium. They may help improve fetal health and relieve the leg cramps that are common in pregnant women.
Dried fruit may be highly beneficial for pregnant women, since they are small and nutrient-dense. Just make sure to limit your portions and avoid the candied varieties.
Drinking water is important because of the increased blood volume during pregnancy. Adequate hydration may also help prevent constipation and urinary tract infections.