11 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

It's best to avoid these bites when pregnant—and here's why!

a photo of a pregnant woman looking at her refrigerator
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While there are amazing foods you should include during pregnancy, there's the opposite end of the spectrum too—foods that should be avoided. To best cut through all the varied information out there, we tapped a slew of registered dietitians across the country for their picks. They shared the foods to steer clear of and provided some stellar reasoning behind their suggestions and some excellent swaps to choose from. Read on to learn the foods pregnant people should avoid.

High-Mercury Seafood

Amy Gorin, M.S., RDN, an inclusive plant-based dietitian in Stamford, Connecticut, and owner of Plant Based with Amy, says, "It's never recommended to eat a large amount of high-mercury fish, and this is especially important during pregnancy. This is because mercury can harm a developing baby's brain, according to the Mayo Clinic." Thankfully, not all seafood is bad news. Gorin explained that pregnant people should aim to eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces a week of low-mercury seafood: "Choosing fatty fish, such as salmon and anchovies, provides EPA and DHA omega-3s. These nutrients are incredibly beneficial for your baby's developing brain."

Raw or Runny Eggs

"When you eat eggs during pregnancy, the USDA recommends cooking eggs until the yolk and whites are firm. This is because pregnant women are vulnerable to foodborne illnesses that may arise from eating uncooked eggs," Gorin shares. However, fully cooked eggs are a great addition to the pregnancy diet. Gorin loves them hard-boiled, in omelets or in quiches. "When it comes to pregnancy foods, eggs are one of the top foods to embrace!" she says. "For one, they're a good source of high-quality protein. Plus, they are one of the few foods rich in choline. Higher choline intake during pregnancy can have lasting beneficial effects on brain health and development for babies into their school-age years". Gorin notes that, unfortunately, 90% of pregnant people don't get enough choline. In fact, according to a 2019 article published in Nutrients, less than 10% of pregnant people achieve the recommended intake, which is 450 milligrams of choline per day. However, consuming just two eggs daily provides over the recommended intake for pregnant people and can help them meet their needs. "Also, eggs are recommended for healthy adults as part of a heart-healthy diet according to the American Heart Association," Gorin states.

Unpasteurized Cheese

Say it ain't so! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eating soft cheese during pregnancy puts you at risk for Listeria infection, which can be deadly, especially to newborn babies. Gorin expands on this, adding that in the United States, many Listeria outbreaks have been linked to eating unpasteurized cheese such as queso fresco, Camembert, Brie or feta. She suggested picking a firmer cheese, such as Cheddar or Swiss. "You have so many cheese options at your fingertips that you can use this time during pregnancy to try new varieties of cheese! When shopping for cheese, just check that the label says, 'made with pasteurized milk,'" Gorin explains.


Gorin says that, according to the CDC,when it comes to drinking alcohol during pregnancy, there's no known safe amount to consume. "This is because alcohol from the mother passes to the unborn baby through the umbilical cord—and consuming alcohol during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities," Gorin cautions. Alternatively, sparkling water with lemon or lime can be very refreshing. She adds, "If you want to make something fancier, a tea-based mocktail can be fun. Staying hydrated during pregnancy is very important for the optimal health of the mother and baby!"


According to Kimberley Wiemann, M.S., RDN, a registered dietitian based in Long Island, another no-no is kombucha. "People often enjoy the digestive benefits of kombucha," she says. However, she says pregnant people should avoid kombucha because it is often not pasteurized, which means it may contain harmful bacteria. Additionally, Wiemann notes that some kombucha might contain alcohol. "Although the alcohol content is typically low, it is suggested to avoid all alcohol consumption during pregnancy," Wiemann says. She shares that a great alternative would be either pasteurized kefir or yogurt.

