The Most Dangerous Foods to Avoid When You're Pregnant

There are a few foods that are off-limits when you're pregnant, and we're not just talking about fish.
Girl sipping soda.jpg

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, the Chief Women's Health Correspondent at ABC News, has delivered 1,500 happy, healthy babies and now she's here to help yours, compliments of her new book, Eat This, Not That! When You're Expecting. In this Q+A, she talks about the most dangerous foods to eat when you're pregnant.

Q: Hi, Doctor. I'm almost afraid to ask—what can I not eat when pregnant. Please don't say diet soda is bad! Mama needs her caffeine!

Dr. Ashton: Um…well, at least you didn't say "mama needs her Jack and Coke." But seriously, I'm afraid to say diet cola is a poor choice for three reasons.

Q: Three???

Dr. Ashton: Yes, three. But lemme start with the good news. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has given the green light to having 200 mg or less of caffeine a day. So go ahead and have one or two small, 8 ounce cups of coffee—that's the equivalent of two short cups or one grande at Starbucks, or four Diet Cokes. If you want to be extra cautious, try decaf—you'll still get a tiny dose of caffeine, plus the placebo effect of sipping on some java.

Q: OK, awesome! I can live without diet soda I guess, as long as I get the caffeine.

Dr. Ashton: Exactly. You want to avoid the diet soda because some scientists suspect that nonnutritive sweeteners actually promote weight gain because of how we metabolize them. They're probably fine in moderation, but they're absolutely not a free pass to gluttony. Worse, artificially sweetened sodas seem to increase the risk of preterm birth, too.

Q: Jeez!

Dr. Ashton: Yup. A safer bet: seltzer with a few fruit slices or a splash of juice.

Q: What other foods are off-limits?

Dr. Ashton: You'll find a complete list in Eat This, Not That! When Expecting. Among the biggies: unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses.

Q: Yeah, what's the deal with cheese?

Dr. Ashton: It (and its offspring, like unpasteurized yogurt or kefir) may contain bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. For a list of brands that are pasteurized, check the book.

Q: And cold cuts? My friend said she couldn't eat those for nine months.

Dr. Ashton: Some women opt to give up deli meats altogether during pregnancy, as they can harbor invisible, odorless bacteria like Listeria, which can cause miscarriage. If you just can't quit them, that's okay—just always cook them and eat 'em while they're piping hot.

Q: I wish my OB/GYN told me that—she's awesome and cautioned me about some of this, but she's not a nutritionist.

Dr. Ashton: Nutrition isn't part of most doctor's formal training, believe it or not—that's why, after becoming an OB/GYN, I got my Master's in Nutrition at Columbia and am Board-certified in Obesity medicine.

Q: So then you'll know better than anyone else: May I eat chocolate?

Dr. Ashton: Yes! Eating well during pregnancy needn't mean giving up your favorite candy! A Yale study found that expectant moms who ate chocolate five or more times a week were 70 percent less likely to develop pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy complication that involves high blood pressure, compared to those who ate it less than once a week. Dark chocolate, in particular, contains a substance thought to have cardiovascular benefits that help prevent preeclampsia—plus, it's a great source of iron, which you need more of right now to help carry oxygen to your growing baby.

Q: Coolest OB/GYN ever.

Dr. Ashton: My philosophy is for my patients to take control over what you can control. Just choose one of the food brands approved in Eat This, Not That! When You're Expecting! and you're making the best choice for your baby—and you!