30 Foods Pregnant Women Should Not Eat
Pregnancy is a time of great excitement. The concept of bringing a new life into the world is awe-inspiring. There are so many things to do while preparing for your baby’s arrival. Doctor’s appointments, decorating the nursery, and packing your bags to be ready to go to the hospital are only a few. Women should be kind to their bodies during pregnancy. Following a healthy diet and doing moderate exercise help pregnant women to keep their weight under control.
Too many women take on the task of ‘eating for two’ and have a lot of excess weight to lose after giving birth. Resting and taking care of yourself are also an important part of pregnancy. In the last few weeks, pregnant women are encouraged to get as much sleep as possible… they’re going to need it! Following a healthy diet while pregnant is not as easy as it sounds. There are plenty of foods that may seem healthy that can be harmful to mums-to-be and their babies. As much as you may enjoy some of them, avoid them while you’re pregnant in the best interests of your little bundle of joy.
Here are 30 things you should avoid eating while you’re pregnant:
30. Mercury-ridden fish
The types of fish that contain the highest levels of mercury are king mackerel, tilefish, sharks, and swordfish. The source of the mercury in fish is still the subject of investigation. Contrary to popular belief, pollution is not necessarily to blame. Long-term studies have shown no changes in the mercury levels of tuna despite increased exposure to the element. Tuna also contain significant levels of mercury.
Freshwater fish show signs of mercury which many scientists attribute to rising mercury levels resulting from pollution. Upon entering the human body, mercury converts to methylmercury. As a heavy metal and neurotoxin, exposure to excessive amounts of mercury can have negative consequences for the body. This is more of a risk for pregnant women. High levels of methylmercury in the body may cause brain damage in unborn fetuses and can result in delayed achievement of developmental milestones. These are lifelong effects.
29. Smoked seafood
Smoked seafood is cured with salt. Raised salt levels put the kidneys under strain and may result in high blood pressure. Raised blood pressure leads to swelling in joint areas such as the knees, ankles, and fingers. Excessively high blood pressure, called preeclampsia, can be fatal for both mother and baby. Avoid smoked seafood that is labeled as ‘lox,’ ‘jerky,’ or ‘smoked.’ One buys uncanned smoked seafood at the deli counter of your local grocery store. There is a risk that it contains the listeria bacteria. Infection by this bacterium is listeriosis, and it can be fatal.
Pregnant women are at higher risk. Their lowered immune system means they are more susceptible to opportunistic infections. Listeriosis can result in miscarriages and stillbirths. Babies born to mothers with listeriosis may experience postnatal complications. The symptoms of listeriosis include diarrhea and vomiting. Pregnant women who experience such symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
28. Industrially polluted fish
The byproducts of industrial plants such as tanneries are pumped into nearby dams and rivers. Alternatively, the waste seeps into the groundwater and reaches bodies of fresh water. Fish consume these pollutants. The pollutants absorbed by the fish remain in the flesh which the diner eats. An example of one such pollutant is polychlorinated biphenyls. Industrial pollutants can have a profound impact on a woman’s unborn baby.
The physical effects include a reduced cranial diameter and lower than average weight at birth. The pollutants may also affect the brain which can result in conditions which hamper learning and memorization. Pregnant women should exercise caution when eating freshwater fish caught from local streams, rivers, and lakes. Local authorities publish information about the safety of consuming fish from these bodies of water. Heed these warnings. Better yet, abstain from eating freshwater fish that wasn’t bought at a local grocery store.
27. Uncooked shellfish
Shellfish contain several toxins, viruses, and bacteria. Clams and oysters are susceptible to retaining toxins from the water around them. An example would be the red tide. The event creates a toxin. If ingested, the toxin may result in Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. Raw shellfish can also contain bacteria such as salmonella and Vibrio vulnificus. Both can cause severe gastrointestinal illness with diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and vomiting.
A weakened immune system is common during pregnancy. This predisposes pregnant women from becoming ill from eating raw shellfish. Ingestion of toxins and bacteria can cause infection in the unborn child. The result may be a miscarriage or stillbirth. Alternatively, there is a risk that the baby might be born with neurological complications that are lifelong conditions. The risk is at its highest in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy. Shellfish such as oysters can be eaten during pregnancy in moderate amounts provided that they are thoroughly cooked.
