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Eat This…Not That! 5 Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy

food to eat and avoid during pregnancy healthy foods that are okay!

11 minute read

It may seem like there’s a whole laundry list of foods to avoid during pregnancy. You want to know if anything you’re eating can be potentially harmful to you and your baby… But knowing where to begin can feel daunting and confusing at times! 

As a birth doula, I often hear many questions from my clients about what not to eat while pregnant. Here are the top 5 foods and drinks that I most frequently hear questions about: 

  1. Alcohol
  2. Coffee 
  3. Refined Carbs
  4. Vegetable Oils
  5. Some Kinds Of Fish

But why should you stay away from these foods and drinks while you’re pregnant…?

And are there any healthy — and tasty! — alternatives that can make it easier to say “no?” 

If you’re unsure about what foods you need to avoid during pregnancy and what you can eat instead, you are in the right place!


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Food To Avoid During Pregnancy 1: Alcohol

3 wine cups: all alcohol foods to avoid during pregnancy

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You may love unwinding from a long day with a glass of wine….or going out with your girlfriends for a delicious cocktail… But becoming pregnant means switching from your favorite alcoholic beverage of choice…to a mocktail or non-alcoholic version. 

That’s because there is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol passes quickly from your bloodstream to the placenta and through the umbilical cord directly to your baby. And yes, this applies to all types of alcohol including wine, beer, hard alcohol and spirits.  

So essentially, when you have a drink, your baby has one as well! 

Drinking any amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy can harm your baby’s developing brain and other organs. Alcohol also puts your baby at a higher risk for premature birth, birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. 

But sometimes it can be really hard to let go of certain foods and drinks that we love. They provide comfort, are part of how we celebrate and how we connect and socialize.

If this is the case, here are some tips to help you stop drinking alcohol:

  • Think about when you usually drink alcohol. Plan to drink other things, like fruity drinks or water. Use a fun straw or put an umbrella in the glass to make it seem more fun.
  • If you drink to destress, consider pairing up with a therapist. A therapist can help you to work through life problems and learn new coping skills.
  • Stay away from situations or places where you usually drink, like parties or bars. 
  • Get rid of all the alcohol in your home.  
  • Tell your partner and your friends and family that you’re not drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Ask them to help and support you. 
  • Listen to the Hello Someday Sobriety Podcast and get amazing support around being sober, for 9 months or forever.

Just remember that giving up alcohol is temporary. These 9 months will go by quicker than you think! The benefits of abstaining from alcohol are well worth it for your baby’s health.

My Favorite Alcohol Alternatives During Pregnancy: 

So what do you drink to satisfy your craving for a special, delicious beverage when you can’t have alcohol? Here are a few of my favorite alternatives to alcohol during pregnancy: 

Sparkling Water: 

Sparkling water is all the rage these days! Most restaurants, bars, and breweries usually have a flavor or two on the menu making it the perfect mid-day bubbler that’s alcohol free.

Plus, sparkling water is a delicious drink option that actually much healthier than alcohol. It doesn’t have the sugar or carbs that you would find in beer or soda. 

Choose your favorite from the top 10 brands out there and stock up on your favorite kinds at your local grocery store. That way you can have a little pick-me-up anytime you’re at home. 

Mocktails: 

Many pregnant ladies feel frustrated and left out because they can’t drink. But just because you can’t have alcohol doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a tasty beverage at your favorite local bar.  There are tons of healthy pregnancy mocktails out there that are delicious, low in sugar, and FUN! 

Plus, many of the recipes are so easy to make — you could whip them up at home with just a few simple ingredients. Whether you’re missing your favorite Moscow mule, margarita, or spritzer…there are a TON of wonderful recipes out there. Here are a few of my favorites! 

Smoothies:

Pregnancy smoothies are a great way to maximize your nutrition while enjoying a yummy treat. They are easy to sip on the go, fast to make, and a nice option to have around for snacks or meals. They are especially useful when time is tight or your energy is lagging.

