8 Foods and Beverages to Avoid During Pregnancy

August 16, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Tanuja M. Rajpal, M.D. contributes to topics such as Women's Health.

By Brianna McCabe

What do you expect your grocery list to look like when you’re expecting?

“You definitely want it to include items within all of the main food groups for your baby’s growth and development,” shares Tanuja Rajpal, M.D., MSA, a board certified OB/GYN. “After all, the baby depends on the mom.”

As you browse down the aisles and load up your cart with lean meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy and grains, Dr. Rajpal recommends that women look for foods high in:

  • Calcium such as almonds, kale and cabbage
  • Folic acid such as spinach, beans and citrus fruits
  • Iron such as tofu, lentils and quinoa
  • Vitamin C such as kiwis, mangos and papayas

“Eating a balanced diet is essential during pregnancy,” says Dr. Rajpal, “but there are certain foods that women should avoid altogether, as they can be detrimental to both you and the baby’s health.” She warns moms-to-be about the potential health risks associated with the following foods and beverages during all three trimesters:

  1. Alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that no known amount of alcohol is safe while trying to get pregnant, during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. “It’s a big ‘no,’” says Dr. Rajpal. “Consumption can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and the development of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or lifelong physical, behavioral or mental disabilities.”
  2. Undercooked or raw meats and fish. Meats and fish can harbor parasites or bacteria, such as salmonella, which can be harmful for a developing baby. Contaminations can potentially lead to birth defects or even miscarriages, notes Dr. Rajpal. “Make sure you thoroughly cook your meats so there are no traces of blood or pinkness,” she advises. “As for fish, cooked fish—including tempura sushi rolls—are perfectly fine to eat as long is the fish is low in mercury and has been heated to 145 degrees Fahrenheit,” she adds.
  3. Deli (and other processed) meats. Sliced turkey, ham and roast beef can sometimes contain listeria, a foodborne bacteria. “Listeria has the ability to cause miscarriage or life-threatening infections in pregnant women,” says Dr. Rajpal. “The only way listeria is killed is by thoroughly cooking foods and pasteurization—so if you are considering eating deli meats, I advise women to heat the meats in a microwave until it’s steaming hot.” Other processed meats to look out for include hot dogs and sausages, the OB/GYN adds.
  4. Soft cheeses. As with deli meats, there is a risk that soft cheeses like feta, Brie, Camembert and Mexican-style cheeses (such as queso blanco) can contain listeria and other bacteria. “Certain cheeses can be imported from countries that use raw, unpasteurized milk,” shares Dr. Rajpal. “Make sure you read the labels to ensure it is pasteurized and try and stick with harder cheeses like cheddar or Swiss.”
  5. High-mercury fish. “Fish can be a great source of protein during pregnancy, but those high in mercury, such as king mackerel and swordfish, can lead to brain damage and developmental delays in the baby,” Dr. Rajpal shares. Canned, chunk light tuna can be consumed in addition to fish like catfish and cod, but in moderation, she adds.
  6. Shellfish. Oysters, clams and mussels can pose a concern for pregnant women as they can harbor seafood-borne illnesses. “Cooking these foods can prevent some types of infections, but it doesn’t necessarily alleviate all potential threats, so I would avoid if possible,” Dr. Rajpal explains.
  7. Unwashed vegetables. As part of a balanced diet, vegetables are safe and necessary—especially during pregnancy. However, Dr. Rajpal warns that you must wash your vegetables to avoid toxoplasmosis, a rare but serious blood infection.
  8. Caffeine. “This one is a bit controversial, but there seems to be an overall consensus amongst experts that it is okay to consume less than 200 mg of caffeine per day, which is equal to roughly one 12 oz. cup of coffee,” says Dr. Rajpal. As a natural diuretic, caffeine can eliminate fluids from the body, so she advises women to make sure they drink plenty of water, juice and milk throughout the day instead of caffeinated beverages.

Dr. Rajpal recommends talking with your OB/GYN for any questions pertaining to your diet during your pregnancy. “Also make sure to take your prenatal vitamin to fill in any small, nutritional gaps that you may unintentionally not fulfill from your regular diet,” she adds.

Dr. Rajpal is located in Edison and is a physician at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group, a network of more than 1,000 physicians and advanced providers at over 300 practices throughout New Jersey. Our care network can help you better manage your health. Visit HMHMedicalGroup.org to find a practice near you.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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