What You Can & Can’t Eat & Drink While Pregnant
Pregnancy diet dos and don’ts.
From the moment you first learned that your little one was on the way, happy, excited, and a little anxious as you may have been, you were also likely bombarded with a litany of things to avoid during pregnancy. And the list is long—so long, in fact, that it may make you think twice about almost every element of your day-to-day. To help you make sense of pregnancy-safe options and general no-nos, we’ve put together a guide to clearly lay out what foods to avoid during pregnancy and what not to drink while pregnant, as well as what to have more of over the course of your pregnancy. Keep reading to learn all about food and drink dos and don’ts during pregnancy.
What Foods Are Not Good For Pregnancy?
When you’re pregnant, it’s all about keeping yourself and your baby healthy. Unfortunately, not all food and drinks are safe for myriad reasons, and some may actually contain chemicals and germs that can harm your unborn child. Some you may already know, while others may surprise you. Read on to find out what foods to avoid during pregnancy.
Unpasteurized dairy products: Many dairy products are pasteurized, which is good, because that means they’re heated to temperatures high enough to kill off potentially harmful bacteria. So be sure to check dairy labels carefully. If they don’t specifically say that they’re pasteurized, it’s better to leave the product on the shelf. That’s because unpasteurized dairy products can cause food poisoning. Listeriosis is one common culprit—a bacteria found in unpasteurized food that can harm your baby, giving you flu-like symptoms in the process. Many cheeses, for example, like feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Panela, brie, Roquefort, and Camembert are all unpasteurized.
If you ever feel any symptoms of food poisoning—like nausea, vomiting, fever, cramps, or diarrhea—or think you may have been exposed to harmful bacteria, let your doctor know.
Raw or undercooked eggs: While eggs are technically dairy products too, raw or slightly uncooked eggs shouldn’t be eaten either, so we decided they deserve their own spot. They can give you another type of food poisoning—Salmonella. Keep a close eye out for raw or undercooked eggs on ingredient lists. You might find that they’re sometimes in products you normally wouldn’t think of, like some Caesar salad dressings, certain sauces such as hollandaise, and even tiramisu.
Raw or undercooked meat and fish: Along similar lines, raw or undercooked meat and fish are also major no-gos. If you’re a sushi superfan, sorry! It’s not worth the risk. Beef, pork, poultry, and fish—especially shellfish—that hasn’t been fully cooked could contain harmful bacteria. Even deli meat and hotdogs are off limits, unless you cook them thoroughly until they’re steaming. Also, stay away from refrigerated smoked seafood, pâtés, or meat spreads, with a couple caveats: If pate can be stored unrefrigerated, or any of the aforementioned foods are cooked into another dish such as a souffle or casserole, you should be good to go.
High-mercury fish: Even if they’re cooked, fish that are high in mercury can harm your baby. That’s because mercury is a metal, and it can pass on to your baby, putting them in danger of brain damage such as impairments to their hearing or vision. Fish that contain high levels of mercury include swimmers like tilefish, swordfish, shark, and king mackerel. And, if you or someone else are a fan of fishing, check with your local health department to see if it’s OK to eat the catch. Aside from potentially high mercury levels, fish that came from waters with high levels of toxic substances are not healthy for you or your infant.
Unwashed fruits and vegetables: While most fruits and veggies are fine to eat while pregnant, make sure to scrub those babies thoroughly. If they’re unwashed, they may still contain pesticides or other environmental hazards.
Raw, undercooked, or unwashed sprouts: Other big no-nos during pregnancy are unwashed sprouts, like radishes, clovers, mung beans, and, especially, alfalfa sprouts. This is because they may contain Salmonella or E.coli. You can, however, feel free to enjoy them after a thorough cooking.
Store-made salads: Salads such as egg, chicken, ham, tuna, and seafood salads made at the store are known to be a likely source of Listeria, which are common in delis.
Herbal supplements: Always talk to your doctor about any herbal supplements, including teas, you may want to have. Supplements aren’t FDA-regulated, so there’s no way to know for sure if they’re safe to use while pregnant.
What Foods Should You Limit During Pregnancy?
Of course, not every food is a hard yes or no. There are some that you can enjoy in moderation. Below, find some foods that you don’t necessarily have to avoid entirely, but which you may want to limit while pregnant.
Low-mercury fish: You don’t have to ban all fish from your diet during pregnancy. Limiting your intake to eight to 12 ounces per week of fish with low mercury levels is fine, and may actually be beneficial (more on that in a bit). These include salmon, catfish, shrimp, pollock, and canned light tuna—if you’re craving albacore tuna, limit yourself to only six ounces a week.
Just make sure any fish you eat is cooked thoroughly. For instance, shellfish should be cooked until their shells open. Lobster, scallop, and shrimp meat will turn a milky white when fully cooked. And any other fish should be cooked to at least 145 degrees until it’s a flaky consistency.
Caffeine: In a slew of clinical animal studies, consumption of large amounts of caffeine has been shown to increase the risk of trouble conceiving, premature labor, preterm delivery, low-birth-weight, and even birth defects. Although coffee, tea, and sodas likely come to mind when thinking about caffeine, it can be found in some foods too. Chocolate, like dark chocolate, has about 86 milligrams of caffeine per 100 grams. On the other hand, 100 grams of chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and 100 grams of chocolate ice cream contain only 6 and 3 milligrams, respectively. Coffee-flavored ice cream, meanwhile, can have up to 66 milligrams of caffeine. You’ll also find caffeine in some snacks, gums, and gels, as well as in some over-the-counter medications. Bottom line: Keep a close eye on those ingredient labels, and limit your caffeine intake from both food and drinks to 200 milligrams or less a day.
