12 Foods to Avoid for Pregnant Women

During pregnancy, what you eat is as important what you don't eat. There are several foods that pregnant women should avoid because they're potentially harmful to pregnancy.
12 Foods to Avoid for Pregnant Women
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 26 September, 2022

There are some foods that pregnant women should avoid. There are more than many people assume and several of them are in the usual diet. It is important to identify them and not to eat them.

The baby acquires nutrients from maternal nutrition. During gestation, it has an accelerated growth and development. There are products that pregnant women should avoid because they can affect this process.

The greatest risk is in foods that are more likely to harbor microorganisms capable of crossing the placenta. This could lead to complications such as salmonellosis or listeriosis.

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Nutrition during pregnancy

Nutrition is an essential aspect during pregnancy. It is best to have all 5 food groups at each meal:

  1. Fruits.
  2. Vegetables.
  3. Cereals.
  4. Proteins.
  5. Dairy products.

Vegetables should occupy half of the plate. Prenatal vitamin supplements should be added to this. In general terms, the consumption of products with a high sugar content should be reduced to a minimum, as well as ultra-processed products.

Lean meats and monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, should be preferred. Likewise, it is advisable to opt for whole grains, as these are easier to digest.

Foods that pregnant women should avoid

Now, just as there are recommendations on what pregnant mothers should eat, there are also recommendations on foods that pregnant women should avoid. We will now see what they are.

1. Fish with high amounts of mercury

Although fish are an excellent source of protein and omega-3, the truth is that some contain high levels of mercury, and this can be dangerous for both the mother and the baby. The following make up the black list:

  • Bluefin tuna.
  • Mackerel.
  • Shark.
  • Marlin.
  • Swordfish.
  • Tilefish.
  • Orange roughy.

Theyshould never be eaten raw. In that case, there is a risk of listeria transmission. This bacterium can infect key organs such as the brain, spinal cord or bloodstream.

Smoked fish also pose this risk.
tuna isn't recommended for pregnant women
Bluefin tuna can contain high amounts of mercury. This heavy metal crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus.

2. Seafood

Among the foods that pregnant women should avoid, there is also any form of raw seafood. Products such as shrimp, prawns, clams, oysters, mussels and oysters should always be consumed well cooked. These foods can transmit anisakis, a parasite that causes serious digestive damage.

3. Undercooked meats

Another food that pregnant women should avoid is undercooked or poorly cooked meat. It should always be well cooked, because it can also harbor bacteria.

Also, various types of meat contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause toxoplasmosis. Chicken, on the other hand, should always be fully cooked.

4. Meat preparations

There are several meat preparations that may contain parasites or bacteria. Among them are pâtés, meat pastes, stuffed chicken, uncured ham and foie.

Also included in this group are sausages, such as chorizo, mortadella, salami and salami. It is best to eliminate them completely from the pregnant woman’s diet.

5. Unpasteurized foods and some cheeses

Several dairy products are also included in the foods to be avoided by pregnant women. It is forbidden to drink raw milk or any of its derivatives. All dairy products consumed must have been pasteurized, since there is a high risk of transmission of harmful microorganisms.

Similarly, special care should be taken with soft cheeses and blue cheese. These have more humidity and less acidity than hard cheeses; therefore, it is very easy for bacteria to settle there. Among these we mention brie, feta, gouda and cheddar.

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6. Eggs

Raw or undercooked eggs are also on the list of foods pregnant women should avoid. They present the risk of transmitting salmonellosis.

Ideally, they should be eaten cooked, when the yolk is hard-boiled. It is not advisable to consume preparations such as homemade mayonnaise, eggnog, hollandaise sauce and raw dough.

7. Be careful with fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are more than advisable during pregnancy.

However, it is very important to make sure that they are well washed, as there is a risk of contracting toxoplasmosis. All types of raw sprouts should be avoided, as they often contain bacteria such as E. colli and Salmonella.

8. Sweets, carbohydrates and fast food

Although this type of food is not forbidden, it is advisable to avoid them. They usually contain high levels of sugar or a lot of fat. They are also products that promote weight gain.

9. Caffeine

Caffeine as such does not form part of the foods that pregnant women should avoid. However, it is very important that its consumption is well regulated.

It is advisable not to drink caffeinated beverages during the first trimester of pregnancy. After that, up to a maximum of 300 milligrams per day, which is equivalent to one large cup.

10. Herbal teas

Both herbal teas and herbal supplements should be avoided during pregnancy. There is no evidence that they cause harm, but there is no evidence that they do not. The information on this subject is very scarce and, therefore, the most advisable thing to do is to be cautious.

11. Alcohol

Alcohol cannot be considered a food, but it is important to include it in the list of products that should not be consumed during pregnancy. Although there is some controversy about it, there is sufficient evidence that alcohol increases the risk of low birth weight, premature birth and miscarriage.

foods to avoid for pregnant women

No amount of alcohol is acceptable in pregnancy. Itcan always cause harm to the fetus.

12. Other

Other foods that pregnant women should avoid are packaged sandwiches, as they often contain undercooked meats, cheeses and vegetables. Likewise, brown algae are contraindicated, as they can have harmful effects on the mother’s thyroid function.

Green algae should be consumed in moderation.

Take care of your nutrition during pregnancy

The foods that pregnant women should avoid, in general terms, are those that are not well cooked or disinfected. Food is a pathway for the transmission of harmful biological agents, and this could affect pregnancy.

It is also very important to observe proper hygiene measures, such as washing hands before eating and keeping kitchen utensils clean. It is also very important to store food properly and not to mix raw food with cooked food.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Valls, A., Pascual, C. Y., & Esteban, M. M. (2003). Anisakis y anisakiosis. Allergologia et immunopathologia, 31(6), 348-355.
  • Pamer, E. G. (2004). Immune responses to Listeria monocytogenes. Nature Reviews Immunology, 4(10), 812-823.
  • Edmundo, B. R. R., Saraí, D. Q. M., de Jesús, G. G. G., Elizabeth, M. Z. C., Carolina, S. L., & María, T. B. R. (2005). Conocimientos de mujeres gestantes sobre los requerimientos nutricios en el embarazo. Rev Enferm IMSS, 13(1), 3-7.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.