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Foods to avoid while pregnant (what to eat instead)

Eating well during pregnancy gives your baby the best start to life, as essential nutrients travel via your placenta.

Your caution also minimises the risk of bub being harmed by a foodborne infection.

When growing a baby inside you, it’s natural to feel completely overwhelmed about what to eat and what to avoid. 

It can be stressful to navigate all the confusing information, especially when your emotions are already heightened. Many women feel anxious about food during pregnancy, as they don’t want to cause health problems for their baby or themselves.

But some women experience intense fear around eating the wrong foods, to the point where they feel stressed at every meal.

It’s unhealthy to obsess about every food that goes into your mouth – this stress may actually harm your baby by increasing your risks for premature delivery, miscarriage or low birth weight. 

If you feel like your anxiety around food is out of control, please be gentle with yourself and speak to your GP, obstetrician or therapist. This advice applies to women with histories of eating disorders too. 

Helpful counselling hotlines for pregnant women:

Foods to avoid while pregnant:

High-mercury fish (both seawater and freshwater):

Avoid species such as swordfish, ray, broadbill, gemfish, bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, tilefish, orange roughy (sea perch), catfish, Australian bass, Murray cod, eel and golden perch.

Too much mercury can harm the nervous system of your developing baby.

Any animal product that is raw, undercooked or unpasteurised. 

You’re more vulnerable to bacterial food poisoning when expecting, so you need to be extra careful around particular foods. Please avoid undercooked and unpasteurised seafood, meat, poultry, dairy and eggs.

The seafood category covers sushi, ceviche, raw oysters, shellfish, scallops and clams. Also stay away from any raw or unpasteurised caviar, fish eggs or roe.

When it comes to animal produce from the land, make sure that everything you eat is cooked well (including hot dogs and luncheon meats).

Take care to avoid “hidden” ingredients such as partially cooked eggs in raw batter or salad dressing. 

You don’t need to restrict cheese completely, but stay away from all soft cheeses (for example, feta, brie and blue cheese). Only eat hard cheeses that have been pasteurised (when it’s clearly marked so). 

Unwashed fruit, vegetables and pre-packaged salads:

Have you heard of a parasite called toxoplasmosis? It increases the risk of pregnancy complications. This parasite can be found on unwashed fruits and vegetables, so it’s important to thoroughly wash all raw produce before eating (and cook all meats, as discussed above). 

Unrelated to food, but if you have a cat, ask someone else to change the litter (or do it very carefully with gloves and wash your hands after). Infected cats sometimes shed this parasite in their faeces.

Raw sprouts of any kind (such as brussel, alfalfa, and clover):

Raw sprouts tend to be more susceptible to bacteria that causes food poisoning. Thoroughly cook any sprouts that you plan to eat. 

Other notable foods to avoid:

  • Liver products (too much vitamin A)
  • Supplements with vitamin A
  • Rockmelon (high risk of salmonella on the outer skin)
  • Sushi (unless fully cooked or vegetarian)
  • Cold cured meats
  • Meat spreads or pate

Drinks to avoid while pregnant:

Avoid completely:

  • Unpasteurised milk
  • Energy drinks (contain far too much caffeine)
  • Alcohol

Reduce intake (ideally eliminate):

  • Coffee (caffeine should be limited to less than 200mg a day)
  • Herbal teas that contain caffeine (see previous note about caffeine)
  • Some non-caffeinated herbal teas may induce early labour, so ask your doctor about the variety that you want to drink.

An important note about alcohol:

Stay away from all alcohol while pregnant. Both you and your partner should also avoid it while trying to conceive.

Alcohol consumption can harm the development of an unborn baby’s brain, heart, nervous system and facial features. For example, one 2019 study suggests that foetuses have a higher risk of developing congenital heart disease if women and men drink three months before pregnancy (especially if it’s five or more drinks at one time).

Foods to eat while pregnant:

It’s so important to get all your nutrients while expecting, to keep yourself healthy and energised (while also giving your baby all the nourishment needed for optimal development).

Eat plenty of these foods:

  • Low-mercury seafood (such as salmon, shrimp, trout and sardines). Make sure these are cooked very well.
  • Lean meat and poultry (well cooked)
  • Pasteurised milk and yoghurt 
  • Pasteurised hard cheese
  • Well-cooked pasteurised eggs for a good source of choline (yolks and whites should be firm)
  • Spinach and beans for lean protein, folate and iron
  • Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
  • Citrus for folate, calcium, vitamin C and protein
  • Avocado for fatty acids, fibre, folate and potassium
  • Legumes, beans and chickpeas
  • Sweet potato
  • Dark, leafy greens like broccoli and kale (but stay away from raw sprouts)
  • Berries (they’re high in antioxidants)
  • Oatmeal, cereals and whole-grain breads (as long as you don’t have any intolerances)
  • Dried fruit for fibre, vitamins and minerals

Although this isn’t food, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of clean water too! 

In a future article, we’ll talk about good foods to eat if you’re having problems keeping anything down due to nausea and vomiting.

Visit this useful government site for more information about foods that you should avoid and foods that are fine to eat. 

There’s also more information here.

Finally, be aware of any odd cravings that you have…

It’s normal for pregnant women to crave all manner of foods.

You have the ordinary culprits such as chocolate, pickles and lemons – which are all great in moderation.

However, some women may crave non-food items like dirt or clay. This can be a symptom of a severe iron deficiency. It’s important to see your GP to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need without having to resort to cravings that may harm your health. 

If you have any concerns about food intake, cravings or anything related to your pregnancy, please don’t hesitate to call 0457 666 088 or book an appointment with obstetrician Dr Andrew Peng