Pregnant women have an important (and rewarding) job; to stay healthy and make sure the child they’re carrying develops and grows properly. Eating (and avoiding) the right foods can greatly increase your child’s chance of being born healthy. It can be overwhelming, but knowing what foods to avoid while pregnant can benefit both you and your baby.
1. Certain Types of Fish
Although fish contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and protein, the EPA and FDA advise pregnant women to avoid eating certain types of fish due to high levels of mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause problems for a developing fetus’s brain and nervous system. Fish to avoid while pregnant include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Other types of fish can be consumed but in moderation (up to 12 ounces per week). Fish that are considered low in mercury include salmon, shrimp, Pollock, tilapia, catfish, and canned light tuna. Albacore tuna is higher in mercury than canned light tuna, so limiting it to 6 ounces or less per week is recommended.
2. Soft, Unpasteurized Cheeses
Eating soft cheeses that are unpasteurized, such as brie, feta, camembert, and blue cheese, pose a risk for food-borne illness and therefore should be avoided during pregnancy. Look at the food labels of soft cheeses to see if they are labeled as pasteurized. If so, they should be safe to eat. Most cheeses and cottage cheese are pasteurized and can be part of a healthy pregnancy diet.
3. Raw and Undercooked Meat
Due to risk of food-borne illness, pregnant women are advised to stay away from raw or undercooked meat, such as sushi, processed deli meats, and hot dogs. If the sushi you’re eating is vegetarian, it’s probably safe (depending on how it’s been prepared). Raw or undercooked meat can be a source of listeriosis, which is a rare but serious food-borne illness. According to the FDA, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get listeriosis than other healthy adults. If you do choose to eat ready-to-eat processed deli meats or ho tdogs, heat them up to a safe temperature before consuming them.
Since it’s not known what a “safe” amount of alcohol is during pregnancy, most doctors recommend avoiding alcohol entirely. Large amounts of alcohol consumption can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome which can cause physical and cognitive abnormalities in the developing fetus.
Although consuming caffeine in small amounts may not be harmful, to be safe it’s best for pregnant women to eliminate caffeine from their diet. Some studies show that caffeine consumption may increase miscarriage or lead to low birth weight or pre-term babies. If you choose to drink caffeine, amounts of 150 – 300 mg of per day are likely okay but avoiding caffeine all together is the safest choice.
6. Artificial Sweeteners
Due to limited research on artificial sweeteners consumed during pregnancy, it’s best to avoid them as much as possible. Some artificial sweeteners such as Sucralose and Aspartame are considered safer than others for pregnant women to consume. However, questionable or unsafe artificial sweeteners that should be avoided include Saccharine, Stevia and Cyclamate.