Food to avoid during pregnancy

Staying away from harmful foods is integral to one's health. This is more so in the case of pregnant women. What an expectant mother eats, directly influences the development of the foetus. Moreover, being pregnant places both mother and baby at greater risk of contracting foodborne illnesses¹. Hence, it is important to know the types of food to avoid during pregnancy to ensure the well-being of both the mother and her baby. 

Types of food to avoid during pregnancy

Here is a list of foods that mothers-to-be need to eliminate from their diet:

Seafood high in mercury

For expectant women, seafood can be a fantastic source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, some fish and shellfish have high mercury content, which can be bad for your baby's health². High-mercury fish can harm a baby’s developing brain and nervous system². Shark, king mackerel, swordfish, and tilefish are all types of food to avoid during pregnancy.  The likelihood of mercury content in fish increases with size and age². However, some varieties of seafood with low mercury content can be eaten in moderation. Taking eight to twelve ounces (two to three servings) of sardines², anchovies, catfish, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and light canned tuna, is permissible.

Besides high-mercury seafood, pregnancy foods to avoid at all costs include raw or uncooked seafood and shellfish. This is because they might contain harmful bacteria or viruses³. Examples of these foods to avoid during pregnancy include sushi, sashimi, raw oysters, scallops, and clams. Fish should be properly cooked, separated into flakes and must appear opaque when prepared.Shrimp, lobster, and scallops should be cooked until they are milky white, while clams, mussels, and oysters until their shells open³.

Not sure what you can eat or cannot eat during pregnancy?

Undercooked meat, poultry and eggs

In an effort to stave off bacterial food poisoning, undercooked meat, poultry, and eggs are hazardous and high on the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy. Salmonella, coliform bacteria, and toxoplasmosis are a few dangerous bacteria that could be present in undercooked meat⁴.Uncooked eggs in Caesar salad dressing, mayonnaise, and batters can potentially contain harmful pathogens. Before eating, it is best to fully cook all meats and poultry to an internal temperature that is safe as determined by a food thermometer⁵.

Organ meats

While organ meats are a great source of nutrients, preformed vitamin A derived from animals should not be consumed in excess when pregnant. The reason these are considered a type of food to avoid during pregnancy is because too much preformed vitamin A can cause congenital abnormalities and miscarriage, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy¹².

Unpasteurized foods

Consuming soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk can also spell disaster during pregnancy. Unpasteurized dairy and juice may contain harmful pathogens such as listeria and E. coli, which may lead to foodborne illnesses⁶. Always check the product labels for different types of food to avoid during pregnancy to ensure that they are free from harmful ingredients prior to purchase. Cheddar, swiss, and other types of hard cheese are suitable substitutes for soft cheeses and are safe to eat.

Unwashed fruits and vegetables

To get rid of disease-causing bacteria that exist in the soil where the crops are grown, fruits and vegetables must be thoroughly cleansed. Pregnant women must steer clear of particular types of sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean, as they may contain dangerous bacteria like shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), listeria and salmonella⁷.


Some studies have shown that caffeine in moderation during pregnancy is permissible⁸. However, there are also studies linking it with a number of pregnancy complications such as low birth weight and miscarriage. This is due to caffeine's ability to pass through the placenta and enter the foetus, where it may have harmful effects - hence its inclusion in this list of types of food to avoid during pregnancy. Experts recommend expecting mothers consume no more caffeine than 200 milligrammes (mg) in two cups of coffee per day⁸.  Then again, it is still recommended to substitute water, pasteurised milk, or juice in place of caffeinated beverages.

Herbal tea

Herbal teas in general contain little or no caffeine, but they should be taken with caution during pregnancy. This is especially because there isn't enough research to prove that herbal teas are completely safe for expecting mothers⁹. Herbs may also contain substances that can cause miscarriage, premature birth, uterine contractions, or injury to the foetus⁹. As a rule of thumb, it is best not to take any herbal products without first talking to a healthcare professional to be absolutely certain about types of drinks and food to avoid during pregnancy.


Alcohol of any kind and in any quantity should be avoided throughout the entire pregnancy. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been found to negatively impact the foetus' growth, which is why it is considered a type of food to avoid when pregnant.. Alcohol ingested by the mother passes directly into the baby's bloodstream through the umbilical cord, and stays there twice as long¹º. The harmful effects of alcohol on the foetus can cause birth malformations, cardiac issues, low birth weight, miscarriage and stillbirth¹¹.

Pregnancy is the ideal time to begin consuming nutrient-rich meals to benefit both you and your developing baby. Numerous vital nutrients, such as protein, folate, choline, and iron will need to be consumed in greater quantities. ‘Eating for two’ is a myth, and your pregnancy diet should focus on meals with a variety of nutrients to meet the needs of both you and your unborn child.

Being aware of certain types of food to avoid during pregnancy is important to the health of both mother and baby. This helps women and all their loved ones choose wholesome, healthy foods to ensure that their baby is born in the best possible health. Please contact your healthcare practitioner if you have any queries.

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Expert resource
Dr. Raymond Choy Wai Mun
(MCR 18097A)
MBChB (UK), Aviation Medicine (Singapore)


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