There are certain foods and drinks that you should definitely avoid during pregnancy. While it may seem like pregnancy is a free pass to indulge in whatever foods you like, it’s imperative to watch out for these 11 foods and 9 drinks that can be harmful to you and your developing baby.
11 Drinks to Avoid During Pregnancy
- Rare or undercooked meat or raw fish. Most healthy people can enjoy steak tartare, sashimi, or Hawaiian poke with no problems. However, an expectant mother must avoid any type of raw or undercooked meat or fish due to the risk of becoming infected with listeria.
Listeria is a harmful bacteria that is present in many raw foods. It acts as a parasite in the body. According to the American Pregnancy Association, pregnant women are 20 times as likely to contract a listeria infection than women who aren’t pregnant. During pregnancy, a listeria infection is particularly risky. It can cause miscarriage, infection to the baby, and premature delivery.
Raw or undercooked beef can also contain salmonella. While many people who aren’t pregnant might not even have symptoms from contact with salmonella, it can be life-threatening to an unborn child or mother.
The parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis is also a concern during pregnancy. You can contract toxoplasmosis by eating undercooked meat and seafood. This condition can cause blindness and mental deficiencies for your baby after birth.
A rare hamburger that hasn’t reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit can be contaminated with E. coli, a disease-causing bacteria that can cause miscarriage and premature delivery in pregnant women.
Even if your co-worker brags that she ate sushi every day for lunch when she was pregnant, steer clear of undercooked, rare, or raw meats and seafood. The cravings aren’t worth the risks to your precious developing baby.
- Ice cream and other high sugar foods. In a 1950’s episode of the iconic show, I Love Lucy, actress Lucille Ball was pregnant (in real life and on TV). She sent her husband Ricky out for a milkshake and a dill pickle. He complies. Lucy then dips the pickle in the milkshake and eats it, which delights the studio audience. This may have been one of the first televised references to women craving pickles and ice cream during pregnancy.
Of course, a half-cup serving of low sugar, organic ice cream once in a while won’t hurt a healthy mom or her developing baby. However, a cereal bowl with three scoops of mint chocolate fudge swirls each night can be detrimental to the health of mom and baby.
A 2018 study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that followed over one thousand mother-child pairs from pre-pregnancy to early childhood. This study tracked the sugar intake of the expectant mothers and the results of their dietary choices on the development of their children. The study found that mothers who consumed around 50 grams of refined sugar a day during pregnancy were more likely to have children that scored poorly in cognitive tests and verbal evaluations than mothers who kept their intake significantly lower. However, similar amounts of carbohydrates from whole fruits did not affect children cognitively.
Similarly, a 2012 Norwegian study found that women who consume more refined sugar during pregnancy were more likely to suffer from preeclampsia than those who consumed fruit and other non-refined carbohydrates.
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- High mercury fish. You don’t have to eliminate all fish from your diet when you’re pregnant, but high mercury fish can disrupt the development of your growing baby’s nervous system. Avoid Spanish mackerel, bluefish tuna, swordfish, tilefish, and shark meat while you’re expecting. You may also want to avoid lobster, haddock, and most canned tuna, as they contain moderate amounts of mercury.
If you enjoy fish, stick to salmon, cod or Atlantic mackerel, all of which are low mercury choices. Be sure the fish is caught in safe, well-tested waters rather than local streams or lakes that may have been polluted. Alternatively, a high-quality purified fish oil supplement is a great idea if you want to play it safe and give up fish entirely for nine months.
- Pâté. Traditional pâté is made with meat livers and contains high amounts of vitamin A. Liver is so high in vitamin A that it should be avoided during pregnancy. Too much vitamin A is harmful to your baby.
Non-meat pâté and any meat spreads that are sold refrigerated and served cold should also be avoided. These products are more likely than other foods to be contaminated with listeria.
- Deli meats served cold. Deli meats are also more likely than other foods to be contaminated with listeria. Since pregnant women are 20 percent more likely to contract a listeria infection than the rest of the population, it’s best to avoid deli meats entirely during pregnancy. Many deli types of meat also contain nitrates and nitrites, which have been linked to cancer.
- Unpasteurized cheeses. In 2013, the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a story about Vanessa White, a 25-year-old expectant mother that contracted a form of tuberculosis from eating imported, unpasteurized cheese. Her twin babies were born prematurely and died shortly after birth. The mother died as well, simply from eating unpasteurized cheese during pregnancy.
Unpasteurized cheeses can contain bacteria that cause tuberculosis, as in White’s case. They can also contain listeria. As we mentioned above, listeria is especially dangerous for pregnant women and their developing babies.
- Smoked fish served cold. Smoked salmon is also unfortunately on the bad list while you’re pregnant. It could be contaminated with listeria and in some cases, tapeworms!
