Most food and drink is perfectly safe to consume when you're pregnant but there are definitely some you should try to avoid.
To help you navigate the landscape of pregnancy and eating, we’ve put together this handy guide on all the foods to avoid when you’re pregnant and why.
According to the NHS, there are some foods which have the potential to harm you and your unborn baby if they’re consumed not fully-cooked or in large quantities. While others will make you unwell, leading to harmful conditions such as listeriosis or toxoplasmosis infection. However, as important as it is to be aware of this, NHS advice also suggests not worrying too much if you’ve consumed one of these foods and to only go to the doctor if you feel unwell after doing so.
While you might have to cut out some of your breakfast favourites or healthy snacks, many of these food items are not things you’d eat regularly, so you don’t have to be concerned about trying to minimise your diet while pregnant. For example, how often would you really eat raw or undercooked meat?
But because many people don’t know that some of their daily food products contain harmful ingredients to pregnant women such as unpasturised cheese and mayonnaise, it’s better to be aware. There are many foods you should eat when pregnant and a varied, healthy diet will also give you and your baby all the nutrients you need during pregnancy.
These are the foods to avoid when pregnant…
Do eat: Eggs are really good for you, so they’re not one of the foods to completely avoid when pregnant. It used to be thought that runny eggs were too risky for pregnant women, because of the risk of salmonella, but recent advice has given them the green light. Eggs with the red British Lion stamp now carry a “very low” risk of salmonella, a report by the government’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) says, meaning they’re safe for all groups of people to eat.
Avoid: Raw or partially cooked eggs that are not British Lion stamped. Duck, goose or quail eggs should also be avoided, unless cooked thoroughly until the whites and yolks are solid.
Why? Raw eggs that aren’t approve by the red British lion stamp have the potential to cause salmonella food poisoning.
Do eat: Hard cheese, even if it’s made from unpasteurised milk, as bacteria is less likely to grow in it. Cheese, like all dairy products, is a good source of calcium, which gives your baby strong bones. Cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goat’s cheese and processed cheeses are all OK, as long as they’re made with pasteurised milk.
Avoid: Soft cheeses such as brie, camembert and others with a mould rind, as well as Danish blue, Roquefort and gorgonzola.
Why? Soft cheeses are made with mould and may contain a bacteria called listeria. There is a small risk of listeria causing an infection called listeriosis, which in severe cases could lead to miscarriage, severe illness and in rare cases, stillbirth.
Do drink: Milk is a great source of calcium, which helps give your baby strong bones. Make sure you drink pasteurised milk as pasteurisation kills bacteria such as listeria.
Avoid: Raw (unpasteurised) milk, including unpasteurised goats’ or sheep’s milk, or food that is made from raw milk, such as soft goat’s cheese. If only green-top milk is available, boil it first. Ice cream is usually OK as it’s made from pasteurised milk.
Why? Raw milk may contain a bacteria called listeria, which can cause listeriosis. Although this infection is rare, it can lead to miscarriage, severe illness and in rare cases, stillbirth.
Foods to avoid when pregnant: Red meat, liver and pâté
Do eat: Well-cooked red meat, as it’s a good source of protein and iron. In some countries, women are advised against eating cold cured meats or smoked meats, because there’s a low risk of listeria infection. In the UK this advice isn’t given, but if you’d prefer not to eat them, don’t.
Avoid: Raw or undercooked meat are definitely two of the foods to avoid when pregnant. There should be no trace of pink or blood. Take particular care with sausages and mince. Cooking meat at high temperatures will kill the bacteria. You should also say no to all pates – not just meat and fish ones, but also veggie. Liver and liver pates are not advised either, as liver contains high levels of vitamin A, which may harm your baby. For the same reason, high-dose vitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements and any other supplements containing vitamin A should be off your shopping list during pregnancy.
Why? Meat may contain a bacteria that can cause toxoplasmosis, an infection that can damage your baby. Pate can contain a bacteria called listeria. Although it’s rare, listeria can cause an infection called listeriosis, which in extreme cases may lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and severe illness.
Fish and shellfish
Do eat: White fish, as it’s low in fat but has plenty of good protein and vitamins, as well as cooked shellfish – a good source of iodine and zinc.
Avoid: Shark, marlin and swordfish. And limit yourself to only two portions a week of oily fish, such as sardines, trout, salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna (canned tuna is ok, but no more than 4 cans per week). Don’t eat raw shellfish, but it’s fine if it’s cooked. In some countries, pregnant women are told to avoid smoked fish because it may contain listeria bacteria. In the UK this advice isn’t given, but if you’d prefer not to eat it, don’t.
Why? These fish contain high levels of mercury which can, if eaten in large amounts, damage the nervous system of an unborn baby. If you want to eat shellfish, make sure it’s fresh as it’s a common cause of food poisoning.
Do drink: Lots of water, to keep your body well hydrated. Fruit juice is a good source of vitamin C too.
Avoid: Binge drinking, although some medical experts say that 1 or 2 units of alcohol (1 unit = 1 beer or 1 glass of wine) per week is fine. Many women steer clear of alcohol of any sort while they’re pregnant or even when they’re trying to get pregnant – this is because it’s difficult to know exactly when you’ve conceived so it’s better to try to avoid alcohol altogether.
Why? Alcohol – especially in large quantities – can seriously affect your baby’s development.
Unwashed fruit, vegetables and salad
Do eat: Fruit, veg and salads. Of course, these are highly recommended for pregnant women as they’re packed with nutrients and form the base of a healthy diet. But make sure they’re well washed, especially if you’re buying from a market stall, where produce has come straight from the field.
Avoid: Unwashed fruit, vegetables and salad.
Why? Traces of soil could contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis. For the same reason, pregnant women are told to avoid changing cat litter trays unless they’re wearing gloves.
Caffeine – coffee and tea
Do drink: Herbal or fruit teas (but no more than 4 cups a day per NHS guidelines), as these often contain vitamin C and natural ingredients. Instead of your usual cuppa, try decaf coffee.
Avoid: Caffeine – try to avoid any more than 200mg of caffeine. (One mug of instant coffee has 100mg, filter coffee 140mg and tea 75mg.) Remember that caffeine is also found in chocolate (50g bar dark chocolate has 50mg, milk chocolate 25mg) as well as some soft and energy drinks, so check the label! And check cold and flu remedies, as these can also contain caffeine, although seek medical advice before taking any form of medicine while pregnant.
Why? High levels of caffeine can cause babies to have a low birth weight. Too much caffeine can also, in rare cases, cause a miscarriage.
Vitamin A supplements
Do eat: Foods with vitamin A in them, like yellow fruit and vegetables, in moderate amounts. You should be able to get all the vitamins you require from a healthy diet, with around fruit and vegetables, rather than having to take any additional vitamin supplements.
Avoid: High-vitamin supplements in general but particularly vitamin supplements containing vitamin A.
Why? Vitamin A is considered by the NHS to cause potential birth defects in unborn babies, so medical health professionals advise not consuming large amounts of the vitamin.
Guidelines often change, so visit nhs.uk to check out the latest advice.
20 years ago, women were encouraged to eat lots of liver for its vitamin A, for example, but now it’s not recommended and, more recently, pregnant women were told not to eat peanuts if there was a history of asthma, eczema or hay fever in the family, but no link has been proved.