Try out one of these 35 healthy smoothie recipes that will give you energy all day! 

Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy 2: Coffee

coffee in mug. - a potential food to avoid during pregnancy

For many of us, waking up in the morning includes an everyday ritual of preparing and drinking a delicious cup of hot coffee. 

You might look forward to the warmth of your favorite mug in your hands…the taste of your favorite coffee blend…and the comfort that comes with starting your day with a few quiet sips. 

But sadly, coffee isn’t the best way to kickstart your day or recharge your afternoon battery due to the high levels of caffeine. 

Caffeine isn’t the best for you while you’re pregnant because it raises your blood pressure and heart rate…not to mention your need to pee! Which can lead to dehydration. 

And similar to alcohol, caffeine crosses the placenta and directly affects your baby. This can cause problems for your little one. Even consuming as little as half a cup of coffee a day during pregnancy can lead to your baby having a smaller birth weight. 

That’s why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the March of Dimes recommend that you should limit your caffeine intake while you’re pregnant to less than 200 mg per day. This is equal to about one 12 oz cup of coffee or less.

This may make your heart hurt a little bit. But it’s better to be armed with the information you need so that you don’t put your baby at risk. 

Here’s a look at the amount of caffeine in your favorite coffee beverages:

  • Brewed, 8 oz.  |  95 – 165 mg
  • Brewed, decaf, 8 oz.  |  2 – 5 mg
  • Espresso, 1 oz.  |  47 – 64 mg
  • Latte, 8 oz.  |  63 – 126 mg

If you’re thinking of drinking a cup of joe, be sure to check the specific blend & café that you purchase from for specific levels of caffeine — just to be on the safe side. 

My Favorite Healthy Coffee Alternatives During Pregnancy

Personally, when I couldn’t drink coffee while I was pregnant with my kiddos, this actually opened my eyes to the many delicious coffee alternatives out there! 

Just because you can’t drink your favorite latte, doesn’t mean that you have to give up the ritual of preparing a delicious morning beverage. Here are a few of my favorite coffee alternatives during pregnancy: 

Prenatal Tea

Drinking herbal prenatal teas are a great option that can actually boost your pregnancy health! A cup of tea can help you stay hydrated, curb cravings, deliver a ton of nutrients that many women are deficient in during pregnancy and on top that is an amazing way to decompress and destress.

There are so many wonderful tea varieties out there — you can pick up a box of pre-packaged satchels or even a loose leaf blend that sparks your senses. I personally love these prenatal tea blends. 

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Having a morning cup of tea made with red raspberry leaves may transform your pregnancy experience. That’s because red raspberry leaf tea is high in many nutrients and may offer health benefits while you’re pregnant — and even postpartum! Red raspberry leaf tea can calm morning sickness, tone your uterus in preparation for birth, and even help prevent miscarriage and hemorrhage. because of the nutrients it delivers. 

Try out my favorite way to prepare red raspberry leaf tea and learn more about the incredible health benefits this tasty beverage offers. 

MUD WTR Coffee Alternative

MUD WTR is a delicious coffee alternative that’s so close to the real thing…many people make the switch and never look back! If you miss the rich and roasty taste that coffee provides, definitely give MUD WTR a try. 

MUD WTR will fill the void in your coffee-lover heart while supporting you with calm, nourishing energy. With 1/7th caffeine, this herbal-based blend is a little nutty, slightly sweet and most importantly; it takes the edge off of stress so you can truly be at your best.

Coconut Milk Hot Chocolate

A hot mug of cocoa can be the perfect thing on a cool winter night. Or even to satisfy your dessert cravings! I especially love this coconut milk hot chocolate that tastes incredible —  especially for being a lower carb and lower-calorie version of what you’d buy in a box from the store. 

The coconut milk adds a creaminess and richness that is just crazy good. Trust me — you have to try it!

Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy 3: Refined Carbs

carbs in pregnancy - bakery items in window potential food to avoid or limit in pregnancy

White bread, pizza, pasta, pastries… Refined carbs may be exactly what your body is craving during pregnancy. But these tempting carbs can actually sabotage your desires to have a healthy pregnancy. 