- Key lime pie, certain mousses, and other desserts and foods made with raw eggs. Lots of desserts contain raw eggs which can carry salmonella, a bacteria that can be fatal to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Also, homemade mayonnaise and Caesar salad dressing contain raw eggs. The only way to safely consume these items is if they are made with pasteurized eggs.
- Raw sprouts. Bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella, and listeria can be carried in raw bean sprouts of any kind. Avoid them during pregnancy.
- Unwashed produce. Produce can have all sorts of bacteria and germs on it. Wash your organic or conventionally grown produce in about a gallon of water with a splash of white vinegar in it before you eat it.
- Raw unripe papaya. Unripe or under-ripe papaya contains a type of latex that can stimulate uterine contractions in pregnant women when consumed in raw form. If you like unripe papaya, make sure you eat it cooked.
9 Drinks to Avoid During Pregnancy
Food is not the only thing that matters during pregnancy. It’s important to consider your beverage intake as well. Here are nine drinks you should avoid while you’re expecting.
- Caffeinated tea or coffee. Some doctors may tell you to reduce your caffeine intake to one or two cups a day during pregnancy. However, the truth is that any amount of caffeine is too much for your unborn child. It may be extremely difficult to give up caffeine while you’re pregnant, but it’s the right thing to do for your baby.
- Soda with sugar. As we cited earlier, there have been studies showing a link between high sugar consumption in expectant mothers and cognitive issues in their children after birth. Similarly, the risk of preeclampsia is greater for pregnant women who drink sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Soda with aspartame or any other artificial sweetener. Chris Woolston wrote a piece about consuming artificial sweeteners during pregnancy for Health Day. Woolston cited a Japanese study on the safety of saccharin and sucralose. This study found that these two artificial sweeteners caused DNA damage in the gastrointestinal organs of mice.
Saccharin has also been linked to cancer in other studies. And numerous animal studies have linked aspartame to cancer throughout the years, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems it as a safe food additive.
While the area of artificial sweeteners is a gray one for sure, it’s wise not to take a gamble when you’re pregnant. We recommend that pregnant women avoid all artificial sweeteners to be on the safe side.
- Alcoholic beverages of any kind. Your developing baby doesn’t need alcohol to thrive and you don’t need it to get through your pregnancy. While your great aunt Suzie might tell you that one glass of wine won’t hurt, most doctors will wisely recommend that you avoid all alcoholic beverages while you’re pregnant.
WebMD interviewed Dr. Jacques Moritz of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York. Moritz said, “The problem with drinking alcohol during your pregnancy is that there is no amount that has been proven to be safe.” Many women who consume alcohol during pregnancy will have children with birth defects and fetal alcohol syndrome.
- Wheatgrass juice. Wheatgrass juice can cause you to empty your bowels more frequently. It’s great to help you detoxify and cleanse your colon under normal circumstances. But when you’re pregnant, you should avoid it. More frequent elimination can mean your body isn’t absorbing all the nutrients from the food you’re eating. When you’re pregnant this matters more.
- Unpasteurized juice or milk. Stick to pasteurized milk and juice during pregnancy. There’s a chance that you may encounter listeria in unpasteurized milk and juice. While listeria may not give non-pregnant person symptoms, it can cause miscarriage for an expecting mother.
- Unfiltered or untested water. Your drinking water needs to be as clean as possible while you’re pregnant. High levels of fluoride in municipal water supplies have recently been linked to preeclampsia in pregnant women. There’s also current research suggesting that fluoridated water consumption by an expectant mother can lower her male child’s intelligence.
Other contaminants in drinking water, such as chlorine, viruses, and arsenic are also bad for mother and baby. Consider purchasing a high-quality water filter so that you can hydrate yourself with fresh clean water all throughout your pregnancy.
- Kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented wonder drink. However, it contains caffeine and should not be consumed during pregnancy.
- Unpasteurized eggnog. We’ve mentioned raw eggs. You shouldn’t have them in any form while you are pregnant. Your neighbor’s homemade eggnog is definitely a no-go if you’re expecting. Nonetheless, you can now buy vegan eggnog and pasteurized eggnog at most grocery stores.
Be cautious about what you consume while you’re pregnant. Nine months may seem like a long time to go without coffee, red wine, or imported cheeses. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a blip on the radar. You’ll soon be holding your sweet child. And it will definitely be worth the sacrifice to know you did everything you could to ensure his or her healthy development.
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Borgen, I. (2012). Maternal sugar consumption and risk of preeclampsia in nulliparous Norwegian women. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22713766/
Kealoha, A. (2013) 26 people test positive in tuberculosis investigation. Retrieved from: https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/26-people-test-positive-in-tuberculosis-investigation/
Onion, R. (2018). Hysterical cravings. Retrieved from: https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/04/ pickles-and-ice-cream-how-the-crazy-combo-became-iconic-for-pregnant-women.html
Woolston, C. 2020. Artificial sweeteners and pregnancy. https://consumer.healthday.com/