26. Underdone eggs
From raw egg in a protein shake to eggs that aren’t properly cooked, not being careful about eggs can affect a pregnancy. Eggs are an excellent source of protein which the body of a pregnant woman needs. However, exercise caution in how the eggs are prepared and cooked.
There is a chance that eggs may contain salmonella. The bacterium is killed in the cooking process as they are exposed to heat. A salmonella infection will result in diarrhea and vomiting. Gastrointestinal illness presents the danger of dehydration. The body is expelling liquids before they can be absorbed and used. This can lead to the baby being dehydrated as well. Avoid any dishes that contain raw egg, no matter how little. A lot of refrigerated desserts such as mousse contain raw eggs. Salad dressings may also include raw egg. Cook eggs thoroughly. Boiled eggs should not be soft and runny.
25. Uncooked meat and poultry
Uncooked meat and poultry present a health risk under normal circumstances. However, these risks are compounded by pregnancy where a woman’s body is more vulnerable than ever. The salmonella bacterium is present in raw or under-cooked meat and poultry. The only way to eliminate it is to cook meat thoroughly. A salmonella infection leads to all the hallmarks of food poisoning and the potential for dehydration.
Another possible risk of eating uncooked meat and poultry is toxoplasmosis. The Toxoplasma parasite is destroyed by heat. As uncooked or under cooked meat has not been heated throughout, there is a chance that the parasite will enter the body. Toxoplasmosis can have severe effects on an unborn fetus. The fetus may spontaneously abort resulting in a miscarriage. Death during delivery is also a very real risk. Any meat eaten during pregnancy must be cooked throughout with no raw spots at all.
24. Delicatessen meat
Processed meats, such as those sold at your local deli, should be avoided during pregnancy. Foods like sliced meats, sandwich meats, cold cuts, and hot-dogs are processed meats. During the manufacturing process, it is possible for these foods to be contaminated by the listeria bacterium. An infection causes listeriosis which can cause serious pregnancy complications. The Listeria bacterium can move between the mother’s body and the placenta. The placenta feeds the baby. If listeriosis reaches the placenta, the fetus will be infected.
Both mother and her unborn child can become very ill. One of the consequences of listeriosis is the death of the fetus. One of the ways to make deli meats safer to eat is heating and cooking them at high temperatures. This kills off the bacteria. This process needs to be undertaken with care. Thorough heating is necessary. The Listeria bacterium is notoriously stubborn.
23. Unpasteurized milk
Milk that has not yet been pasteurized is regarded as being raw. Pasteurization of the milk involves heating it to very high temperatures to kill off any bacteria and germs. Unpasteurized milk is a breeding ground for listeriosis, salmonella, and E. coli. Infection with any of these bacteria will cause gastrointestinal severe illness. A healthy immune system should be able to fight off the bacteria, and the drinker will have only mild symptoms. However, pregnant women’s immune systems are weakened. This means that an infection will be more serious. The harm done to the baby can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth complications.
Due to the dangers posed by unpasteurized milk, the sale of the product is not allowed in many areas. Where unpasteurized milk is being sold, it must be labeled clearly. Drinking milk during pregnancy is harmless unless the mother-to-be is lactose intolerant. Always check the label to make sure the milk is pasteurized.
22. Unpasteurized cheese
Soft cheeses are not pasteurized. The lack of pasteurization of the milk used to make the cheese means that germs may be present. Bacteria such as listeria lurk in unpasteurized milk and can make a pregnant mother and her child very ill. Listeriosis can result in the death of a baby. Examples of soft cheeses include Brie, Camembert, feta, and blue-veined cheeses. Mexican-style cheeses are also categorized as soft cheeses.