Poppy Seeds (right before birth)

Dani Lebovitz, M.S., RDN, founder of Kid Food Explorers and Food Education Guide, says that pregnant people might want to skip their favorite poppy seed bagel or poppy seed dressing a few days before giving birth. Occasionally, eating a poppy seed treat could produce a false positive for opioids in a drug screening test. She notes that poppy seeds are derived from opium poppies. Although the screening requirements presented by the Department of Health and Human Services updated their guidelines in 1998, some hospitals continue to use a more sensitive screening requirement for new or expectant people. Instead of a poppy seed bagel, Lebovitz suggests trying a sesame bagel. She says, "Sesame seeds are a good source of fiber and healthy fats. And substitute your poppy seed dressing with a ginger dressing, minimizing nausea and indigestion that often accompanies the final weeks of pregnancy."

Bagged Salads

Enjoying salads during pregnancy can help with hydration and is a great way to add fiber, vitamins and minerals, but making them from pre-bagged options should be avoided during pregnancy. Lebovitz explains, "Sure, the convenience is nice, but the risk for Listeria contamination is much higher in ready-to-eat salad bags. Listeria monocytogenes is a disease-causing bacterium that can pass from the mother to the unborn baby and may lead to miscarriages, stillbirths and preterm labor." The CDC states that pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get infected by Listeria. Lebovitz says, "Make your own salad from a head of lettuce versus pre-bagged options. Start by picking lettuce heads free of bruises and damage. Then place it in a bag before you put it in your cart to prevent cross-contamination and damage. Store lettuce in the refrigerator at 40° F or below."

Deli Meat

Another popular item that should be limited during pregnancy is deli meat. According to Lebovitz, "If you find yourself craving an Italian sub sandwich during pregnancy, you may consider waiting until after you have delivered to satisfy that desire. Not only are deli meats a risk for Listeria, they also contain nitrates. Nitrates are added to deli meat to preserve freshness and retain their color." According to a 2016 article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, prenatal exposure to animal-based nitrates may increase the risk of preterm birth." An alternative she recommends? "Try an oyster po'boy. Oysters are low in mercury, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and packed with essential nutrients during pregnancy like iron, zinc and B12," she shares.


"Sprouts grow best in warm, humid environments—making them an ideal breeding ground for foodborne germs like Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli," says Kim Yawitz, RD, a registered dietitian in St. Louis, Missouri. "Sprouts have been linked to dozens of foodborne illness outbreaks. While most healthy adults can avoid getting sick with a few simple precautions, pregnant women are much more vulnerable to bacteria that commonly grow on sprouts. For example, moms-to-be are 10 times more likely to contract Listeria, which increases the risk of miscarriage and fetal death," Yawitz warns. A way to get around this issue is to thoroughly cook the sprouts until they're brown and crispy, which can help kill off the most dangerous bacteria during pregnancy. Yawitz adds, "Julienned sugar snap peas are a nice alternative if you're craving some crunch, but sprouts feel too risky."

Raw Meat

According to the World Health Organization, raw meat is one of the main food sources of E. coli outbreaks. Even less severe E. coli infections can lead to fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea—certainly not ideal during pregnancy! Yawitz mentions that there's also some evidence that more severe cases increase the likelihood of preterm labor and low birth weight in babies, and possibly blood infections in pregnant people. Even though rare steak is off the table during pregnancy, there's no need to avoid cooked meats. "Heating ground meat to an internal temperature of 160°F (and whole cuts of meat to 145°F) can bring the risk of eating meat down to an acceptable level," Yawitz explains.

Raw Fish

You don't have to give up your sushi dates during pregnancy, but you might need to get a bit more creative. Yawitz continues, "Raw fish may contain certain bacteria and parasites (like Salmonella and Vibrio) that are more likely to make you sick during pregnancy." She suggests cooking your seafood to 145°F (and reheating leftovers to 165°F), which can help protect mom and baby from foodborne illness. "Ask for fully cooked rolls and pieces on your next sushi date and look for options lower in mercury, like shrimp," she adds.

The Bottom Line

The quality of your diet is essential during pregnancy, not only the foods you include but also the ones you should limit. Please talk to your health care professional before making any dietary decisions during pregnancy.

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