Pregnant? Here Are the Foods You Actually Have To Avoid, According To OB-GYNs

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When the positive line appears on the pregnancy test, the excitement and questions come flooding in. How far along am I? Is my baby healthy? Do I have to swear off coffee for the next nine months? What can I eat? Or more importantly, are there foods to avoid during pregnancy?

You’ve likely heard about the potential risks of drinking too much coffee or alcohol while pregnant, but whether you’re expecting baby number one or four, prenatal nutrition and foods to avoid in pregnancy can get a little cloudy.

So, we asked OB-GYNs to weigh on on the most important foods to avoid during pregnancy, give us some insight into why these foods are risky, and let us know what’s OK to be more relaxed about.

What Are the Main Foods To Avoid In Pregnancy?

Pregnancy affects the immune system, and can make you more likely to pick up certain bugs from food. One of the biggest concerns is listeria, which is a bacteria that can cause severe illness during pregnancy.

“Pregnant people are 10 times more likely to get listeria than non-pregnant people, and listeria can cause food poisoning in pregnancy with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that can lead to dehydration,” says Lauren Demosthenes, MD, an OB-GYN and senior medical director with Babyscripts. Listeria can also cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature labor, and if the babies become infected, they can develop intellectual disability, seizures, and blindness, she adds.

Listeria most commonly lurks on processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk and cheeses, which is why those are often listed as foods to avoid in pregnancy. But it can even be on raw vegetables or bagged salads and ice cream. Be sure to keep an eye on listeria outbreak warnings so you can exercise caution.

Pregnancy people should also avoid foods that are more likely to be contaminated with coliform bacteria, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella, which can also lead to illness and dehydration. That means avoiding raw or uncooked meats or fish, says Staci Tanouye, MD, FACOG, an OB-GYN in Florida. She says fish and steak should be cooked to at least an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and poultry, ground meat, and deli meat should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria and protect you and your baby.

High-mercury fish – swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish – are another category to be cautious around, since too much mercury can harm a developing baby.

All that said, pregnancy nutrition doesn’t have to be stressful, and there may be fewer foods to avoid in pregnancy than you think (although the ones that make that list can be surprising). Above all, it’s important to nourish your body with fresh, whole, and delicious foods.

So to help you rest easy about what you can’t eat during pregnancy, OB-GYNs answered questions about the most common foods pregnant people ask them about. (But of course, every body is different, so if you have specific concerns about your own diet, talk to your doctor.)

Can you eat tuna while pregnant?

It’s OK to eat up to six ounces of albacore or white tuna (canned, fresh, or frozen) per week, as long as it’s fully cooked all the way through, Dr. Tanouye says. You can also eat six ounces of light canned tuna up to twice a week for 12 ounces total, she adds. Avoid bluefin tuna due to its high mercury content, which can harm the babies’ brain and nervous system development.

Can you eat sushi while pregnant?

Cooked or veggie sushi is OK to eat, but any sushi with raw fish should be avoided due to the possibility of bacterial contamination and food borne illness, says Thomas Lorenc, MD, FACOG, an OB-GYN with Axia Women’s Health. “I recommend my patients have maki rolls while pregnant, instead of traditional raw fish style sushi, and that they mainly have cooked fish or crustacean in their roll.” Also be mindful where your cooked fish and seafood comes from, since many local areas have seafood health advisories due to bodies of water being polluted with chemicals, Dr. Demosthenes notes.

Worth noting: this advice is becoming less cut and dry in recent years, with some doctors saying that sushi from reputable and high-quality restaurants is low risk. So talk to your doctor about their recommendations, which will take into account your health and risk tolerance.

Can you eat crab while pregnant?

Shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster, scallops, and squid) is low in mercury, and it’s OK to eat two to three servings of it – as long as it’s thoroughly cooked – a week, for up to 12 ounces total per week, Dr. Tanouye says. Again, always be aware of where your shellfish comes from and any local health advisories, Dr. Demosthenes adds.

Can you eat hot dogs while pregnant?

If hot dogs are cooked all the way through, Dr. Tanouye says they are OK to eat while pregnant. Just limit your intake because hot dogs contain nitrates as a preservative and a significant amount of sodium, which can lead to excessive swelling during pregnancy, Dr. Lorenc adds.

Can you eat shrimp while pregnant?

Shrimp is low in mercury, so it’s safe to eat when fully cooked, Dr. Demosthenes explains. That said, Dr. Tanouye suggests limiting your intake to two to three servings a week, for up to 12 ounces total per week.

Can you eat spicy food while pregnant?

Spicy food is totally fine to eat and won’t cause any issues with pregnancy or harm to the baby, Dr. Demosthenes says. (They also likely won’t induce labor; that’s more myth than fact.) Just be cautious with how spicy foods make you feel, because it may exacerbate acid reflux or heartburn, Dr. Lorenc adds.

Can you eat deli meat while pregnant?

Deli meat is safe to eat, but only if you boil, microwave, or pan-fry it until it’s steaming hot, to kill off bacteria and parasites that cause listeria, toxoplasmosis (a disease caused by parasites that live in soil), and salmonella, Dr. Demosthenes says. Additionally, if you’re going to eat deli meat, Dr. Lorenc suggests a preservative-free and low-sodium brand to prevent excessive swelling.

Can you eat pepperoni or salami when pregnant?

Just like hot dogs and deli meat, pepperoni is safe to eat if it’s fully cooked, Dr. Tanouye says. Always avoid raw pepperoni to eliminate the risk of listeria contamination and foodborne illness, and Dr. Lorenc still suggests a low-sodium and preservative-free brand.

Can you eat cream cheese when pregnant?

Any type of cheese is safe in pregnancy, as long as it’s been pasteurized, since pasteurization kills any potential contaminants, Dr. Lorenc says. Luckily, most main brands of cream cheese at grocery stores in the US are pasteurized, but always check the label and avoid all unpasteurized cheese made with raw milk whether it’s a “soft” or “hard” cheese, Dr. Tanouye adds.

Can you eat calamari when pregnant?

Squid is a low mercury seafood, so as long as it’s fully cooked, it can be eaten in moderation: two to three portions a week, for up to 12 ounces total per week, Dr. Tanouye says.

Can you eat steak while pregnant?

Steak is totally safe during pregnancy when it’s fully cooked, says Dr. Demosthenes. The safest bet is to order steak well-done with no pink or red in the middle, adds Dr. Tanouye. “Medium-well might be OK with slight pink in the middle as long as you know the internal temperature was at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.” Don’t worry: while the joke is that restaurant chefs hate to cook steak this thoroughly, they’re happy to make an exception for pregnant people (or anyone, really).

Can you eat sausage when pregnant?

Sausage is safe to consume, as long as it’s cooked all the way through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, says Dr. Tanouye. Just be mindful of how much sausage you’re eating because it is higher in sodium than regular pork, which may lead to swelling during pregnancy, Dr. Lorenc adds.

Can you eat Burrata when pregnant?

Like cream cheese, burrata is safe to eat during pregnancy if it’s been pasteurized, says Dr. Demosthenes. If the burrata is made with raw milk and/or unpasteurized, it should be avoided due to potential bacterial contamination, adds Dr. Tanouye. If you’re not sure, best to avoid it to be safe.

This information in this article is not medical advice. You should always consult your doctor regarding matters pertaining to your health and nutrition, and before starting any course of medical treatment.

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