Cheddar cheese is a hard cheese which is considered safe. Mozzarella cheese is also safe although it is classed as a semi-soft cheese. Processed cheeses, cream cheese, and cottage cheese can be safely consumed during pregnancy as they are made with pasteurized milk. Some feta cheeses are made with pasteurized milk and can be included in a pregnant woman’s diet. Pregnant women should read the labels of all cheeses they eat to make sure pasteurized milk has been used.
21. Unrinsed fruit and vegetables
Many people underestimate the importance of rinsing fruits and vegetables before consuming them. One of the most important things to look out for on fruits and vegetables is soil. The soil is a ripe breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Soil contains animal droppings and organic fertilizers which encourage the growth of all organisms including bacteria.
Bacteria such as E. coli can attach themselves to fruits and vegetables. In 2011, an E. coli outbreak in the United Kingdom was traced back to leeks and potatoes. Both vegetables grow underground. It seems that the bacteria attached itself to the vegetables from the soil. E. coli is characterized by diarrhea and vomiting. Pregnant women are less able to resist such bacteria as their immune systems are suppressed. Trace amounts of pesticides may also be on the skin of your fruits and vegetables. These pesticides contain chemicals which may be harmful both mother and baby.
20. Uncooked sprouts
Raw sprouts can carry E. coli, salmonella, and listeriosis. These bacteria are stubborn and can only be eradicated by cooking them at high temperatures. Pregnant women should avoid any foods that could cause listeriosis. This infection can result in miscarriage, premature birth, or birth complications. The bacteria that can cause a pregnant woman so much harm can enter the seeds of sprouts. Once inside the seeds, they continue to grow and multiply. This makes the sprouts a rich source of bacteria which a pregnant woman should be avoided at all costs.
Sprouts can be eaten during pregnancy, provided they are cooked thoroughly at very high temperatures. Salads and sandwiches are frequently served with raw sprouts at restaurants. Always insist that you don’t get served any. Send the entire order back if necessary, instead of merely picking the raw sprouts out. The bacteria might already have spread to the other ingredients.
Papaya fruit is delicious with its exotic flavor. The papaya fruit is native to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India. For many years, women in these countries have used the fruit as an abortifacient. This means the fruit is used to cause a miscarriage. They would eat a lot of papayas, and some would apply green papaya to the uterus. The main reason papaya should be avoided is that it contains latex. The latex is known to trigger contractions of the uterus which could result in early labor or miscarriage.
In addition to not eating papaya during pregnancy, women are cautioned to carefully examine the ingredients of any supplements or natural products they use. Many contain the papain enzyme. Moderate amounts of papaya can be eaten during pregnancy. The fruit is nutritious and helps with heartburn and constipation. It’s best to eat ripe papayas as they contain the lowest concentrations of papain.
There are two main reasons that a lot of people believe that grapes are dangerous for pregnant women. The first one is the number of pesticides used on grapes to prevent them from being infested by bugs. Trace amounts of these pesticides may remain on the skin of the grapes despite thorough washing. Pesticides are made using several harmful chemicals. While not necessarily dangerous in small quantities, there is a chance they could affect the fetus.
The second reason is the presence of resveratrol in red grapes. The chemical compound is a known anti-oxidant and the reason that moderate red wine consumption is said to have so many benefits. Animal studies have shown that resveratrol does improve blood flow to the fetus which is positive. However, the studies also indicate that pancreatic problems may develop in pregnant women who consume too much resveratrol. The pancreatic problems could lead to conditions such as diabetes.
Delicious pineapple is packed with wholesome, nutritious vitamins and minerals which is why many people would assume they would be good for a pregnant woman. However, lurking in the pineapple is a substance called bromelain. Pineapple is the only known significant source of this enzyme. Under normal circumstances, bromelain is good for the human body. It helps to reduce inflammation and is an excellent post-operative treatment to aid the healing process.
The reason bromelain should be avoided during pregnancy is that it can lead to the softening of the cervix. The cervix begins to soften during the end of the pregnancy and is a precursor to the onset of labor contractions. The cervix needs to soften so that it can dilate sufficiently for the baby to pass through the birth canal. Early cervical softening can lead to premature labor. Babies born prematurely are at a far greater risk of health complications than those carried to full term.