What Should You Eat When You Are Pregnant?
OK, we get it. It’s easy to feel restrained by all the foods you can’t have. But just as important as things to avoid during pregnancy, are foods you can—and should -eat. To ensure that you and your baby are getting enough nourishment, it’s best to vary your meals and snacks across food groups. Having plenty of protein, fruits, veggies, grains, and dairy (the pasteurized kind) can help ensure you’re both getting enough nutrients.
Eating a healthy diet can also help mitigate some common symptoms you may experience while pregnant such as constipation and nausea. In general, you need around 300 extra calories in your diet than when you’re not pregnant, but talk with your doctor about what’s right for you. And check out the following foods that are particularly beneficial to your health and your baby’s development.
Protein: Protein is a must-have diet staple throughout your life, but during pregnancy, it’s especially crucial. It helps increase your blood supply and helps your uterine and breast tissue grow. Be sure to get 75 to 100 grams each day. Lean proteins are the healthiest, including beans, peas, seeds, and nuts, as well as lean cuts of chicken, pork, beef, and lamb. As mentioned, six to eight ounces weekly of low-mercury fish, like herring, salmon, catfish, trout, pollock, sardines, canned light or white tuna, and shrimp, can be beneficial. That’s because they’re low in fat and high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, the latter of which are important for your baby’s brain development.
Fruits: Potassium plays a vital role in your health—and your baby’s too. It helps balance fluids in your body, maintain your blood pressure, and helps your muscles to contract. You can find it in bananas, red or pink grapefruit, honeydew melons, cantaloupe, oranges, mangoes, and prunes.
Veggies: Vegetables that contain both potassium and vitamin A are also an optimal choice—the latter of which helps maintain your baby’s health and supports the development of their organs, bones, and immune system, as well as supports your night vision. Sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, carrots, and sweet red peppers contain both vital nutrients, as do spinach and cooked greens.
Grains: When you’re pregnant, you run a higher risk of developing an iron deficiency and becoming anemic. This is because your body needs twice as much iron than when you weren’t pregnant to make a key protein, hemoglobin—the primary component in your red blood cells that oxygenates your tissues. If anemia gets out of hand, it also increases the risk of your baby having a premature birth and low birthweight, and of you coming down with postpartum depression. To help reduce these risks, make sure you’re eating enough grains and vegetables that contain iron.
It’s also important to get enough folic acid, which you can find in grains, veggies, and most berries, citrus fruits, nuts, beans, and fortified cereals. The Center For Disease Control, Institute of Medicine, and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force all recommend consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid daily when you’re pregnant, but also throughout the time you’re of childbearing age. This is because it can help prevent major birth defects known as neural tube defects (NTDs), which can affect the development of your baby's spine (spina bifida) and brain (anencephaly).
Low-fat or fat-free dairy: Dairy products such as yogurt, milk (1% or skim), soymilk, and cheddar cheese are all good sources of potassium and vitamin A, as well as calcium and vitamin D. Calcium helps strengthen both your and your baby’s bones and teeth. It also helps your nerves and muscles function properly, and helps to prevent blood clots. Vitamin D promotes strong bones and teeth too, plus it helps your body optimally use calcium and phosphorus.
Prenatal vitamins: We admit, this one isn’t technically a food, but it’s crucial to take prenatal vitamins prescribed by your OB/GYN. They’re important because, as mentioned, you need more iron and folic acid than you normally would—or that you’d normally get from food alone. So, take your doctor’s advice and take those prenatal vitamins as prescribed.
For more details on the essential nutrients you need while pregnant, and the recommended amount of each, check out the Mayo Clinic’s Pregnancy Diet.
What Should You Not Drink During Pregnancy?
While the list of foods on the no-go list during pregnancy is pretty extensive, when it comes to what drinks should be hands-off, it’s straightforward: alcohol and beverages with too much caffeine. Even in moderation, alcohol should be avoided while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. This is due to the risk of your baby developing fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Kids with FAS have permanent damage to their brain and growth challenges. And, since there’s no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant, it’s best to just avoid it altogether.
Caffeine we’ve already covered. There’s no reason to nix it 100%, but just be careful to limit it to 200 milligrams a day. If you’re trying to game the system and drink decaf instead, keep in mind that, depending on the brand and strength, there’s still caffeine in it, so be sure to take that into account.
What Can You Drink When You Are Pregnant?
It’s important to stay hydrated no matter what your pregnancy status is. But if you’re pregnant, it’s especially important—even more so in the warmer months.
Water: Water is the most important drink you should focus on during your pregnancy. Try and drink at least seven eight-ounce glasses of water a day. If you’re not a huge fan of water to begin with, try it with ice, a lemon, or a sugar-free flavoring. There are also nifty time-stamped water bottles out there that you can use to be sure you’ve drank enough water according to what time of the day it is.
Juice: Juices, the best being orange juice, are fine to have while pregnant. Just be sure they’re fortified with calcium and pasteurized—ones with no added sugar are also best.
Tea: Herbal teas are not regulated by the FDA, so run any that you’d like to have by your doctor before consuming them while pregnant. That said, some herbal teas have been shown to have benefits for pregnant people. These include ginger and peppermint teas, which can help relieve symptoms of morning sickness, as well as caffeine-free and antioxidant-rich rooibos tea.
Coffee: We know it may be hard to part with your morning cup of joe. But, we'd be remiss not to reiterate, just try and limit it to one cup with under 200 milligrams of caffeine.