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What Not to Eat While Pregnant

Erica Loop
Aug. 19, 2015

Sushi? Coffee? Separate the facts from fiction and finally understand what you can't (and can!) eat while expecting.

"What not to eat while pregnant?" may seem like a mystery, wrapped in confusion, topped with a side of rumors. You read a blog that says a certain food is a major no-no, but then your BFF says that advice is total nonsense. Who should you believe, and what's the truth? Before nixing your favorite nosh or munching on something that may in fact be not quite so healthy, talk to your health care provider and take a look at our checklist below.

5 Foods to Avoid
These foods pose potential risks to you or your baby. From making you sick to bringing your healthy lifestyle down a notch (or several), strike these menu items off your grocery list.

  1. Cold, Undercooked or Uncooked Meats
    "It is very risky to eat any cold or undercooked meat due to the increased risk of Listeria, a bacteria that grows at refrigerator temperatures," says Sarah Krieger, a master of public health, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Listeria can cause miscarriage. She suggests heating all meat -- especially lunch meat -- and leftovers to steamy hot or 165 degrees.
  2. Bean Sprouts
    When raw, these can be contaminated with bacteria. Throw them into a stir-fry, but keep them off your salad. It's not worth the risk.
  3. Unpasteurized Cheeses
    Cassie Bjork, a registered dietitian and the founder of Healthy Simple Life, says pregnant women should avoid these types of cheeses because of potential food borne illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration seconds this, noting that "raw" (unpasteurized) milk products can carry bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria.
  4. Raw Fish
    You're craving sushi, but it's best to stick to a cooked catch instead. Bjork says, "Raw foods like sushi and tuna aren't recommended for new moms-to-be." Like raw meats and unpasteurized dairy, these fish products may also harbor illness-causing bacteria that pregnant women are especially sensitive to. When you're pregnant, your immune system is a little suppressed, so you're not as able to fend off food-borne illness as usual.
  5. Sugar and Processed Carbohydrates
    While these foods won't make you sick, they are not your best nutritional choices. "My main recommendation for foods to avoid is sugar and processed carbohydrates, like cereal, bread, pasta, cookies and granola bars," says Bjork. She recommends fruit and vegetables as your main carbohydrates and dark chocolate (70 percent or greater) if your craving just won't disappear.
  6. High-Mercury Fish
    Shark, king mackerel, swordfish and tilefish contain high levels of mercury. That poses a risk to your baby's developing nervous system, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Myths About Foods to Avoid
Helpful or hype? We debunk myths about what not to eat while pregnant.

  • Anything From the Sea
    You may have heard that all fish is bad for your baby, but Krieger disagrees. "Eating smaller fish a few times a week is a great source of lean protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats -- all great for mom and baby. Just make sure fish and seafood are thoroughly cooked to avoid illness." Here are some to try: All cooked shellfish, tilapia and other white fish, salmon, catfish, pink tuna and trout.
  • Herbal tea
    While many herbal teas can contain ingredients that could be harmful, just because a tea is "herbal" doesn't mean it is dangerous. Read the label. If it's just peppermint or chamomile, it's fine.
  • Sandwiches
    The myth of dangerous lunch meat got out of control. Avoid deli meats unless they are steaming hot. But you can still enjoy that tuna melt or panini.
  • Peanuts and Other Common Allergens
    The story goes something like this: Your best friend's mother's cousin read an article that eating nuts while pregnant is the cause behind the rise in children's food allergies. Bjork debunks this. "There continues to be inconclusive research on the topic of food allergies and pregnancy. It's my opinion that it's important to give exposure at some point during pregnancy so the child's immune system can respond appropriately -- similar to getting children exposed to different viruses and bacteria when they are young to create a response in their immune system."

    She suggests you eat some of the top allergens like eggs, peanuts and dairy during pregnancy to provide the baby with predigested "messages" and educate the immune system -- and so both you and your baby benefit from the nutrients in these foods.
  • Coffee
    Nonsense. Go ahead and enjoy your morning joe ... in moderation. The Mayo Clinic suggests no more than two cups per day.
  • Soft Cheese
    This myth arose from when soft cheeses such as Brie were made from unpasteurized milk. Brie and other soft cheese made from pasteurized milk are now readily available, so as long as your soft cheese has been pasteurized, you should be fine.

Are you looking to demystify a few more mom-to-be myths? Check out the 10 Best Pregnancy Old Wives' Tales for answers!

Erica Loop is a mom, parenting writer and educator with a master's degree in child development. When she's not teaching, she's busy creating kids' activities for her blog Mini Monets and Mommies.

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