16. Cabbage and lettuce
Both cabbage and lettuce are green vegetables that are made up of several layers of leaves. Cabbage is generally cooked before being served, while lettuce is typically served raw. Pregnant women should avoid eating raw cabbage. There is a risk that it can carry bacteria such as listeria. Food-borne diseases are caused by bacteria. Cabbage is known for carrying them. Cabbage should be cooked before eating. Coleslaw salad is made with raw cabbage and should be avoided.
Lettuce has a similar problem to cabbage in that it can carry bacteria. Both vegetables are prone to infestation by fungi and insects. They are treated with fungicides and pesticides to protect them while they are growing. These substances are made from potentially harmful chemicals. Residual traces may remain on the leaves after harvesting and packaging. Extensive rinsing and washing of lettuce are recommended before consuming it.
The eggplant is more commonly known as aubergine or brinjal. The glossy fruit has a rich, deep purple colored skin which is glossy. Eggplant is rich in vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. It is a definite favorite among vegetarians. Eggplants have many benefits. They are good for the immune system, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and digestive system. All these benefits are good for expectant moms as pregnancy can affect all four. The high levels of vitamins and minerals mean that eggplant can be good for the development of the baby.
But there is a chance the eggplant can do more harm than good during pregnancy. It contains a lot of phytohormones. The phytohormones trigger menstruation which could lead to a miscarriage or premature delivery. Eggplant can also increase the acidity levels in the body. The result is heartburn and indigestion which can cause a lot of discomforts.
14. Store-bought and restaurant salads
Pregnant women should preferably eat salads that are prepared at home. There is a greater chance of bacterial infection when eating salads ordered at a restaurant or bought at a store. The first risk is that the fruits and vegetables may not have been washed properly. Avoid processed meats such as ham during pregnancy as they are known to carry bacteria such as listeria.
A lot of salad dressings contain raw egg. Raw and under cooked eggs can carry the salmonella bacteria. Many salads include raw sprouts which are also inclined to carry bacteria such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. Unless you have access to a full list of the ingredients used in the salad, it’s best to avoid eating it. For the duration of the pregnancy, women should make and eat salads at home so that they can be sure no harmful ingredients are present.
13. Unpasteurized fruit juices
Like milk, fruit and vegetable juices should be pasteurized. This involves heating the juices to high temperatures and allowing them to cool down. The reasons for pasteurizing juices are the same as that for pasteurizing milk. The process kills off any bacteria in the liquid that can cause an infection.
There is a good chance that unpasteurized juices contain salmonella and E. coli. Both bacteria can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting which puts the baby at risk. There are many cases in which E. coli infections have been fatal. Unpasteurized juices may also contain botulism. This neurotoxin can cause impairment of the nervous system causing nerve transmission problems. The presence of Cryptosporidium can lead to severe diarrhea. Pregnant women should check that the juices they buy are pasteurized. Juices made at home can be pasteurized by allowing them to boil for a minute or two and then cool down.
12. Excessive amounts of caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant. It causes the heart rate and blood pressure to rise and gives the consumer an energy boost. Caffeine is also a diuretic. This means that increases the frequency at which the body expels urine. Caffeine may not do the pregnant mother’s body much harm, but it is not good for the baby at all. Caffeine is not confined to coffee. It is present in tea, chocolate, and some sodas.
Caffeine moves from the mother’s body to the fetus via the blood. A baby’s body is as yet unable to metabolize caffeine. As pregnancy progresses, excessive caffeine consumption may stimulate the baby’s movement patterns in the womb. The baby’s sleep patterns may also be interrupted by too much caffeine. There is a suggestion based on animal studies that excessive use of caffeine can result in low birth weight. Pregnant moms should not ingest more than 200mg of caffeine daily.
11. Herbal supplements and teas
There are many herbs out there that are good for the body and its overall well-being. Under normal circumstances, taking herbal supplements and drinking herbal teas is good for you. The effect of herbs on the pregnant body is different. Consult a doctor about the herbal supplements and teas you want to use.
