Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Feb 13, 2023

Woman eating pasta at a table and not consuming foods to avoid during pregnancy.
Some foods are best avoided during pregnancy.

But wait…Are There Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy?

There are some foods to avoid during pregnancy. But friends, a lot of fear is built around certain foods during pregnancy. So I won’t list out all the “good” and “bad” foods and drinks. Instead, I’ll just tell you what we know and let you make the informed decision. 

Deciding Which Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Cravings are strong during pregnancy, and in many cases, it’s for things that might be considered “bad” for Baby. But before you write off all the foods you know and love, let’s break down the science of some foods. This will help you decide if they are harmful or helpful during pregnancy. 

How Much Coffee Can I Drink During Pregnancy? 

Caffeine in coffee will pretty much always have a negative effect if you drink it on an empty stomach. That includes whether you’re pregnant or not. 

So if you continue to drink coffee while pregnant, enjoy it after a protein-dense breakfast. It’s even better if you add some collagen powder and cream to it to help stabilize your blood sugar. 

Of course, that also means keeping the added sugars low. You can do this by using honey or maple syrup instead of sugar. However, I don’t recommend using “Sugar-Free” sweeteners instead of real sugar. If real sugar is what you have, use it.

The general consensus is that you should keep your caffeine intake to under 200 mg daily. It’s best for you and Baby.  So while coffee isn’t among the foods to avoid during pregancy, you should still be mindful of it.

In some situations, a little caffeine daily reduces the risk of gestational diabetes

Girl, if you need a coffee and there’s no judgment here. 

All I’m saying is there is a reason my third baby has been begging me for sips of my iced vanilla breve since he was old enough to use Baby Sign Language and say Pllllleeaaase. (How can you say no to that?)

Can I Have Alcohol When I’m Pregnant? 

The answer might seem obvious here. We’ve all read those alcohol and pregnancy warning signs in restaurant bathrooms, so for many, drinking any form of alcohol is a hard no. 

So is alcohol among the foods to avoid during pregnancy? You might be surprised!

There are a few reasons, however, why a woman might choose to drink some forms of alcohol moderately and occasionally during pregnancy. 

One study at the University of Copenhagen revealed that children whose mothers drank small amounts of alcohol while pregnant had improved behavioral and emotional development. 

Another study at the University College of London found that light drinking didn’t have a negative effect on children. 

However, both studies agreed that there is still no recommended amount of alcohol for women while pregnant. There are still risks, especially if not done in moderation, that can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (but you know all about that from the bathroom mirror stickers.) 

Wine is rich in antioxidants which may be enticing for some mothers, while beer is high in folate. That’s right, the same folate that helps Baby grow and protects against spina bifida. 

So does that mean you should order a pitcher and get after it?! 

Heck no! 

If you choose to drink during pregnancy, you MUST keep it in moderation, as in one drink or less a week. 

The cool thing is that you can still get those benefits from non-alcoholic beer without taking the risk of harming your baby. 

Plus, there are other ways to get antioxidants and folate in your diet without the risks of alcohol. 

Because there is no determined amount of alcohol that is considered safe for pregnant women, it is up to you to do your own research, listen to your body, and carefully weigh ALL the risks before indulging. 

Interesting Tidbits on Cultural Differences in Alcohol Consumption 

Our outlook in the United States on alcohol, in general, is much different than the rest of the world. The legal drinking age in this country of 21 is much higher than that of some European countries in which the age is 16 or even younger in some areas. 

Alcohol, whether beer, wine, or another form popular in a specific area, has more cultural and social significance. 

But here’s the difference: these drinks are almost ALWAYS consumed with food in moderation and have a lower alcohol content. 

Interestingly, beer was preferred over water in ancient cultures because it was cleaner and safer to drink. Of course, this wasn’t your 9% IPA or dark porter. It was much lighter and full of probiotics. 

(Quick side note: The light beers offered by the big beer companies that HAVE lower alcohol content don’t have much in the way of probiotics because they’ve been pasteurized [extreme heat] to kill off any bacteria. On the other hand, microbreweries that don’t pasteurize their beers often produce beer with higher alcohol content.) 

My point? You can’t say across the board that alcohol is either good or bad. Abusing it is another story. 

But women in many countries such as France and Italy continue to drink moderately during their pregnancies (50-60% according to two separate surveys). So generally speaking, most women outside of the United States disagree that alcohol is among foods to avoid during pregnancy.

My advice? Do your research. Listen to your body. Never do something that makes you uncomfortable. Be your own advocate. 

Isn’t Liver Dangerous for My Baby Because of Too Much Vitamin A? 

A study in 1995 is responsible for the fear surrounding consuming liver while pregnant. It involved women taking a high amount of synthetic vitamin A throughout pregnancy. 3% of the babies were born with defects. 

This study led many to believe that liver would be on the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy.

There are two problems here. 

