Nutrition and Pregnancy: What to Avoid & How to Nourish Your Body

Written by: Alyssum Reno-Smith, MS
Dietetic Intern, Huntsville Nutrition Collective

Learning what to avoid and how to adequately nourish your body during pregnancy can be overwhelming, especially for first time moms. There are several known foods, beverages, and other products that are recommended to avoid during pregnancy. Let’s start with seafood. 


It is recommended to avoid seafood high in mercury due to the potential harmful effects to the baby’s neurological system. Mercury is typically found in larger, older fish such as bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, swordfish, shark, and tilefish. Not all seafood is off limits though. It’s safe and recommended to consume 2-3 servings per week of anchovies, catfish, cod, herring, light canned tuna, pacific oysters, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and tilapia to name a few. However, pregnant women should avoid raw, undercooked, or contaminated seafood. Examples include sushi, sashimi, ceviche, raw oysters, scallops, clams, or seafood labeled nova style, lox, kippered, or smoked jerky. Lastly, seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F and it’s best to avoid eating fish from local waters that have local fish advisories for possible pollution concerns. 

Undercooked meat, poultry, dairy

Always fully cook meats/poultry before eating to avoid risk of bacterial food poisoning. Other specific foods to avoid include deli meats, hotdogs, refrigerated meat spreads, raw eggs, and raw egg products such as homemade Caesar dressings, mayonnaise, homemade ice cream or custards, and hollandaise sauce. Also, recommendations include consuming pasteurized milk and cheeses and avoiding soft cheeses that may be unpasteurized such as brie, feta, blue cheese, gorgonzola, and Mexican style cheeses including queso blanco. Additionally, avoiding unpasteurized juices is recommended. 

Unwashed fruits and veggies 

Recommendations include washing all fruits and vegetables thoroughly prior to consuming to avoid potentially harmful bacteria. Also, it is best practice to avoid consuming raw sprouts, and if consuming sprouts, be sure to cook thoroughly. 


Caffeine research provides mixed evidence on pregnancy risk. Best practices include consulting your doctor about what a “safe” dose of caffeine or other foods/beverages alike consists of. A general recommendation is to consume no more than 200 mg per day of caffeine. One cup (8 oz) of coffee contains approximately ~96 mg per day and one cup of brewed tea contains ~50 mg (12 oz) of caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee (8 oz) contains about ~ 7 mg of caffeine. Other caffeine sources include energy drinks, soda, and chocolate. 


Alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy because there is no known safe amount of alcohol. Consuming alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, as well as the baby’s risk of developing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Of note, one should also avoid other drugs and tobacco use during pregnancy. 


Retinol products should be avoided during pregnancy due to possible high levels of Vitamin A in the body which could harm the baby. Mixed evidence suggests avoiding other products such as benzyl peroxide and salicylic acid, while some sources claim it’s safe. Again, it’s always best to check with your doctor. 

Nourishing your body during pregnancy 

So, how should you nourish your body during pregnancy? Recommendations algin with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which include aiming to eat a variety of fruits, veggies, protein foods, and whole grains, while limiting added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Folic acid, iron, iodine, and choline needs increase with pregnancy. If your needs are unmet through your dietary pattern, be sure to check with your doctor prior to consuming a supplement. For more specific pregnancy recommendations, check out the Dietary Guidelines linked in the reference section (Pregnancy information is located in Chapter 5). While there are specific recommendations provided, consider utilizing the intuitive eating approach and being able to tune into hunger and fullness cues throughout your pregnancy. 

You don’t have to be perfect & body image 

Pregnancy can be overwhelming in itself without all the “don’t eat this, do eat this.” It’s important to remember you don’t have to be perfect and you also don’t have to like your body changes throughout your pregnancy. Instead of trying to say, “you should love your body, you’re carrying a child,” maybe try to an approach of respecting your body rather than loving your body. Lastly, consider utilizing a holistic health approach throughout your pregnancy and implementing daily self-care practices whether it’s a 5-minute morning meditation, engaging in movement that is both safe (and approved by your doctor prior to starting any physical activity or exercise) and enjoyable, or reading your favorite book, please take time to take care of yourself too, mama. You deserve it!


  1. Do You Know Which Foods to Avoid When You’re Pregnant? Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Jan. 2022,
  2. Foods to Avoid When Pregnant. American Pregnancy Association, 9 Dec. 2021,
  3. Nutrition During Pregnancy | Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2019, November 19). Retrieved December 28, 2022, from  
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at

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