In general, herbal teas are made from the bark, leaves, seeds — berries, roots, and flowers of certain plants. However, there are some that pregnant women should use with caution. Chamomile tea is used to help one calm down and alleviates insomnia. There is a chance the tea might stimulate uterine contractions which will result in miscarriage or premature labor. Nettle-leaf tea is also associated with uterine contractions. It is included in many ‘pregnancy teas,’ so expectant mothers should read the labels of the products they buy. Dandelion tea has a strong diuretic function which is not good for pregnant women.
10. Canned foods and beverages
Food and beverage cans are made from aluminum, tinplate which is steel coated with tin, or tin-free steel. Most cans are lined with a resin to protect the lining. The resin coating contains BPA. BPA is bisphenol-A which is a dangerous substance. The BPA easily finds its way into the can’s contents. From there, it’s easy to get into the bloodstream. Pregnant women should avoid exposing their bodies to BPA as it can have devastating consequences for their babies.
BPA disrupts the endocrine system. This system is responsible for the secretion of hormones into the body. During pregnancy, the endocrine system is working harder than ever to maintain the healthy development of the fetus. BPA throws the endocrine system out of balance by mimicking its hormones. There is growing evidence that high levels of BPA in pregnant women can affect the brain development of a baby. This has behavioral and developmental implications.
9. Foods rich in nitrates
In a normal diet, excessive consumption of nitrates should be avoided, while moderate consumption is acceptable. During pregnancy, the expectant mother should remember that she shares what she eats with her unborn baby. The nitrates in the food are passed to the baby through the placenta. Foods that are rich in nitrates include cured, processed, and smoked meats. Sodium nitrate is used in large quantities to preserve the food and make it last longer. Sodium nitrate also gives processed meats, sausages, and hotdogs their pink color.
Another reason sodium nitrate is used is the fact that it prevents botulism. Botulism is a neurotoxin that can lead to neurological disruptions in the body. Upon consuming nitrates, the body converts them into nitrosamines. Studies have had conflicting results, although one found a higher incidence of brain tumors in babies whose mothers had eaten a lot of nitrates during pregnancy.
8. Foods rich in sugar
The stereotype of the pregnancy craving is eating lots of cakes, cookies, and chocolate. While it’s true you might develop a bit of a sweet tooth during pregnancy, try not to go overboard. Too much sugar can mean health complications for both mother and baby. First, too much sugar adds to the regular discomforts caused by pregnancy such as constipation, indigestion, and heartburn.
Additionally, eating too much sugar increases the risk of gestational diabetes. Untreated, the raised blood sugar levels in the mother’s blood pass to the baby. Gestational diabetes can be treated but preferably avoided. The condition can also increase the risk of early labor. There is also an increased chance the mother may develop preeclampsia. This is a dangerous rise in blood pressure which has severe implications for both mother and child. The baby might also be born with a metabolic condition owing to the raised blood sugar levels.
7. Food cart meals
There’s nothing better than that hot dog, pretzel, or burger from your favorite street vendor for lunch. However, aside from the heartburn, these meals may cause, there are additional risks. There is an increased chance that the mother may develop infections and gastrointestinal illnesses.
This is because the food is not always prepared under the most hygienic of standards. The presence of any bacteria is a risk for a pregnant mother whose immune system is weakened while she’s carrying a child. Food that has not been correctly stored or prepared is full of bacteria. Usually, the body can fight off such bacteria. But the body is not functioning as normal during pregnancy. Anything that a pregnant woman eats or drinks is passed onto her baby. Foods that are too spicy might cause both mother and unborn child digestive discomfort. It’s better to avoid such foods during pregnancy.
6. Foods rich in fat
Trans-fats lurk in many of the foods a pregnant mother craves. They are present in fast foods, processed meals, takeaways, fried foods, and margarine. While these foods need not be avoided completely, it is best to limit their intake during pregnancy. Trans-fats are fatty acids that are a byproduct of the hydrogenation process. This is a chemical process that causes liquid oils to solidify. The result is a longer shelf life and increased flavor.
