10 Worst Foods for Pregnant Women

You’re probably being super careful about what you’re eating now that you’re pregnant. Here are some foods to steer clear of.
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March 9, 2020
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High-mercury seafood

Shark, swordfish tilefish, and canned albacore tuna are the biggies (literally) on the list of fish to skip. Mercury accumulates over time, and because these large fish live longer, they store more mercury in their flesh, explains Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Mercury accumulates in people too, and it can hurt baby’s brain, hearing and vision, so put high-mercury fish on your “do not eat” list.

As for low-mercury fish, such as tilapia, cod, salmon, trout, catfish and shellfish, they’re actually good for you and baby. They’re excellent sources of lean protein, B-12 and zinc. And salmon, trout and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA (which may boost baby’s brain development). But they do have some mercury in them, so keep to 12 ounces or less of them a week. Also, make sure all the fish and seafood you eat are very fresh and cooked thoroughly.


Speaking of cooking your fish, you’ve got to. That means sushi and sashimi are off limits. Some bacteria can only killed by heat and since sushi is served raw, there’s an increased likeliness for food poisoning. Some moms-to-be order rolls made of cooked fish at the sushi bar, but Krieger even recommends avoiding those, since there’s the potential for cross contamination. Choose a teriyaki or hibachi entrée instead.

Deli meat

Drop that ham and cheese sandwich—cold cuts (including ham, turkey, bologna and more) are actually dangerous for you and baby. And so are hot dogs. These meats can be contaminated with listeria—the only known bacterium that can survive at refrigerator temperatures of 40 degrees or less. And unlike other types of food poisoning, listeriosis, the infection caused by listeria, enters into the bloodstream directly and can reach the baby through the placenta. Listeriosis is especially scary because it can cause miscarriage. Luckily, heating foods to at least 145 degrees (165 if it’s leftovers) will kill the bacteria, so you can grill that ham sandwich and still enjoy it.

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Prepared deli foods

Basically, you’ll want to avoid the deli counter altogether (sorry!). The problem, Krieger says, is that you don’t know how long the foods have been in the refrigerated case, what the temperature is in there (and if it stays at a consistent 40 degrees or less), and whether all the ingredients in a salad or dish have been pasteurized. Instead, make your own potato or pasta salad, so you know exactly what you’re eating.

Unpasteurized cheese

What to look for in cheese: pasteurization. Always check the label. While feta or mozzarella may be pasteurized, it also may not be. The same goes for brie, camembert, bleu cheese and some Mexican cheeses. If it’s fresh or homemade, like some mozzarella or a small-batch artisan cheese, ask the person that prepared it. And when in doubt, skip it for now, says Krieger, since unpasteurized cheese can carry listeria. Go for a safer slice, like cheddar or Swiss.

Raw bean sprouts

They add a satisfying crunch to salad and pad Thai—and they seem super healthy—but sprouts can harbor bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli. “Any raw vegetable that swims in a pool of water in its package is at high risk for bacteria,” says Krieger. So you’ll also want to throw out a bag of lettuce if it pools in water. And, speaking of packaged salad, eat it within a day or two of opening it.

Raw dough and batter

We know, you’re craving it. But, for baby’s sake, resist licking the spoon when you’re baking. When it’s unbaked, dough and batter can contain salmonella, which can cause food-borne illness. Plus, “Even though some commercial cookie dough lists pasteurized eggs in the ingredients list, I don’t recommend eating raw cookie dough,” says Krieger. “It lacks nutrition.”

Unpasteurized juice

Out at the farmer’s market? If you’re not sure if the juice or cider is pasteurized, pass. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires warning labels on any fruit or vegetable juice that has not been pasteurized. However, the agency does not require labels for fresh-squeezed juices or cider sold by the glass (like at health-food stores, juice bars, farm stands and apple orchards). Krieger’s rule of thumb: If this fruit or veggie is juiced on the spot and consumed within an hour, it’s safe. But freshly-squeezed juices that sit around for longer than that are too risky for pregnant women to consume.

Venti-sized caffeinated drinks

While caffeine may be safe in small amounts (one to two cups of coffee per day), pregnant women with high blood pressure or anxiety should completely abstain, since the stimulant may aggravate those conditions. “The recommendations are conservative since mega amounts of caffeine during pregnancy are unknown,” adds Krieger. “We do know that erring on the side of less is best.” So if you drink more than two small cups of coffee each day, make the rest decaf.

Herbal tea

Surprisingly, you should avoid some tea, too—even if it doesn’t have caffeine. “There are not many studies on herbs during pregnancy,” says Krieger. Go ahead and stick to decaf black, white or green tea or with familiar herbs, such as lemon verbena, mint or chamomile. But if it’s something you’re unsure of, don’t have it. And, really, avoid anything in excess during pregnancy. In other words, if you have tea, mix up the variety you’re drinking so nothing potentially harmful can accumulate in large quantities in your body.

Expert: Sarah Krieger, MPH, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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