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10 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy


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Pregnancy can bring in a bundle of feelings as the beautiful transformation to motherhood culminates in joy, happiness, anxiety, and many more things to do and not do in this crucial period. 

One of the first things most pregnant women do is to learn about the foods not to eat during their pregnancy. However, you can eat anything safe and healthy for you and the unborn, with only a few foods to avoid during pregnancy. 

But, if you are into abnormal food cravings or are a fan of steak, coffee, alcohol, or fish, you need to be wary of what to eat and what not to eat during pregnancy. This article explores the top 10 foods that one should altogether avoid in pregnancy with the reasons why you should not consume them. 

Pregnancy Food to Avoid

  • Fish with high mercury content

Mercury is generally a highly toxic and harmful element. Even low levels of mercury exposure can cause harm to the body. Mercury is common in polluted water, especially seas. Fishes and sea creatures in polluted seas and water bodies have high amounts of mercury. 

Mercury can affect one’s immune system and neural and kidney functioning. Statistics have also shown that high mercury levels in the body can cause severe developmental issues in children. And so pregnant and breastfeeding women must avoid consuming high-mercury fish, including

  • Sharks,
  • Tilefish,
  • King mackerel,
  • Tuna,
  • Marlin,
  • Swordfish.

However, if you are a seafood lover, you can always enjoy having fish with low mercury content for a minimum of 2 to 3 times a week. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends low mercury fishes safe to eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding as they have high omega-3 fatty acids necessary for your baby’s growth. Some low mercury fishes include: 

  • Flounder,
  • Codfish,
  • Salmon,
  • Haddock,
  • Tilapia,
  • Freshwater trout,
  • Anchovies.
  • Undercooked/ Raw Fish

Having fish during pregnancy can help improve omega-3 levels in the body. Omega-3 facilitates foetal development and growth. However, you will need to avoid eating raw or uncooked fish. And if you are a sushi fan, you need to keep away raw fish in them during pregnancy. 

Raw fish like shellfish can cause several infections, including viral, bacterial, or parasitic. Some commonly affecting pathogens from raw fish, such as vibrio, salmonella, and norovirus, can cause fatigue and dehydration. Sometimes, the infections can be passed on to the baby, causing severe complications for the mother and the child. 

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Listeria is one such infection that is ten times more likely to affect pregnant women. The pathogens in the soil contaminate the water bodies and plants. 

Unprocessed, uncooked, or raw (including dried and smoked) fish can transmit the listeria-causing bacteria to the foetus through the placenta, causing serious pregnancy complications, including premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth, making it unsafe to eat during pregnancy. 

  • Caffeine in Soda and Coffee

Pregnant women are most often advised to avoid caffeine during pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), moderate caffeine consumption, less than 200 milligrams (mg) per day, is considered safe during pregnancy. 

Caffeine generally gets quickly absorbed into the body and can be easily passed into the placenta. The baby and placenta cannot metabolise caffeine, leading to a caffeine build-up. And high caffeine levels during pregnancy can slow down foetal growth while increasing the risk of low birth weight at delivery. 

Excess caffeine intake is also associated with an increased probability of foetal deaths and chronic disorders in adulthood. So, refrain from coffee and carbonated caffeine during pregnancy.

  • Undercooked, processed, raw, and organ Meat

It is no good news for pregnant women who love meat. Undercooked, raw, or processed meat also can affect pregnancy as it is associated with an increased risk of bacterial infections, including toxoplasma, E.coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. 

These infections can lead to neurological diseases, intellectual disability, eye-sight issues, and epilepsy. And so whole or cut meat should never be consumed raw during pregnancy. Even processed meats should be taken after proper reheating or steaming. 

Organ meats, like the liver, stomach, and intestines, are the most important foods to avoid during early pregnancy. Though organ meat is a great source of iron, zinc, selenium, copper, vitamin B12, and A, which are extremely essential for the baby and the mother, too much animal-based vitamin-A in the first trimester can lead to congenital deformities and miscarriage. 

  • Raw Eggs

Salmonella bacteria contamination is very commonly seen in raw eggs. Salmonella infections can manifest symptoms of fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach aches, and diarrhoea. And during pregnancy, Salmonella infections can impact pregnancy outcomes, leading to premature delivery and stillbirth babies.  

Foods with raw eggs include,

  • lightly scrambled eggs
  • poached eggs
  • Homemade mayonnaise,
  • Mayonnaise salad dressings,
  • Icecreams with eggs,
  • Cake icings with eggs, 
  • Hollandaise sauce

While using commercial products with eggs, it is always safe to check the label and thoroughly read through the ingredients before use. 

  • Raw Sprouts

Sprouts are a healthy choice pumped with nutrients, proteins, and fibre. Raw sprouts, such as alfalfa, radish, mung bean sprouts, and clovers, can also be contaminated with the salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli bacterium. The humid and moist conditions of sprouting are ideal for salmonella growth. 