Excessive consumption of trans-fats results in weight gain that can lead to obesity. There is also the risk of high blood pressure and heart conditions. Trans-fats can also cause the fetus to grow to a bigger-than-average size which can complicate a natural delivery. Not all fats are bad for a pregnant mother. Omega 3 and six fats are present in fish, nuts, avocados, and olives. They are good for mother and baby alike provided she consumes them in moderate quantities.
5. Foods that contain artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners replace natural sugars and add a sweet taste to foods. Do not assume that a product labeled sugar-free is good for you. While the sugar has been removed, something must have been added to maintain the flavor. Enter the artificial sweetener. Of all the artificial sweeteners, aspartame is one of the riskiest. It is a sugar substitute in diet sodas. There are people whose bodies cannot process phenylalanine which is found in aspartame.
This is the result of a condition called phenylketonuria. The body’s inability to process phenylalanine can result in fetal congenital disabilities. Saccharin is another well-known artificial sweetener. It is called benzoic sulfimide and is far sweeter than glucose. Many candies, cookies, and medicines are sweetened with saccharin. Expectant mothers should read the labels of the food and beverages they consume. This allows them to make an informed decision about the artificial sweeteners they ingest.
4. Excessive intake of certain vitamins and minerals
Some vitamins and minerals should be increased during pregnancy. These include folic acid. Taking folic acid early on in the pregnancy reduces the risk of spina bifida. Iron and calcium intake should also increase given that the mother must supply her own body and that of the fetus with these two minerals.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, and too much can be dangerous. Excess amounts of Vitamin A that the body doesn’t need are not expelled. Instead, the liver stores them. Continually rising amounts can lead to liver damage and could cause birth defects in the baby. Vitamin E is also a fat-soluble compound so excessive intake should be avoided. The potential harm of too much Vitamin E is stomach pains and early rupture of the amniotic sac in which the baby is growing. Take a good pregnancy supplement recommended by a doctor.
3. Homemade treats
While preparing your food to control the ingredients is a good idea, there are some things a pregnant mother should avoid. One of them is cookie dough. As tempting as it may be, cookie dough should be avoided. It may contain bacteria which could lead to an infection affecting both mother and child. That’s in addition to the high volumes of sugar in the cookies. The same is true for icing. The odd slice of cake won’t do any harm but avoid the batter, and the icing.
Be careful when eating homemade ice-cream. There is also an increased risk of bacterial infections. Cream spoils easily, and bacteria begin to grow inside it. With a decreased immune system, a mother-to-be is vulnerable to infection. Buy cookies and other treats from reputable brands as they follow stringent health standards. These protect the pregnant mom from any undesirable bacteria.
2. Licorice treats
Studies have found that the best thing a pregnant woman can do when it comes to licorice is to avoid it altogether. There is an ingredient in black licorice that can cause damage to a baby’s brain. A study in Finland found that the children of women who ate lots of licorice while pregnant had lower IQ levels. On average, IQ levels were seven points lower. Also, girls tend to enter puberty earlier if their mothers ate a lot of licorice while pregnant.
The compound in licorice that causes the problem is glycyrrhizin. This substance prevents the activity of a specific enzyme needed during pregnancy. The enzyme protects the fetus from being exposed to excessive amounts of cortisol. Too much cortisol in the body of a fetus can cause disruptions to its neurological development. The study did not indicate how much licorice is safe which is why pregnant moms should avoid it.
1. Leftover foods
The minute food is exposed to room temperature, and bacteria begin to form and multiply. After two hours there is a virtual guarantee that bacteria are present. A bacterial infection such as salmonella, E. coli, or listeriosis can have negative consequences for both mother and baby. Pregnant women are susceptible to infection due to their compromised immune systems.
Store leftover food in the fridge as soon as it has cooled down. Pack leftovers in potion-sized containers. Remove them from the fridge and reheated them thoroughly before eating. Heating leftovers to high temperatures destroy any bacteria that may be present. Do not reheat food, allow it to cool down, and then reheat it again. This increases the risk of food poisoning which causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. In the interests of safety, pregnant women should stick to freshly prepared foods. If eating leftovers, exercise caution to prevent infection.