That’s because refined/simple carbs quickly turn into sugar in your body. This gives you a quick burst of energy that fades away…often much faster than you would hope. 

On the other hand, complex carbs — like whole grains — take a lot longer to break down in your body and provide energy over a long period of time. 

Studies have shown that moms who cut refined carbs during pregnancy, are less likely to have babies with life threatening respiratory illnesses the first year of life.

Keeping an eye on your carb intake and focusing on eating whole grains will help moderate your blood glucose levels during pregnancy. This is especially helpful for avoiding gestational diabetes, which can have negative consequences for both you and your baby.

Even just consuming bakery products or pastries twice a week can increase your odds of your baby having a low birth weight. 

My Favorite Healthy Carbs During Pregnancy: 

If you’re like me, carbs are often my go-to foods… But finding delicious alternatives has helped me to make the switch to healthier carbs that provide lasting energy throughout the day. Check out some of my favorite healthy carb options during pregnancy: 

Instead of White Bread…Try Whole Wheat Sourdough 

I love a good whole wheat sourdough that’s light and flavorful. This bread is a much healthier alternative to white bread loaves and will be perfect for your favorite sandwich, avocado toast, or to pair with a heart-warming soup! 

Pick up a yummy loaf at the store or your local bakery, or try making your own with this simple recipe

Instead of Breakfast Cereal…Eggs, Bacon & a Smoothie 

Have you ever had a bowl of breakfast cereal and then found yourself hungry an hour later? Yep! That’s because most cereals are packed full of refined carbs and sugar that won’t keep you full for very long. 

Instead, try starting out your day with a couple eggs and a piece or two of bacon. This will give you a ton of protein to give you the energy you need to conquer the day. 

When paired with a yummy smoothie, this classic breakfast will curb any mid-morning cravings and give you extra vitamins and nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy. I love these smoothie recipes — especially the “Wonder Woman” smoothie!

Instead of White Rice…Wild Rice 

White rice is a staple in many homes. It’s simple to make…cheap…but converts more quickly to sugar than brown or wild rice. 

I love wild rice and think it brings a delicious flavor to any recipe. It may take a little longer to cook, but the health benefits, taste, and distinctive texture make it one of the most versatile grains out there.

Wild rice packs a nutritional punch that offers many benefits to you and your little one during pregnancy. Try out one of these amazing 13 recipes from Food & Wine magazine. 

Instead of Crackers…Fruit and Peanut Butter 

Ritz, Club crackers, Cheez-Its, Graham crackers… These pre-packaged snacks may be easy to grab for an quick snack on the go… But you’ll need to eat a LOT and they won’t keep you full for very long. 

There are tons of other protein-packed snacks out there. You can’t go wrong with apples and peanut butter or a peanut butter banana sandwich on whole wheat bread. 

Instead of Chips…Trail Mix 

When you’re craving a satisfying crunch with just a touch of saltiness… It may be tempting to reach for your favorite bag of chips. But most chips are high in calories and sodium and can also often contain trans fats and harmful compounds which lead to disease.  They are definitely one of the foods to avoid during pregnancy most of the time.

To satisfy your salty craving and fill your belly, pick up a bag of your favorite healthy trail mix or try making your own pregnancy trail mix

Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy 4: Vegetable Oils

Pretty much any meal you make or dessert you bake will start off needing some sort of oil. But instead of butter and lard, these days we often turn to vegetable oils. In addition to their use in cooking and baking, vegetable oils are found in processed foods. Check your salad dressings, margarine, mayonnaise, cookies and other packaged foos. They’re kind of hard to avoid! 

But even if they’re labeled “heart healthy,” most vegetable oils are industrially processed, proinflammatory and drive oxidation in your body. This isn’t good because it impairs immune system function and increases your risk of infection. 

