Pregnancy can bring about a weird relationship with food. You may start craving certain foods you never liked before and gagging with foods you once loved.
In addition, it can be stressful to stay on top of which foods are OK to eat and which ones you should avoid or have in moderation. This is because some foods can put you at greater risk for food poisoning.
“Because women’s immune systems are weaker during pregnancy, certain foods can put pregnant women at higher risk for food-borne illnesses,” said Jennifer Hofmeister, an OBGYN physician assistant at Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, CO. “This is when a small number of bacteria in certain foods causes illness or even pregnancy complications.”
You have a lot on your mind now that you’re expecting, so we’ve rounded up a list of foods and beverages to avoid, to have in moderation and to load up on when you are pregnant—and why.
First, let’s start with what you can have to eat and drink.
Foods to eat
During pregnancy, the goal is to be eating nutritious food most of the time. “The do’s of nutrition in pregnancy emphasize fruits, vegetables, lean protein (that’s 70 grams per day—especially during the second and third trimesters) and water,” Hofmeister said. “Treats such as desserts and processed foods are fine, but in moderation.”
When counseling pregnant women, Hofmeister recommends filling their plates with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (and plant-based meats) and low-fat dairy.
It’s always important to eat a variety of foods throughout the day, making certain you get key nutrients both you and your baby need. You will need to consume an extra 300 calories a day!
Here are a few food groups and some suggested sources for a healthy pregnancy diet.
Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Oranges, honeydew, broccoli and tomatoes are good sources of vitamin C. And dark green leafy vegetables and legumes like black beans are a good source of folic acid. Just make sure you properly wash fruits and vegetables before eating them.
Breads and grains: Whole grain and enriched products provide important nutrients such as iron, vitamin B, fiber and some protein. At least half of your carbohydrates each day should come from whole grains, such as oatmeal and whole wheat pasta.
[Also read “How Much Iron Should You Be Getting.”]
Lean protein: Lean protein contains vitamin B and iron, which are important to your baby’s growth. Protein-rich foods include chicken, beans, pasteurized cheese, low-fat milk, nuts and seeds. Eggs and fish are included in this list, but there are special considerations we’ll discuss in a minute.
Dairy: You should aim for three to four servings of dairy each day. Calcium, found in dairy and some vegetables, is essential for strong bones, normal blood clotting and muscle and nerve function. Good sources of calcium include pasteurized low-fat milks (and plant-based milks), cheese and yogurt.
Foods to proceed with caution
Some foods should be limited during your pregnancy because of the effects they can have on you and your baby when consumed in large quantities.
If coffee or tea is life, giving it up while pregnant may be really difficult. The good news is that you don’t have to give it up cold turkey, you may just have to cut back to one cup a day.
“Pregnant women can have 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine per day,” Hofmeister said. “It’s best to get your caffeine from natural sources, such as coffee or tea, and avoid sugary sodas and energy drinks which are high in caffeine and contain other additives.”
The reason for limiting how much caffeine you have each day is that it’s absorbed very quickly and passes easily to the placenta. In high quantities, caffeine has been shown to affect fetal growth and increase the risk of low birth weight at delivery.
I know, I know. We just talked about coffee and tea, but herbal teas are a whole separate issue. Herbal teas have been used for centuries to help with certain ailments, but some have been linked to miscarriages. Bottom line: Before you sip it, ask your health care provider first.
Raw and undercooked seafood, which we’ll discuss in a minute, are no-no’s during pregnancy, but there are some fish that are OK to have in moderation during pregnancy. You should eat no more than 1 to 2 portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout or herring, or other seafood, such as shrimp and cooked oysters. You can have up to 6 ounces a week of albacore (white) tuna or tuna steaks. You can also enjoy sushi, as long as the fish is cooked.
Undercooked or raw eggs pose a risk for foodborne illness, but this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy eggs altogether. “Eggs can contain salmonella, so they need to be cooked thoroughly before eating,” Hofmeister said. Instead of over easy, cook scrambled eggs well-done or enjoy them hard-boiled.
[Also read “Are Eggs Everything They’re Cracked Up to Be?”]
Deli and processed meats
Hot dogs, cold cuts and deli meat can also contain harmful bacteria. If you want to enjoy them, you’ll need to heat them to steaming hot to kill any bacteria.
Food and drink to avoid
The following are things you should avoid altogether.
Alcohol can affect your baby’s development and other important body parts as it passes through your blood to your baby. It can even have a long-lasting impact on your child’s life after they’re born, causing physical and developmental disabilities.
“There’s no safe amount of alcohol to consume at any point during pregnancy,” Hofmeister said.
High-mercury fish and raw seafood
Seafood such as swordfish, some types of tuna, shark, mackerel and tilefish are high in levels of mercury and should be avoided during pregnancy. If you consume high-mercury fish regularly, mercury can build up in your bloodstream and can be passed to your baby, which can cause damage to their developing brain and nervous system.
Raw or undercooked seafood should also be avoided because it can contain bacteria and viruses, such as listeria, which can cause miscarriage, stillbirths and preterm births and deaths. If you want to enjoy sushi, make sure the seafood is cooked.
Raw, undercooked and cured meats
Meat served raw or undercooked can carry harmful bacteria such as listeria, E. coli, salmonella, toxoplasma and can make you and your unborn baby very sick. Instead of ordering your burger or steak rare, ask for well-done.
Cured meats like salami, pepperoni, chorizo and prosciutto (unless cooked thoroughly) should be avoided as they might have parasites in them that cause toxoplasmosis.
Unpasteurized milk, cheese and fruit juice
It’s best to avoid raw milk, unpasteurized cheese and soft-ripened cheese (like goat cheese, brie, feta, Camembert, queso fresco or blanco) because of the potential risk of harmful bacteria. The same goes for unpasteurized juice.
To minimize your risk of infection, eat or drink only pasteurized milk, cheese and fruit juice.
Salads are great to eat during pregnancy, but avoid raw sprouts like alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean as these might be contaminated with salmonella. However, if you still want to eat them, sprouts are safe to consume if they’ve been thoroughly cooked.
The bottom line
While it might seem like there are a lot of rules when it comes to what you can and cannot eat, the most important thing is to find foods that provide nutrients for you and your unborn baby.
If you have questions about dietary restrictions (such as vegetarian or dairy-free) or whether a food is safe to eat during pregnancy, talk to your health care provider.