Child Development
Are These Foods Off-Limits During Pregnancy?

Are These Foods Off-Limits During Pregnancy?

January 15, 2023

By Megan Boyle

Pregnancy is a time for joy, congratulations – and unsolicited advice.

It can feel as if everyone around you has a tip for what you should and shouldn’t do, especially when it comes to food.

If your doctor, friend (or a perfect stranger) has told you not to eat one of these common foods – here’s why:


Seafood is an important source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA that are critical for fetal development. But tuna and other large fishes such as king mackerel, marlin and swordfish can contain high levels of mercury.

This heavy metal impairs a baby’s brain development if consumed by mom before, during and after pregnancy, since it lingers in our bodies and passes through breast milk. The risk is equally great for fresh, frozen and canned tuna.

To get the benefits of omega-3s in seafood without the dangers of mercury, look for salmon, sardines, anchovies and mussels as safer alternatives to tuna. Use EWG’s Seafood Calculator to figure out how much fish is safe to eat during your pregnancy, and learn more about mercury in seafood.

Hot dogs

Did you catch a sideways glance at the baseball game or BBQ? That’s because hot dogs—like other processed foods such as cured sandwich meats, sausage or bacon—contain added nitrates and nitrites.

These chemicals give foods color and prolong their shelf lives but also have serious health concerns, particularly for pregnant women. They can increase your risk of developing cancer and your unborn child’s risk of birth defects and brain tumors.

To stay safe, read our tips for avoiding added nitrates and nitrites in your food.

* Drinking water contaminated with nitrates and nitrites poses a particularly serious risk to pregnant women and infants. Check out these tips on how to find out if your water is tainted, and if it is, what you can do to protect your family.

Canned soup

Soup is a healthy choice—it’s the can to worry about. More than 75 brands are still using bisphenol A, or BPA, a toxic hormone disruptor, to line metal food cans, according to a recent report issued by EWG. BPA is linked to a variety of illnesses. Pregnant moms should know that the developing fetus and young children are most vulnerable.

Opt for homemade foods, or buy cans from companies that don’t use BPA, and take these steps to reduce your family’s risk.

Extra tip: while staying extra hydrated during pregnancy, reach for BPA-free reusable water bottles to avoid similar risks.


Conventional apples, that is. Apples top the list of produce with high levels of pesticide residues, some of which have been linked to cancer, neurological problems and impaired intelligence in children.

Pregnancy is an ideal time to start eating more foods that are certified organic by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—particularly produce, meat and dairy products. Not only will going organic reduce the amount of pesticide in your body, organic foods may be more nutritious. That’s great news for your growing family.

Worried about costs? Try these 10 tips for eating organic on a budget.

Just remember to tell your well-intentioned advisors: fruits and vegetables of all kinds—whether conventional or organic—are a smart food choice for pregnant moms.

All women and their pregnancies are unique. Always consult your doctor about your diet during pregnancy.