What Not To Eat When You’re Pregnant

Here's how to fine-tune your prenatal diet
pregnant woman cooking

When you’re pregnant, chances are, you’ll change up your diet to provide the kind of nutrients and nourishment needed to keep you and your growing baby healthy.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

However, 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.

Whether it’s your first pregnancy or you’re on baby number two (or three) and need a refresher, Ob/Gyn Rebecca Starck, MD, President of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, provides a crash course on what foods and drinks to avoid while pregnant. From sushi to safe caffeine levels, we’ve got you covered.

Fish and seafood

Avoid fish with elevated levels of methylmercury — which is very harmful to humans — as they can cause brain damage or developmental delays. According to guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), it’s best to avoid the following fish, which have high levels of mercury:

  • Tilefish (Gulf of Mexico).
  • Bigeye tuna.
  • Marlin.
  • Orange roughy.
  • Swordfish.
  • Shark.
  • King mackerel.

Additionally, if you’re pregnant, you should avoid all raw fish, which means forgoing sushi and sashimi. Fish or shellfish that’s seared or undercooked — that’s oysters, clams, mussels and scallops — are also a no-go.

Plus, ACOG guidelines recommend that anyone pregnant or breastfeeding should limit some type of fish.

For example, you should eat no more than one serving a week (in other words, no more than 6 ounces) of certain kinds of fish, such as:

  • Albacore (white) tuna.
  • Yellowfin tuna.
  • Snapper.
  • Grouper.
  • Halibut.
  • Mahi Mahi.

Or you should eat no more than two to three servings a week (8 to 12 ounces in total) of fish like:

  • Shrimp.
  • Salmon.
  • Sardine.
  • Tilapia.
  • Shellfish (clams, scallops, oysters).
  • Catfish.
  • Squid.
  • Pollock.
  • Crawfish.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), also known as environmental pollutants, should be avoided, too. That’s why doctors recommend understanding where the fish you eat is sourced, to understand the potential risks.

Advertising Policy

If you’re unsure what’s healthy, you should talk with your doctor about how often or whether it’s safe to eat certain fish or seafood — and, if so, what serving size is best.

Meats

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 pâté 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.

Cooked hot dogs, however, can be eaten in moderation.

Cheese

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

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

Raw Eggs

In general, it’s best to avoid eating foods with raw eggs because of potential exposure to SalmonellaBut when you’re pregnant, it’s especially important to steer clear of:

  • Caesar dressing.
  • Homemade mayonnaise.
  • Hollandaise and béarnaise sauce.
  • Uncooked cake batter and cookie dough.

Uncooked baking flour can also contain E. coli and Salmonella, as it’s made from raw grain. That’s also another reason not to eat any raw cookie dough or cake batter.

Additionally, some surprising dessert foods can contain raw eggs, including ice cream, icing, mousse and tiramisu. It’s best to check the nutrition label (or ask the chef in advance) before indulging.

Alcohol

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 put them at risk for behavioral, physical and learning problems.

Advertising Policy

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

Caffeine

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. 

“Make certain you limit your consumption to no more than 200 milligrams (mg) per day,” she says. For reference, a standard cup of coffee contains 95 mg of caffeine.

Keep in mind that black, chamomile and green teas also contain some caffeine. Similar to coffee, these can be consumed in moderation, although caffeine levels vary depending on how much tea you use and how it’s prepared.

Salt

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,” notes Dr. Starck.

Advertising Policy