What Not to Eat

The do's and don'ts of prenatal nutrition.


If you're like many pregnant women, you vowed to eat healthier the minute you found out you were expecting. You may even have started making a mental list of nutritional do's and don'ts: Eat more calcium-rich foods, get more protein and cut out the caffeine and junk food. Good thing: Developing healthy eating habits now will set the stage for your baby to grow into a strong child and adult, as well as ultimately reduce his risk for certain diseases. In fact, scientific research increasingly shows that a prenatal diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is key in preventing heart disease, diabetes, obesity and many types of cancer. Here's expert advice on what to eat—and what to avoid—for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child:

DO choose foods that perform double duty "Nutrient-dense foods, such as yogurt, peanut butter, chicken, beef, eggs and dairy products, are higher in protein, calcium and iron, all nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop," says Rose Ann Hudson, R.D., L.D., co-author of 2003's Eating for Pregnancy: An Essential Guide to Nutrition With Recipes for the Whole Family. Some other examples of nutrient-dense foods: Lean pork, like beef, contains protein, along with B vitamins, iron and zinc. Orange juice offers folate (a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects) plus vitamin C, which helps you absorb iron from foods such as fiber-rich black beans and spinach. Whole grains are filled with fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.

DON'T eat empty calories Sweet treats are OK during pregnancy—but in moderation, Hudson says. "One of the ways we enjoy life is to eat foods that aren't high in nutrition, like desserts. But limit them to one portion a day (read labels); you won't feel deprived and you also won't be as tempted to overeat."

DO remember that you're not really eating for two "Eat until you are not hungry rather than until you are full," advises OB-GYN Karen Nordahl, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. "Excess weight gain is associated with longer labor, pregnancy-induced hypertension and gestational diabetes," Nordahl adds. Indeed, many women don't realize they need only 300 extra calories a day—and only in the second and third trimesters.

DON'T forget your vitamins A daily prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement acts as a safeguard. "In a perfect world, you'd get all your nutrients from foods," says Suki Hertz, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist and chef in New York. "But since our lives are often a little less than perfect, you should take a supplemental prenatal vitamin that contains 100 to 200 percent of the recommended dietary intakes for vitamins and minerals."

DO strive for variety Along with taking your prenatal supplement, the best way to make sure that you'll get all the proper nutrients is to eat the following daily:

-9 servings from the whole-grains group (bread, cereal, rice and pasta)

-2–3 servings of protein-rich foods from the meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts group

-4 servings of vegetables

-3 servings from the fruit group

-3 servings from the milk, yogurt and cheese group.

DON'T forgo water and fiber Drink at least eight glasses of water daily to help prevent dehydration. This can also can help prevent constipation, as can eating high-fiber foods such as whole-wheat and whole-grain breads and pastas, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Fiber also helps you feel full, so you may be less likely to overeat. Aim for at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day (3⁄4 cup of bran cereal, for example, contains an average of 5 grams of fiber).

DO avoid risky foods Unpasteurized soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, Feta, blue-veined and Mexican-style cheeses, can harbor Listeria, a bacterium that causes listeriosis, a serious infection that can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery or stillbirth. Deli meats also may pose a risk, so buy prepackaged cold cuts rather than those from the deli counter, or heat deli-counter meats thoroughly before eating them. "To minimize the risk of listeriosis, cook all leftovers and deli foods to at least 140Ëš F," Hertz says. For the same reason, never eat raw or undercooked meat, seafood (that includes sushi!) or eggs.

DON'T eat high-mercury fish These include shark, king mackerel, tilefish and swordfish. Federal guidelines recommend limiting low-mercury fish to 12 ounces a week. Safe choices include canned light tuna (limit albacore tuna, which is higher in mercury, to 6 ounces a week, maximum), catfish, pollock, salmon and shellfish. For more on seafood consumption during pregnancy, including the best sources of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, go to fitpregnancy.com/mercuryrising.