Ask Keri: It seems like the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy is always changing. Which are really essential to skip?
Keri Says: In the old days, women ate and drink whatever they wanted while they were pregnant. Then, when we found out how things like alcohol affected development, a lot of the advice became overly restrictive out of caution.
These days, we’ve gotten to a better place, where we can advise pregnant women on how to effectively continue eating their usual (hopefully!) healthy diet while skipping just a few key foods that may endanger the growing baby.
A quick note on what you should eat: Overall, I recommend whole, real foods like fresh organic produce, lean organic meats, healthy fats, and whole grains. And prego or not, eating three meals and a couple of snacks each day stabilizes blood sugar and provides you with consistent energy. (Of course everyone is different and some people don’t need snacks. Listen to what your body is telling you!) You also want to focus on folate, which is found in foods like lentils, spinach, romaine lettuce, and asparagus.
Now, what to avoid? Here’s a quick cheat sheet on what you won’t be eating or drinking for about nine months.
7 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Okay, this one is obvious, but I’ve still got to say it. When you drink, so does your developing baby. While some physicians these days tell their patients it’s okay to have half a glass of wine at certain points during your pregnancy (talk to your doctor!), the CDC still says that according to research, there’s no “known safe amount” and “no safe time” for booze when you’re carrying. Just think about how great that celebratory glass of Prosecco is going to safe after the little one’s born.
2. Unpasteurized juice
If you’re a fan of green juice, you might normally pick a fresh, unpasteurized version since pasteurization can destroy nutrients. But when you’re pregnant, you’ve got to prioritize destroying pathogens in a major way. Pregnant women are much more susceptible to listeria, and listeria is really dangerous for a fetus. Most bottled, cold-pressed juices sold at national grocery chains are pasteurized or high-pressure processed, which means they’re fine. If they’re labeled “raw,” (like Juice Press juices, for example) it’s best to avoid. It’s also safest to skip the fresh ones made in front of you at juice bars. It’s fine to make them at home, as long as you’re washing the produce thoroughly (put some elbow grease into it!) and drinking the juice right away.
3. Unpasteurized cheeses and raw milk
Which brings me to raw milk (which again, you may choose to drink for health reasons) and unpasteurized cheeses. How to tell which cheeses are pasteurized? Well, the good news is that most cheeses in the US now are pasteurized, even the soft ones that you used to have to avoid. I ate feta and goat cheese, for example, throughout my pregnancies. If you’re at a fancy cheese store with cheese from all over the world, you may encounter more made from raw milk. Most that are packaged will say whether they’re made from pasteurized milk on the label. Read through this detailed explanation if you’re a cheesehead and want to be fully caught up.
4. Processed meats
Precooked meats like hot dogs, packaged sausages, and deli meats contain nitrates and nitrites, which can be carcinogenic. Ideally you’re mostly avoiding them already, but you should be extra careful when you’re preggers and maybe even skip the “organic, uncured hot dog” to be safe, especially since, again, processed meats are super susceptible to listeria. For non-processed meats that are ground (like burgers or meatballs), make sure you’re eating burgers, ground chicken, that the meat is seriously cooked through.
5. Raw fish
Are you sensing a pattern here? (Raw bad, cooked good!) We love a sushi dinner stacked with high-protein sashimi, miso soup, and seaweed salad, but save it for post-labor. Raw fish is one of the most susceptible foods when it comes to being contaminated with all manner of pathogens—bacterial, viral, and parasitic.
6. High-mercury fish
An important reminder: Eating fish while you’re pregnant is a good idea! Fish and shellfish are a great source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the development of the growing fetus’ brain. But in addition to making sure it’s cooked, you also want to steer clear of fish that’s high in mercury, since the metal can cause developmental problems in children. Low-mercury fish tend to be the smaller ones (think sardines and shellfish) while high-mercury fish to skip include shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel. To make it easy, the FDA provides this handy chart outlining fish that are off-limits, better, and the best.
7. Too much coffee
Notice how I said “too much coffee,” not just “coffee.” Higher intake of caffeine during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of having a low-birth weight baby, and new research suggests it also may lead to excess weight gain for children later in life (that’s confusing!). But almost everyone agrees you can have a little. Current recommendations say up to 200mg of caffeine per day is safe, which is equivalent to about one 12-ounce cup of coffee. If you usually go for the Grande, you’ll have to downsize.
The bottom line? Avoid the big no-nos on this list and lean towards “clean eating” in a new way. As in, practice more intense food hygiene during pregnancy, whether that means double washing your produce or making sure your fish is really, truly cooked.