There seems to be so much conflicting and confusing (and often outdated) advice surrounding what women can and can’t eat during pregnancy. We’re here to set things straight and provide a simple reference guide that you can quickly consult whenever you’re not sure about what pregnancy foods to include and avoid.
You can be rest assured that you’re receiving evidence-based and up-to-date information so you can get on with focusing on your growing bump and your own wellbeing.
A healthy, balanced diet is vital during pregnancy. Of course, depending how you feel, it’s not always going to be perfect and that’s okay. As long as you aim to include as much of these foods as possible, you’ll be giving your baby the essential nutrients to grow. In saying that, you don’t need to ‘eat for two’ (sorry). The quality is more important than the quantity of food. Visit the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating for serving recommendations per day for pregnant women.
- Make sure you stay hydrated, drinking around 2 litres of water a day.
A rainbow of fruit and veg
- Eat a variety every day to get your dose of vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
- They can be fresh, canned, frozen, cooked, dried, or juiced, but just ensure they’re well washed.
- Eat starchy foods at each meal to ensure you’re getting fibre and vitamins from foods such as bread, cereal, pasta, rice, oats, noodles, and choose wholemeal instead of white when possible.
- Eat some protein-rich foods each day to give you energy and to help your baby grow. This could be meat, legumes, poultry, nuts, fish, and eggs, but see the list below on the types to avoid and the safest preparation methods.
- These foods are important because they contain calcium and other nutrients your baby needs, but please see what to avoid below.
- If you can’t have dairy, choose other calcium sources such as seeds, sardines, lentils, almonds, leafy greens, figs, and fortified non-dairy milks.
- Hard cheeses are fine, even if they’re unpasteurised, such as cheddar, stilton, and parmesan. Other non-hard cheeses including mozzarella, haloumi, goat’s cheese, cottage cheese, and cream cheese are okay to eat as long as they’re made from pasteurised milk.
Some types of fish
- Fish is recommended during pregnancy as it’s a good source of protein and omega 3s (read how omega 3s can also aid sleep during pregnancy), but go for fish with low levels of mercury including mackerel, Atlantic salmon, canned salmon and tuna, herrings and sardines.
Some other foods to include
- There’s no need to reduce highly allergenic foods, such as peanuts, unless you’re allergic yourself or your healthcare provider has recommended it.
Pregnant women need to stay away from certain foods, or at least take extra care when eating them, because they can make them unwell or even harm the developing baby. These foods include:
- If you only have raw milk, make sure you boil it first.
- Don’t eat soft serve ice-cream (due to the risk of listeria contamination).
- Mould-ripened soft cheese in rinds such as brie, camembert, and chevre (goat’s cheese).
- Blue veined cheese such as gorgonzola or blue (they can contain listeria, which can harm the baby. Read about it here).
Raw or partially cooked eggs
- Only consume well cooked eggs, which means that the yolks and the whites should be solid, not runny.
- Raw eggs are also in homemade mayonnaise, aioli, and some desserts such as chocolate mousse. If you’re unsure of the ingredients, it’s best to avoid it.
- All should be avoided (including vegetable ones) due to their listeria risk. Liver pâté and other liver products should also be avoided because they contain high amounts of vitamin A, which can be harmful to foetuses.
Cold cured meats
- Avoid eating cold meats such as cooked cold chicken, salami, pepperoni, ham, and chorizo from deli counters, pre-packaged products, and sandwich bars.
- All meat should be well cooked. It’s not the time to eat meat rare, so cook it thoroughly until all traces of blood are gone. Although rare, toxoplasmosis is an infection that’s harmful to your baby and is caused by a parasite found in meat, soil, cat poo, and untreated water.
- Always maintain strict food handling hygiene when preparing meat to avoid the spread of food-poisoning bugs.
Some types of fish and seafood
- High levels of mercury can affect the baby’s developing nervous system, so limit fish with higher levels such as flake, swordfish, catfish, and deep sea roughy. For information about exactly how much is safe, visit Food Standards Australia and read their updated brochure on mercury in fish.
- Skip the raw shellfish for now and also seafood that is smoked and ready-to-eat cold, or cooked and ready-to-eat cold prawns, as they have a higher risk of listeria contamination and bugs that cause food poisoning.
- Avoid sushi and sashimi, unless it’s vegetarian and doesn’t contain raw egg mayonnaise.
Certain fruits and vegetables
- Rockmelon (due to the risk of listeria)
- Bean sprouts eg. alfalfa, soybean, mung bean, snowpea (due to the risk of salmonella)
- Salads, unless you make them yourself (because you don’t know if they’ve been washed well in clean water).
- Always wash soil off fruit and vegetables.
- There is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid it entirely.
- Some energy drinks contain caffeine and other ingredients that aren’t recommended during pregnancy so they are not recommended.
You don’t have to cut caffeine out, but just be aware that it can be found in many things, so to be safe, read our article caffeine during pregnancy.
Some final foods to limit during pregnancy
- Foods high in sugar. Stick to unprocessed foods that contain nutrients as much as possible.
- Foods high in fat. Try to cut down on saturated fat to avoid putting on excess weight during pregnancy.
- Foods high in salt. Limit the amount of added salt in your diet.
- Pre-packaged sandwiches and wraps.
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