Here are 8 of the most unhealthy vegetable oils that you’ll want to avoid: 

  • Corn oil 
  • Canola (also called rapeseed) oil 
  • Cottonseed oil 
  • Soy oil 
  • Sunflower oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Grapeseed oil 
  • Rice bran oil

So whether you’re sautéing your favorite vegetables or whipping up a batch of healthy muffins…choose a vegetable oil that is made of healthy fats. Eating oils that have omega-3 fatty acids can help your baby’s growth and development and may reduce your child’s risk of developing certain disorders like autism. 

But which oils are the best for your and your growing baby? 

My Favorite Healthy Oils During Pregnancy:

I prefer to use oils that are closer to whole foods. Here are three of my favorite oils that are naturally derived and healthy to eat while you’re pregnant.  

Pasture Raised Butter (For Cooking on the Stove) 

Julia Child knew a good thing when she saw it! Good old-fashioned butter is a great alternative for cooking and baking. When used in moderation, butter can provide lots of nutrients and flavor to your meals. Look for butter made from cows that are grass-fed or pasture-raised. 

Wondering how to cook with butter? Follow this simple guide to get started! 

Coconut Oil (In Baked Goods) 

Coconut oil has grown in popularity over the recent years. It has a tasty flavor and is full of fatty acids that your body needs and may help improve cognitive function, metabolism, and hair and skin health.

For quick sautéing or baking, look for virgin coconut oil, as this type goes through less processing. Coconut oil is similar to butter in many ways — it’s a solid at room temperature but can be heated to become a liquid — but it may take a little trial and error to get the hang of it! Here’s what you should know to get started baking with coconut oil.

Olive Oil (For Roasting Veggies) 

Olive oil is definitely my go-to cooking oil — especially for roasting and sautéing. It’s healthier than other types of oils out there and can boost your heart health, lower your risk of stroke, and fight inflammation. 

To get the most from your olive oil, reach for the EVOO — as coined by Rachael Ray. Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest of the 3 types of olive oil — extra virgin, virgin, and refined (light) — as the oil is squeezed straight from the fruit and isn’t stripped of its antioxidants and minerals. 

I love this simple, delicious way to roast veggies! 

Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy 5: Some Fish

Fish is one of the most confusing and difficult foods to understand what you can and cannot have during pregnancy, But, it is worth taking the time to understand which types of fish you should avoid and which fish are so good for you you should purposely seek them out.

Large fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, and shark should be avoided because they can be extra high in mercury. Even tuna should be limited to. about 6 ounces a week.

Mercury is considered a neurotoxin – which means in certain quantities, such as that found in large fish, it could damage your baby’s brain. However, this is where things get confusing.

It may seem like, if you should avoid some fish, you should avoid all fish – just in case.

However, studies have shown that mom who consume more than 12 ounces of smaller fish per week have children with the higher childhood IQs and best communication skills. This study also shows that women who have no seafood during pregnancy are more likely to have difficulties with fine motor skills, social development and communication skills.

Fish To Eat During Pregnancy

Fish have so many health benefits for you and your baby. Consuming seafood like seaweed, scallops, cod, shrimp, sardines and salmon you are more likely to get nutrients you might otherwise completely miss out on. One of these is iodine, which when not included in the diet, can lead to intellectual disabilities. And – this nutrient is only found in a few prenatal vitamins.

Wild caught fish also has high levels of vitamin D and DHA – both important for developing a healthy brain and immune system.

So go ahead and eat fish! Just make sure it’s sourced from a reputable place and that you follow standard food safety. Even shellfish can have a place in your pregnancy diet!

Key Takeaway About Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy

There are some foods you should avoid during pregnancy because they might make you sick or harm your baby. That’s why it’s important to know the facts and take extra care while you’re pregnant. 

And the good news is that there are TONS of healthy and delicious alternatives out there. 

Use these tips to get you started. But if there’s a certain food or drink you’re going to miss partaking in while you’re pregnant…use this as an opportunity to get creative! We are so lucky to live in a world where there are many, many options when it comes to having a healthy, nutritious diet. 

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