Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy - Virtua Article

Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy

By Rachel Kramer, MD, OB/GYN—Virtua Obstetrics & Gynecology

The thing pregnant women hear most is that “you’re eating for two!” What you eat is nourishing your developing baby and helping you maintain your health and energy during pregnancy.

A healthy pregnancy diet is well balanced and emphasizes lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and lots of fruits and vegetables. This helps you and your baby get necessary nutrients and vitamins, and lowers your risk of developing gestational diabetes.

However, beyond a healthy balanced diet, it’s important to know what foods are SAFE to eat.

Here’s what you need to know about what foods are good, what should be eaten in moderation, and what to avoid altogether—and, how to minimize your risk for eating foods that could cause complications with your pregnancy.

Cooked fish

Some fish are safe to eat during pregnancy, but large fish that live longer are likely to have higher mercury content and should be avoided. Eating high-mercury fish can harm a baby's nervous system as it develops. High-mercury fish include tuna, swordfish, shark, spiral fish, and mackerel.

Fish with low mercury content, like shrimp, salmon, tuna and trout, are safe to eat. Dietary guidelines for pregnant people recommend eating fish at two meals each week.

Raw fish

Pregnant women should avoid sushi or any dishes that include RAW fish. Because cooking kills dangerous bacteria, ONLY cooked fish should be eaten during pregnancy.

Unpasteurized cheese

Avoid eating cheeses made with unpasteurized milk throughout pregnancy, as the pasteurization process doesn’t kill bacteria that live in milk. Cheeses made with unpasteurized milk are usually soft cheeses like brie and blue cheese. A quick check on the ingredients label will tell you if a cheese is made with pasteurized or unpasteurized milk.

Unwashed fruits and vegetables

While it's safe to eat all varieties of fruits and vegetables during pregnancy, everything should be thoroughly washed beforehand to remove harmful bacteria. This goes for conventional or organic produce, both of which are safe and healthy to eat while pregnant.

Lunchmeat and hot dogs

Processed meats are often vulnerable to listeria (bacteria that causes food poisoning), which can cause miscarriage. Since you can't cook lunchmeat at a high enough temperature to kill listeria, avoid eating it during pregnancy.

Raw eggs

Beyond unbaked cookie dough, raw eggs can turn up in everyday foods like Caesar dressing and homemade mayonnaise—or holiday treats like eggnog. Avoiding raw eggs reduces risk of contracting salmonella (bacteria that causes food poisoning).


The March of Dimes states it’s safe to consume about 200 milligrams of caffeine or the equivalent of 12 ounces of coffee a day during pregnancy. Heavy caffeine consumption can cause temporary heart irregularities in the baby. However, consuming high levels of caffeine while pregnant—such as drinking 6 or more cups of coffee per day—also puts pregnant women at higher risk for miscarriage.

Alcohol and drugs

When it comes to alcohol and drugs during pregnancy: "Just say no."

Always bring your food concerns and questions to your OB/GYN for the best recommendations for you. 

Updated June 19, 2018


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