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What to Eat (or not to eat) During Pregnancy

  • A. Kenneth Harper MD

Pregnancy creates concern about many activities including diet. This blog will cover a few common questions we encounter daily from pregnant women regarding diet.

Can I drink caffeine?
Yes, but in moderation. There is concern over an increased risk of early miscarriage and premature labor with heavy use. Most experts recommend no more than 200 mg of caffeine daily during pregnancy. Coffee is the most recognized caffeine drink and, depending on the type and strength, has varying amounts of caffeine. In general it’s best to avoid the “Coffee shops” such as Starbuck’s which have more concentrated coffee. Soft drinks and tea have less, but it’s wise to limit soft drinks to 1-2 per day due to sugar in the “regular” drinks and artificial sweeteners in “diet” drinks. A web site listing caffeine content is

What about artificial sweeteners?
In general aspartamine (Nutrasweet) and sucralose (Splenda) are safe in moderation. Saccharin (Sweet and Low) should be avoided due to concern of carcinogenesis.

Can I eat luncheon meats?
There is a concern about infection with listeria and other bacteria if they are not well cooked. The general recommendation is to avoid them unless well heated (steamy hot). This also applies to hot dogs which are probably best avoided.

What about salt?
Some salt is good; table salt has iodine – a necessary mineral often deficient in women. Iodine is not present in most vitamins (but should be!). A small amount of table salt added to meals is good. Also seafood and green veggies have iodine. Avoiding excessive salt is best accomplished by avoiding fast food, chips, and extremely salty items like barbeque, canned and spicy foods (which also helps avoid excessive weight gain and indigestion!).

Can I eat fish?
Yes, but again in moderation. The concern is mercury in fish. Avoid large fish (shark, swordfish, tilefish, and mackerel) and limit to 2 servings/week (12 ounces total/week). Shrimp, crab, catfish, tilapia, salmon and canned light tuna (not tuna steak, albacore, or chunky white) are good choices. DO NOT EAT RAW FISH!

What about cheese?
Make sure any cheese or dairy product is PASTEURIZED! Cottage cheese and mozzarella are good. Unless clearly marked as pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk avoid brie, feta, camembert, blue cheese or Mexican-style cheese.

Avoid unwashed fruits and vegetables and cut away damaged portions.

Avoid excess Vitamin A due to risk of birth defects.
Liver and Vitamin A supplements are best avoided. Prenatal vitamins contain an appropriate amount of Vitamin A.

Avoid herbal teas.
We just don’t know enough about them to consider them safe.

Avoid alcohol!
We don’t know the threshold for damage from alcohol. While an occasional small glass of wine is probably safe, it is safest to avoid alcohol altogether while pregnant.