Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy:  Myths, Facts, and Nutrition Advice from a Prenatal Dietitian

You’re pregnant and are probably getting a lot of advice from … everyone. If there’s something everyone is an expert on, it’s your pregnancy diet.

“You’re eating for two now, so fill that plate.”
“You can’t have seafood … or tuna … or cheese.”
“If you drink coffee, you can have a miscarriage.”
“Just listen to your body. It knows what you need.”

Advice abounds from telling pregnant women to avoid tropical fruits and sushi to anything with caffeine.

We want to tell you to exhale. Pregnancy shouldn’t be so stressful and confusing. As prenatal dietitians, we love to help women and couples navigate the deluge of pregnancy nutrition information and give science-backed nutrition plans and advice.

How we nourish ourselves during pregnancy has an effect on our babies and can improve their mental health and cognitive development, and stop your child from becoming obese later in life. Your pregnancy diet is incredibly important, and sometimes our bodies don’t give us the right cues. (Pregnancy cravings can be weird and not necessarily healthy).

Here are foods pregnant women should avoid, to keep themselves and their developing babies healthy. (Remember different countries have different safety and handling guidelines, so a pregnancy diet is cultural as well. These “foods to avoid” are according to US safety and handling guidelines.)

  1. Undercooked anything. Pregnant women are susceptible to foodborne bacteria and can get incredibly ill. Now’s not the time to go caveman with meat or even look at undercooked seafood.
  2. Raw seafood like sashimi is a big no during pregnancy. Sushi that has smoked or raw seafood can contain bacteria that is harmful both to mom and her developing baby.
  3. Unpasteurized anything including milk, cheese, hummus, and tahini. These products might contain Listeria and other harmful bacteria which can cause serious health issues.
  4. Say cheese? Steer clear of unpasteurized semi-hard and soft cheeses, unless they are thoroughly cooked until steaming hot. This applies to all mold-ripened soft cheeses that have a white coating on the exterior, like brie, camembert, and chèvre, unless they are cooked until steaming hot. Similarly, avoid consuming blue cheeses such as Danish Blue, Gorgonzola, and Roquefort, unless they are cooked until steaming hot. These precautions are essential to minimize the risk of harmful bacteria during pregnancy.
  5. High mercury fish and seafood products like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish can negatively affect a baby’s nervous system development. Consider salmon and well-cooked shrimp if you’re in the mood for something fishy.
  6. Raw sprouts like alfalfa, mung bean, and radish sprouts might carry Salmonella and E. coli … so make sure you sauté them if you can’t do without them or consider not eating them at all.
  7. Unwashed fruits and vegetables, too, might contain harmful bacteria and pesticides. Wash your fruits and vegetables well. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also a safe option during pregnancy.
  8. Keep caffeine to a minimum. Excessive intake of caffeine has been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage and preterm birth. The recommended amount of caffeine during pregnancy is 1 ½ 8-ounce cups of coffee (or 1 12-ounce cup of coffee) each day.
  9. Skip the ham sandwich and opt for shredded chicken or beef. Processed meats and hot dogs can contain harmful bacteria. If you’re in the mood for a salami sandwich, make sure it’s heated to a safe temperature.

Every pregnancy is unique. Foods you want to avoid may very well depend on individual health conditions (like if you develop gestational diabetes) and needs. When in doubt, consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist or your ObGyn before making radical changes to your diet. It’s important now, more than ever, to nourish yourself well.

Instant Pot Lentil and Vegetable Stew


  • 1 cup dried green or brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Fresh lemon juice (optional, for serving)
  • Chopped fresh parsley (optional, for garnish)


  1. Turn on the Instant Pot and set it to the sauté function. Add the olive oil and let it heat up.
  2. Add the chopped onion, carrots, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté for about 3-4 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.
  3. Add the minced garlic, cumin, turmeric, paprika, and cinnamon. Sauté for another 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  4. Press the “Cancel” button to stop the sauté function. Add the lentils, diced tomatoes (with juices), and vegetable broth to the Instant Pot. Stir well to combine.
  5. Close the Instant Pot lid and set the valve to the sealing position. Select the “Manual” or “Pressure Cook” function and set the timer to 15 minutes on high pressure.
  6. Once the cooking time is complete, allow for a natural pressure release for about 10 minutes, then carefully switch the valve to the venting position to release any remaining pressure.
  7. Carefully open the lid and give the stew a stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
  8. Serve the lentil and vegetable stew hot, optionally squeezing fresh lemon juice over each serving and garnishing with chopped parsley.