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Pregnancy is a state of extreme physiological change that involves every organ of the woman’s body. Overall, maternal mortality has seen a rise in the United States, and it has become increasingly important to address the health of both women and the fetus. (1)
Importance of Diet During Pregnancy
Diet during pregnancy plays an important role. Many studies have shown that the right intake of micronutrients can be useful in preventing many risk factors of pregnancy.
Taking in the right amount of nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, iodine, folate, and vitamin A is very important. (2) The right nutrients can lead to a healthy pregnancy, reduce the risk of preterm delivery, and prevent birth defects. (2)
In addition to consuming the right amounts of foods, it is also equally important to avoid foods that may cause harm.
Pregnant women are at an increased risk of diseases that may harm them and their baby. For this reason, they are required to avoid the consumption of foods that may contain listeria, salmonella, other types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. (2)
What Not to Eat During Pregnancy
Take a deeper look at this list.
1. Canned and raw fish
Fish provides nutrients including protein, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and iodine, which are necessary for healthy fetal development. Observational studies have found consumption of fish leads to favorable outcomes for the pregnant mother and the baby. (3)
However, seafood is also a source of mercury, which is a potentially toxic mineral and negatively impacts fetal brain development. The amount of mercury varies depending on the source of fish. (3)
Nutritional guidelines of various countries including the United States and the United Kingdom recommend avoiding the consumption of canned fish, particularly tuna, especially during pregnancy. Similarly, raw fish such as in sushi should also be avoided as it may contain parasites that are only killed by freezing or cooking. (3)
2. Rare and processed meat
Meat can be a great source of protein and iron in a pregnant woman’s diet. One study has identified the low consumption of meat during pregnancy to be associated with an increased risk of substance abuse in teenage years. (4)
However, the consumption of rare meat (severely undercooked) as well as processed meats including cold cuts, hot dogs, and deli meats can all lead to an increased risk of developing listeriosis, a severe illness common in pregnant women caused by a germ called listeria. (5)
For this reason, avoid the intake of cold cuts and deli meats and cook your meat dishes well to reduce the chance of illness.
3. Raw or undercooked eggs
Some cultures make use of raw eggs in certain drinks such as ponche, licuados, and eggnog. (6) While the consumption of such foods may be safe, it is risky for pregnant women. Raw unpasteurized eggs may be contaminated with salmonella and cause infections. (7)
Guidelines for pregnant women in Canada recommend that pregnant women avoid raw and undercooked eggs (such as runny scrambled eggs or runny boiled eggs). It also recommends thoroughly washing hands and dishes that have come in contact with raw eggs. (8)
4. Raw shellfish
Pregnant women are advised to avoid the consumption of raw shellfish including mussels, oysters, and shrimps as these can carry viruses and germs that can cause foodborne illnesses. (8)
5. Raw or unpasteurized dairy
Pasteurization of raw milk was introduced over a hundred years ago as a process to kill pathogens and microorganisms. This led to a reduction in diseases and helped preserve the milk for longer. (9)
For this reason, raw unpasteurized dairy such as milk or milk products including cheese, butter, and cream is also unsuitable for pregnant women as it may contain listeria and its consumption can cause listeriosis. (5)
6. Packaged salads
Packaged or bagged salads can be a convenient way for people to consume their daily servings of vegetables. However, prepackaged and ready-to-eat salads have a risk of being contaminated with listeria. (5)
Instead, clean and prepare your own vegetables. Dry them well and store them in serving-size bags for convenience.
Many people consume caffeine in the form of coffee, tea, and energy drinks. It is a vital part of many people’s daily ritual, and you may find yourself turning to caffeinated beverages several times a day.
However, caffeine consumption in pregnant women has been found to have severe negative results. (10)
Though the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Food Safety Authority consider less than 200–300 mg of caffeine per day as safe, (11) current scientific evidence supports the idea of avoiding caffeine entirely. (10)
Pregnant women can make use of decaffeinated coffee and black tea.
Alcohol consumption is perhaps the worst habit a pregnant woman can have. Drinking in expectant mothers can cause impaired growth of the fetus, stillbirths, and fetal alcohol syndrome, which can never be cured. (12)
9. High amounts of vitamin A
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin similar to vitamins D, E, and K. These vitamins are not excreted out like water-soluble vitamins and have a higher chance of increasing toxicity. (13)
While many pregnant women are prescribed some supplements to make up for possible nutritional deficiencies, increased consumption of vitamin A (through food or supplements) at levels higher than 10000 IU/day can cause miscarriages and deformities of the heart and nervous system in the first trimester. (14)
It is important to never consume any supplement before consulting a doctor while pregnant.
Papaya and Pineapple During Pregnancy
Old wife’s tales talk about avoiding the consumption of fruits such as papaya and pineapple with the claim that they are harmful to the pregnant woman and can induce early labor or act as an abortifacient.
Animal studies have clearly shown that the consumption of ripe papaya (up to 1 cup per day) was not harmful. However, unripe fruit, which is rich in substances that cause uterine contractions, can be harmful and therefore needs to be avoided. (15)
In some folk medicine, the whole papaya fruit including its seed is used as medicine due to its antioxidant and other medicinal benefits. However, animal studies have found the extracts of papaya seeds to have antifertility effects in female rats. It also caused disruptions in female hormones and ovarian tissue. (16)
Similar to papaya, pineapple has claims that it can bring about abortion of the fetus due to its chemical components. In addition, in some cultures, ripe pineapple has been used as traditional medication to bring about abortions, while in some other places, the juice of the unripe fruit is used for the same effect. (17)
It is important to note that most of the pineapple’s abortifacient claims arise from its use in folk medicine and have not been proven by science.
Therefore, consuming one serving of papaya or pineapple is generally safe during pregnancy (unless allergic). Choose ripe fruits to keep your baby safe.
General Fruit Consumption in Pregnancy
Fruits are rich sources of micronutrients such as iron, folic acid, vitamin C, and magnesium, all of which are associated with a healthy pregnancy and birth.
In a large study that included pregnant women, the consumption of fruits from early to mid pregnancy was effective in reducing the risk of low birth weight of the fetus. (18)
Can I eat dates while pregnant?
Consuming up to 3 dates is considered safe. Women in their final trimester who use dates to induce labor consume up to 6 dates per day for 4 weeks. (19) However, feel free to avoid the fruit altogether if you feel unsafe.
What herbal teas can be safely consumed?
Most herbal teas have some risk association with pregnancy, so it is better to avoid them. You may have ginger tea (to ease nausea); however, avoid it in the first trimester and have no more than 2 cups per day.
Pregnancy is a special time in every woman’s life. It is not free of anxiety about what foods can be safe and what need to be avoided.
The general idea behind avoiding foods for a safe and healthy pregnancy is to prevent the consumption of toxins and pathogens such as disease-causing microorganisms. Some nutrients may cause toxicity in large amounts, which can affect the baby as well. For concerns and doubts, reach out to your doctor.