Even repeated washing or cleaning cannot eliminate these kinds of stubborn bacteria. And so, avoiding raw sprouts during pregnancy is a wise choice. However, the FDA recommends that sprouts can be cooked and consumed safely, as cooking kills bacteria and reduces the risk of bacterial infections.

  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables

Washing fruits and vegetables before use are crucial to remove bacteria and other parasites. The surfaces of fruits and vegetables are usually contaminated with pathogens, such as Toxoplasma, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. 

These pathogens can be from the soil or water acquired during harvesting, processing, storage, transportation, or supply. 

Toxoplasma is one of the most deadly parasites that can manifest symptoms like high fever prolonged for over a month. Foetus infected with toxoplasmosis may develop eye-sight issues and learning disabilities later in life. The toxoplasmosis bacteria infect the baby’s eye and brain and damage them at birth. 

Toxoplasmosis infections are one of the paramount things to avoid during pregnancy that can cause miscarriage. According to CDC, these bacterial infections in early pregnancy can potentially result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or a child with toxoplasmosis infection (abnormal enlargement or small head) 

Hence, it is important to minimise the risk of toxoplasmosis infection during pregnancy with thorough washing, peeling, and cooking vegetables and fruits. 

  • Unpasteurised dairy products and fruit juices

Milk has enriching nutrients, including proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. However, raw milk, soft cheese, and unprocessed dairy can contain harmful bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E.coli. 

Even unpasteurised juices are viable to bacterial contamination and can cause harmful abnormal pregnancy consequences. Storage of unpasteurised dairy for a long time also helps bacterial growth. 

Pasteurisation can effectively kill these harmful bacteria without altering their nutritional value. It is safe to have only pasteurised products during pregnancy to minimise the risk of abnormal pregnancy outcomes or infections.     

  • Alcohol

One of the things to avoid during pregnancy that causes miscarriage is alcohol. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and sudden infant death syndrome risk. 

Even small amounts of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding can cause foetal alcohol syndrome, where the babies are affected with facial deformities, heart ailments, and intellectual disabilities. 

In short, there are no safe levels of alcohol intake during pregnancy. And so, alcohol is a strict no for pregnant women. 

  • Junk and processed foods

Pregnancy diets must always be full of nutritious foods with increased amounts of essential nutrients, proteins, iron, folate, vitamins, and minerals. You will need to increase your calorie intake to nearly 350 calories per day in the first trimester and 450 calories per day by the third.

However, having junk or processed foods to increase calories are low in calories and may not suffice the nutrient requirements during pregnancy. At the same time, junk foods are high in sugar and trans fats that can add to abnormal weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure during gestation. 

Excess weight gain in pregnancy and gestational diabetes are associated with pregnancy complications. It is important to stick to meals with whole grains, essential proteins, fresh vegetables, and fruits while pregnant. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the foods to avoid during implantation?

Implantation is a crucial period where the embryo attaches itself to the uterus for further development and growth. During implantation, one must avoid foods like unprocessed meats, raw eggs, unprocessed dairy products, and highly sweetened and junk foods. 

What foods to avoid during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, one needs to be careful of what to eat and not to eat. Foods to avoid during pregnancy include

  • Foods with raw or uncooked meats- sushi, sashimi, ceviche, and raw oysters, scallops, or clams (including smoked or grilled meats)
  • Uncooked and high mercury seafood,
  • Unpasteurised dairy products like soft cheese and raw milk,
  • Junk or processed foods- high in calories, sugar, and fats,
  • Uncooked or raw eggs- parboiled or poached eggs, and mayonnaise,
  • Caffeinated drinks, including coffee,
  • Alcohol,
  • Uncooked sprouts,
  • Unwashed vegetables and fruits.

What drinks to avoid while pregnant?

Pregnant women will need to avoid beverages, including:

  • Alcohol,
  • Unpasteurised or raw milk,
  • Freshly squeezed juice at a juice bar or unpasteurised juice,
  • Coffee or caffeinated drinks (not more than 200 mg a day). 


Pregnancy can get overwhelming with things to do and not do. This crucial time needs to be well taken care of with proper care. If your mind is lingering with questions like “what not to eat during pregnancy?” What not to eat foods include uncooked or raw meat and fish, unpasteurised milk and dairy, uncooked eggs, caffeine, and junk foods during pregnancy. These foods can put the mother’s and the unborn child’s health at risk. 

Pregnant women are always advised to avoid these foods or limit their quantities to have a healthy and safe pregnancy. And to know more about pregnancy-safe foods and beverages, get connected with your gynaecologist or nutritionist because healthy eating is quintessential during pregnancy. 

Srujana Mohanty
She is the Managing Editor of Cogito137, one of India’s leading student-run science communication magazines. She's been working in scientific and medical writing and editing since 2018, also associated with the quality assurance team of scientific journal editing. Majored in Chemistry with a minor in Biology at IISER Kolkata, Srujana loves doodling and watching series.


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