What Not to Eat When You’re Pregnant

Fine-tune your prenatal diet
Sushi not healthy for pregnant woman

Congratulations, mama! Whether it’s your first pregnancy or you’re on baby No. 2 (or 3) and need a refresher, ob/gyn Rebecca Starck, MD, provides a crash course on what foods and drinks to avoid. 

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There are a few foods and beverages you should steer clear of that can be potentially harmful to you or your developing child — mainly due to risk of foodborne illness or high levels of mercury. From sushi to safe caffeine levels, we’ve got you covered.


By avoiding certain meats, you will reduce your risk of contracting Listeria, a foodborne illness that may cause premature delivery, miscarriage and even fetal death. Avoid: 

  • Lunch meats (cold cuts or deli meat).
  • Fermented or dry sausages.
  • Refrigerated pate or meat spreads from a deli, meat counter or a grocery store’s refrigerated section. Canned or shelf-stable versions are OK, but make sure to refrigerate after opening.
  • Rare or undercooked meats or poultry.


Eating that delicious queso at your favorite Mexican joint has to be put on hold for now. Unless they’re clearly labeled “made with pasteurized milk”, Dr. Starck recommends avoiding all soft cheeses, including:

  • Feta.
  • Brie.
  • Camembert and other bleu cheeses.
  • Queso blanco, fresco or panela.

Raw Eggs

Pre-pregnancy, your favorite meal might have included raw eggs. Now, however, it’s best to avoid eating those raw eggs and anything else that includes them because of potential exposure to SalmonellaSteer clear of:

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  • Raw eggs.
  • Caesar dressing.
  • Fresh mayonnaise (But the kind you find in a jar at the grocery store is fine).
  • Hollandaise sauce.
  • Uncooked cake batter and cookie dough.


Avoid fish with elevated levels of methyl mercury as they can cause brain damage or developmental delays. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), also known as environmental pollutants, should be avoided, too. Talk with your doctor about how often it’s safe to eat certain fish lower in mercury. It’s best to avoid the following fish:

  • All raw fish (sushi and sashimi).
  • Seared or undercooked fish/shellfish (Oysters, clams, mussels and scallops).
  • Tilefish.
  • Swordfish.
  • Shark.
  • King mackerel.


You may be putting your baby at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) if you drink alcohol during pregnancy. FAS can affect your baby’s development and also put them at risk for behavioral, physical and learning problems.

“Avoid all beer, wine and hard liquor during pregnancy,” says Dr. Starck. “There is no safe level of consumption.”


Yes, you can still have your daily morning coffee, but only to a certain extent. How much caffeine a drink has can vary tremendously depending on how it’s prepared. 

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“Make certain you limit your consumption to no more than 200 mg per day,” she says. “And, make sure to drink no more than two 5 ounce cups of coffee and three 5 ounce cups of tea per day.”


Salt causes your body to retain water, so Dr. Starck recommends eating salty foods in moderation. 

“Too much salt could cause your blood pressure to rise, increasing your risk for pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and swelling due to fluid retention,” she says.

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