1. 3% of ALL births result in birth defects  

2. Synthetic vitamin A in large doses is FAR different from consuming a meal that contains naturally occurring vitamin A as well as several other essential nutrients, including:

  • Vitamin K2
  • Vitamin D
  • B vitamins
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Folate
  • Zinc

Liver is actually a powerhouse of nutrients that will only improve pregnancy symptoms and help your baby develop. If you don’t like the taste, you can always include desiccated liver capsules in your supplement routine. 

Can I Eat Raw or Undercooked Foods During Pregnancy? 

Raw and undercooked foods might include sushi, cold cuts, rare steaks, over-easy eggs, unpasteurized milk, and many soft cheeses. 

What are the risks or benefits of raw or undercooked foods? 

Raw foods don’t deserve a blanket answer. Much of it depends on the preparation and the origin of the food. 

My advice? Know where your food comes from, understand the risks, and learn to minimize them.

Undercooked Eggs

One example is eggs. Raw eggs carry salmonella, right? Wrong. Chickens carry salmonella, and it can spread through the egg SHELL. So if you like your eggs over-easy or sunnyside up, just make sure you wash the shell before you crack it. 

Anyway, you can weigh the risks and benefits of raw eggs and decide for yourself. 

As for me and my kitchen, we shall eat the cookie dough like I’ve been doing since I was old enough to reach the knobs on the stove (and all that’s ever happened to me is having less dough to bake into cookies 🤷‍♀️). 

Raw Milk

Another example is milk. Milk is pasteurized to kill salmonella and E. coli. If you want to enjoy the benefits of raw milk, make sure you buy from a farmer you trust that has their cows regularly tested for contamination and has high sanitation standards. 

The benefits of raw dairy products is that beneficial probiotics remain intact, much like the live organisms in human milk, and may aid in digestion, particularly in those who have experienced intolerance to commercial dairy. 

There is also a cool process where you can choose to boil raw milk at home as it will kill harmful bacteria but not damage the milk’s makeup as pasteurization and homogenization do. 

Anyway, all I’m saying is…

A human body can pick up harmful bacteria just as easily from romaine lettuce/spinach and/or peanut butter, which gets recalled waaay more often than farm fresh milk straight from the cow to a trust-worthy farmer to your fridge.

Should Raw Foods be Avoided During Pregancy?

My best advice here is to know and trust where your food is coming from and don’t eat anything that has been sitting out for who-knows-how-long and/or if you feel yourself gagging/heaving, etc. 

(Ok, but hear me out…maaaaybe morning sickness *ahem* all-day-sickness is some kind of reflex that is trying to protect us from eating spoiled foods? 

Idk, I’m just hypothesizing here, but I DO believe our intuition is heightened during pregnancy, so don’t write it off if you have a “bad feeling” about those finger sandwiches on the buffet table.)

All in all, raw milk, eggs, and cheese shouldn’t necessarily fall under the “foods to avoid during pregnancy” category.

What About Turkey During Pregnancy? 

There is a myth that turkey is dangerous for pregnant mothers. While there may be some risk to sliced turkey from the deli (from being undercooked), there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy a fully cooked turkey with your family. 

Dude, enjoy your damn Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Again, the biggest problem here is food that has gone from hot to room temperature to cold and back again, as those kinds of temperature fluctuations are a prime breeding ground for bacteria (and not the good probiotic kind). 

Is It OK to Eat Sushi When You’re Pregnant? 

Fish is soooooo nutrient-dense and delicious. It contains all those omega-3s, healthy fats, and minerals like zinc. The nori wraps are an amazing source of iodine (but you know you can just get those seaweed snack packs to satisfy the crunchy, salty, little bit grassy, iodine-filled craving).

So what’s the deal with sushi?! 

Well, if you’re into sashimi (the raw slices of fish), it’s probably best to stay clear. Raw fish can carry parasites and pathogens that your stomach might be able to fight when you’re NOT pregnant but could otherwise be harmful to your baby. 

Parasites can also steal nutrients from you and your baby. Plus, most antiparasitic medications can’t be taken while you’re pregnant. So if you contract a parasite, you’ll have to live with it until after Baby is born. 

So don’t make this more difficult on yourself. Stay away from the raw fish for now. Add it to your “foods to avoid during pregnancy” list.

The same principles apply to deli meat. You can definitely eat it; just make sure you cook it first. 

The good news is that you don’t have to avoid all sushi. Just stick with cooked or vegetarian options when you go out and only eat from places you trust to be clean. (OR if you come to my in-person birth class in Spokane, WA– I might be serving up sushi bowls with carrot and cucumber sticks, cream cheese balls, my specialty sticky rice, fresh avocado, nori, and *cooked* salmon- because we practice what I preach in class and on the street)

How to Manage New Eating Habits When You’re Pregnant

Adjusting the foods you eat or the beverages you drink takes a little more thought when you’re pregnant. Remember to have grace with yourself if you accidentally have deli meat or drank wine before you found out you were pregnant, and focus on what you can have and how you’ll adjust your future choices. 

If you need extra help meal planning or ensuring you’re making the right food choices during your pregnancy, check out my birth classes in Spokane to get extra support during your first trimester and beyond. We dig much deeper into foods to avoid during pregnancy, but also focus much more on foods you should 100% include!

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