Foods to avoid during pregnancy


Unpasteurised milk products

These increase your risk of exposure to micro-organisms such as salmonella and listeria, which can result in food poisoning.


Salmonella poisoning (especially from eggs, raw or partially cooked) causes gastrointestinal symptoms which can be life-threatening in the very old or very young.


Listeria poisoning resembles flu-like symptoms and is particularly hazardous to babies and pregnant women.

Products (whether pasteurised or unpasteurised) that pose the greatest risk for listeria contamination include:

  • Soft mould-ripened cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and blue-veined types
  • Pâtés (all types: vegetable, fish, chicken and meat pâtés).
  • Avoid goat’s milk and goat’s milk products such as feta cheese.
  • Some countries advise pregnant women not to eat cold meats or smoked fish because of the risk of listeria. Raw or improperly cooked seafood and shellfish can contain harmful viruses and bacteria.

Avoid seafood, shellfish and other raw foods

The Vibrio bacterium, Norwalk virus and Hepatitis A have been associated with raw or partially cooked seafood and shellfish.

It is generally recommended that pregnant women avoid eating raw seafood and shellfish. Some types of fish contain more mercury than others. The amount of mercury we get from food isn’t harmful for most people, but can affect your baby’s developing nervous system.

  • If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or intending to become pregnant in the next year, you should avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and marlin (most of which aren’t readily available in South Africa anyway).
  • Limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than one tuna steak or two medium-size cans of tuna a week.

Most foods harbour bacteria and, if they are not kept at the right temperature (which means keeping cold food cold and hot food piping hot), bacteria can breed and rapidly cause food poisoning.

Foods to be careful of include uncooked poultry and meat, unpasteurised milk products, shellfish from dubious sources, spoiled oily fish, cooked cold meat products, raw and lightly cooked eggs or those with cracked shells.


Peanuts are prone to contamination by a type of mould that produces dangerous toxins called aflatoxins, which can cause liver cancer. Nuts, especially peanuts, are also one of the most common food allergens, thus expectant mothers should avoid them as allergies sometimes run in families.


Intake of caffeine above 300 mg/day may be associated with low birth weight and, in some cases, miscarriage, limit coffee, tea and colas.

Foods to avoid:

  • Alcohol
  • Unpasteurised milk products, and mould-ripened cheeses
  • Raw eggs in foods like custard, mayonnaise and lemon meringue pie
  • Raw, smoked or undercooked meat and fish in foods like cold meats, sushi, rare steak or undercooked chicken
  • Unwashed fruit and vegetables
  • Unsafe drinking water
  • Fish that may contain high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, mackerel, tilefish and marlin. Limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than one tuna steak or two medium-size cans of tuna a week
  • Nuts including peanuts 
  • Limit drinks containing caffeine, including tea, coffee and most fizzy soft drinks 
  • Artificial sweeteners, diet coldrinks and other foods that contain chemicals and preservatives  
  • Limit fast food and dubious restaurant food because of potential low food hygiene standards 
  • Herbal teas and other preparations are not necessarily safe, as herbs may have potent medicinal properties, so best to avoid, apart from rooibos tea
  • Avoid liquorice as it has been associated with spontaneous abortion 
  • Avoid all herbal supplements
  • Take only antenatal supplements prescribed by your doctor
  • Avoid fatty acid supplements (omega 3 and omega 6) for at least 3 weeks prior to delivery, due to reduced clotting factors associated with these supplements 
  • Avoid excessive intakes of vitamin A as this has been associated with birth defects

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