foods that are dangerous during pregnancy

High-mercury seafood

Here are the four to avoid: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise pregnant women, those who may become pregnant, and those who are breastfeeding to abstain from these fish completely due to their high levels of mercury. Mercury can impair a baby’s developing brain and nervous system.

Other experts are more cautious, offering a longer list of fish to avoid. And the FDA cautions that pregnant women should eat no more than 6 ounces a week of canned “solid white” or albacore tuna due to mercury risks.

However, there are plenty of types of seafood with low levels of mercury that should be included in your pregnancy diet. The fatty acids in seafood (DHA and EPA, both forms of omega-3) play a key role in baby brain development.

In fact, the FDA and EPA recommend that pregnant women eat up to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish and shellfish a week.

Unpasteurized (raw) milk and juices

While there are plenty of people who tout the benefits of raw milk and raw juices, there are serious health risks to drinking these during pregnancy. The main concern is listeriosis, a bacterial infection that can be very dangerous to your baby. You’re especially at risk during pregnancy because your immune system is suppressed.

The bacterium Listeria monocytogenes can lurk in unpasteurized milk and dairy products, unpasteurized juice, and other foods, and it can continue to grow, even in the refrigerator. That’s why it’s best to avoid these beverages completely.

Refrigerated meats and deli salads (unless steaming hot)

Listeria contamination is also a threat with refrigerated deli meats like turkey, ham, bologna, roast beef, and hot dogs. These aren’t safe unless you heat them to steaming hot (165 degrees Fahrenheit) before you eat them.

Same goes for refrigerated smoked seafood, meat spreads, and deli salads such as coleslaw, potato salad, ham salad, and seafood salad. Unless you don’t mind eating these steaming hot, you’ll want to avoid them. (Smoked seafood, like lox and whitefish, is fine if it’s in a casserole or quiche that has been cooked to 165 degrees F.)

Canned, shelf-stable meats and seafood are safe to eat, but these products contain high amounts of sodium, so they’re not the best nutritional choice during pregnancy.

Raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs

The main risks in eating raw and undercooked food are the bacteria Salmonella and the parasite Toxoplasma, both of which can infect your unborn baby and cause serious health problems.

To eliminate the risk, use a food thermometer and cook beef, veal, pork, and lamb to 145 degrees F. Make sure all ground meats reach 160 degrees F, and poultry reaches 165 degrees F. Cook eggs until the yolks are firm, and make sure dishes containing eggs – such as frittatas, stratas, quiche, and bread pudding – reach 160 degrees F.

Avoid sauces made with raw eggs, which can include homemade Caesar salad dressing, béarnaise and hollandaise sauces, and mayonnaise. If you’re making food that calls for raw eggs and won’t be cooked, like a sauce or spread, use a pasteurized egg product. And if you’re making cookie dough or cake batter with raw eggs, resist the urge to lick the spoon or eat the uncooked goods.