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Foods to Avoid When You're Pregnant

Pregnant? Think twice about these foods to avoid health risks for you and your baby.
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WebMD Feature

When you’re expecting, what you eat and drink influences your child’s health, possibly forever.   Everyday foods and beverages take on new meaning, as some may present a danger to your developing baby.

Whole and lightly processed foods, such as whole grains, lean meats, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy should form the basis of your pregnancy diet. Here are items that you may want to avoid while you're pregnant.

Raw or Undercooked Food of Animal Origin

Undercooked animal foods -- such as rare meat, raw oysters, clams, sushi, unpasteurized eggs, raw cookie or cake dough, and homemade eggnog), may contain an array of bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  To reduce your risk of foodborne illness, test the doneness of meat, poultry, and fish with a food thermometer, cook eggs until they are no longer runny, and follow baking instructions -- don't eat raw dough.

Hot Dogs, Luncheon Meats, and Unpasteurized Dairy Foods

These foods are prone to Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria that causes listeriosis, which may result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or other serious health problems. 

Besides hot dogs and luncheon meats --- which include deli ham or turkey, bologna, and salami -- other processed meats and seafood that may contain listeria include refrigerated pates or meat spreads, and refrigerated smoked seafood (such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel). These items may be labeled as "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," "smoked," or "jerky."

Refrigerated smoked seafood is safe when it's part of a cooked dish, like casseroles. Luncheon meats and frankfurters are OK to eat if you reheat them until they are steaming hot, says Michael Lu, MD, UCLA professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and public health and author of Get Ready to Get Pregnant: Your Complete Pre-Pregnancy Guide to Making a Smart and Healthy Baby.

"Pregnant women should avoid getting the fluid from hot dog packages on other foods, utensils, and food preparation surfaces, and wash their hands after handling hot dogs, and deli luncheon meats," to further decrease potential contact with listeria, Lu says.

Unpasteurized dairy foods are also prone to listeria. 

Avoid raw milk and dairy products made from unpasteurized milk, such as Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, blue-veined, queso blanco, queso fresco, and queso Panela.

Certain Seafood and Fish

Large fish -- such as swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel -- harbor higher concentrations of mercury, compared to other fish. Mercury is a byproduct of coal-burning plants that interferes with the normal development of a growing child's brain and nervous system.

According to the FDA, pregnant and nursing women may eat up to 12 ounces weekly of seafood low in mercury, including salmon (farmed and wild), shrimp, canned light tuna, pollock, sardines, tilapia, and catfish.  Because albacore (white) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna, the FDA recommends that pregnant women limit albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces a week, and include it in the 12-ounce limit.

Fish caught for sport in rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams may also contain industrial pollutants that play havoc with a developing nervous system. Recreational anglers should check the safety of waterways with their local health departments.

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