Are There Foods I Should Avoid When I'm Pregnant?

Avoid soft cheese and alcohol if you're pregnant.
Pregnant women should avoid soft cheese and alcohol. Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Question: I just found out that I'm pregnant. Are there certain foods I need to avoid?

Answer: For the most part, you can continue to a healthy diet throughout your pregnancy, and you'll need to eat a little more during the second and third trimesters because the developing baby requires extra nutrition. There are, however, a few foods you should avoid because they can cause illness in pregnant women or can harm the fetus.

If you have any questions about your diet during your pregnancy, be sure to speak with your health care provider.

Avoid Unpasteurized Milk and Soft Cheese

Milk and cheese are excellent sources of calcium, which you and your babies need. But raw milk and soft cheeses may harbor bacteria that can make you, and your baby, sick. Raw milk may contain Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella, which cause food poisoning. Since you're pregnant, you're more likely to get sick because pregnancy affects your immune system.

  • Drink pasteurized milk, or choose non-dairy forms of calcium.
  • Avoid soft cheese like Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, queso fresco, and feta.
  • It's okay to eat cheese that's made from pasteurized milk.

Stay Away From Undercooked Fish and Shellfish and Fish High In Mercury

Fish, especially oily ocean fish like salmon, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids your baby needs for normal development, especially during the third trimester.

But you have to be careful with fish. Raw and undercooked fish and seafood (including sushi) may contain parasites as well as bacteria, so it's best to avoid them while you're pregnant.

Some types of fish contain larger amounts of mercury, so you need to stay away from shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

  • Eat up to 12 ounces cooked fish or shellfish each week (cook to 145 degrees F).
  • Best choices are salmon, shrimp, pollock, and catfish.
  • You don't have to eliminate albacore tuna, but don't eat more than 6 ounces per week.

Don't Eat Raw Sprouts, Raw Eggs, and Undercooked Meats

Raw foods can be contaminated with bacteria like E. coli or salmonella. Eggs and sprouts should be cooked thoroughly, and meats need to be cooked to the proper internal temperature. Stay away from the grocery store salad bar too - make your own salads at home.

  • Thoroughly wash produce and greens at home and follow proper food safety practices.
  • Cook beef, veal and lamb to at least 145 degrees F, and pork and ground meats should be cooked to 160 degrees F.
  • Poultry products should be cooked to 165 degrees F.
  • Don't eat anything made with raw eggs, unless the product has also been pasteurized.
  • Deli meat, sausages, and hot dogs should be heated to 165 degrees F.

Don't Drink Alcohol

Research hasn't yet determined a safe level of alcohol consumption, so it's best to stay away from wine, beer and liquor during your pregnancy.

Sources:

The United States Department of Health and Human Services. "Checklist of Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy." Accessed April 2, 2016. http://www.foodsafety.gov/risk/pregnant/chklist_pregnancy.html.

The United States Food and Drug Administration. "Food Safety for Moms-To-Be: While You're Pregnant - Listeria." Accessed April 2, 2016. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm083320.htm.

The United States Food and Drug Administration. "What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish." Accessed April 2, 2016. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm110591.htm.

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