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14 Surprising Foods You Really Shouldn't Eat If You're Pregnant

Sadly, it's not just about saying no to cookie dough and sushi.

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Since you're eating for two during pregnancy, food becomes a big part of your life. But some foods are off-limits because they may contain bacteria, which could harm the mother or baby.

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When it comes to foodborne illnesses, the stakes are much higher for pregnant women. "Women have altered immunity during their pregnancy, which means they are more susceptible to bacteria and it's harder to fight off infection, so they tend to get sicker, too," Dr. Shilpi Mehta-Lee, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells BuzzFeed Health.

Foods are typically unsafe to eat during pregnancy if they have a high risk of bacterial or parasitic contamination. The worst kind are Listeria bacteria and the Toxoplasma parasite, says Mehta-Lee, because they can easily cross through the placenta and infect the fetus, causing anything from developmental problems — like blindness — to miscarriage and stillbirth.

Other harmful bacteria include E. coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella. These are less likely to cross the placenta and do serious harm in the womb, Mehta-Lee says, but they can make the mother severely or even fatally ill by causing prolonged diarrhea and vomiting or other complications — and that obviously isn't good for a growing fetus either.

Most mothers-to-be know this means giving up raw meat and eggs — but there are other less obvious risky foods that you should probably avoid during pregnancy.

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The standard foods that doctors say need to be avoided include raw or undercooked meat, fish with high mercury levels, raw eggs, and unpasteurized dairy (pasteurization is a sterilizing process that kills bacteria). But some foods that have a high risk of bacterial contamination may not make the list because they aren't as obvious or popular. With our expert's help, we rounded up a list of these below.

That being said, it also isn't healthy to beat yourself up if you make a mistake. "If you accidentally eat something you weren't supposed to, don't believe that any problem in the future was 100% caused by that single exposure to a food — I see too many women feeling guilty for this reason," Mehta-Lee says. "If you get checked out and the pregnancy is still going well after you've eaten something on the banned list, just relax and try not to become overly worried or paranoid."

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1. Unpasteurized fruit or vegetable juice

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Even though the fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juice trend is huge right now, pregnant women probably shouldn't hop on the bandwagon. "Women think these are great during pregnancy because they're healthy and full of vitamins, but what they don't realize is some juices, such as orange juice, are unpasteurized, and also the rapid chopping and juicing process allows for cross-contamination," Mehta-Lee says.

The result? Many of these seemingly harmless fruit and veggie juices have a higher risk of containing bacteria like E. coli, which can make the mother and developing fetus pretty sick.

2. Lox (smoked salmon)

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Most pregnant women know not to eat sushi, but smoked fish is a little less obvious since it's technically cooked through a curing process. "Cold-smoked or cured fish like salmon lox isn't heated high enough to kill certain parasites and bacteria, which can cross into the placenta and harm the pregnancy," says Mehta-Lee.

Fish should always be cooked to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit before eating if you're pregnant. So you definitely want to get your bagel without lox, no matter how tempting it looks.

3. Ceviche

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Similar to lox, ceviche is technically cooked using a cold curing process where the fish is soaked in acidic lime juice. "Ceviche is surprising for many people because it has the appearance of being cooked and the protein is denatured like it would be in baked or fried fish, but there's no heat in the cooking process, so no bacteria gets killed," says Mehta-Lee.

4. Queso fresco

Most pregnant women know to avoid soft cheeses made with unpasteurized or raw milk, such as brie or camembert. However, they might not know to also steer clear of queso fresco or cotija cheese — it's a harder, crumbly cheese found in many Mexican dishes. It has a similar look and texture to feta, and it's often sprinkled on top of tacos, elote (corn on the cob), or enchiladas.

"Queso fresco is often made with unpasteurized milk and it isn't heated, so it can contain foodborne germs like Listeria, which isn't always harmful to the mother but could really harm the fetus, especially in the first or second trimester," Mehta-Lee says.

5. Alfalfa sprouts

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Vegetables are an important part of any healthy diet, but raw alfalfa or bean sprouts are an exception if you're pregnant. These little sprouts have been known to cause outbreaks of foodborne illnesses because they can easily become contaminated with Salmonella and E. coli. Sprouts are okay to eat if you aren't pregnant, but the risk of contamination is too high to safely consume them while carrying a developing baby.

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6. Cantaloupe

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Cantaloupe is known for causing foodborne illness outbreaks because melons are ground-growing fruits and bacteria like E. coli and Listeria occur naturally in soil, so they end up on the rinds, Mehta-Lee says.

"If there's Listeria on the melon surface and it isn't washed very well — which it usually isn't because people don't eat the rind — you can carry the Listeria from the rind into the meat of the fruit when you cut it with a knife, which will expose you to the bacteria," Mehta-Lee says. Unless you wash your cantaloupes very well before chopping them, it's probably best to avoid the melons altogether.

7. Hot dogs

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Precooked, packaged hot dogs (either pork or beef) really aren't safe to eat during pregnancy. "We know that hot dogs and other cooked and chilled lunch meats are often contaminated with Listeria," Mehta-Lee says. The only exception to this is if you reheat the hot dogs to over 165 degrees Fahrenheit after taking them out of the packaging, since this will kill any bacteria still lingering in there.

8. Store-bought chicken or ham salads

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We're talking about the chicken, ham, or seafood salads you'd buy at a deli in the grocery store, which you'd see sitting in a big bowl or packaged in plastic containers. Even though they are refrigerated and look harmless, these deli salads are known to sometimes be contaminated with foodborne germs that can harm the mother and fetus.

"The precooked and chilled meat could be contaminated with Listeria," Mehta-Lee says. So you shouldn't eat these deli salads during pregnancy unless you cook them at home, properly cooking the meat at a high enough temperature to kill bacteria and using commercial mayonnaise, which has pasteurized eggs and is safe to eat (more on raw egg products in a bit!).

9. Salami or pepperoni

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Salami, pepperoni, and chorizo are additional examples of cold-cured or fermented meats (like lox) that might contain listeria because there wasn't enough heat to kill bacteria during the cooking process. "We know that these cold meats could contain parasites or bacteria so pregnant women should definitely avoid these even if they are craving them," Mehta-Lee says.

10. Homemade Caesar or blue cheese dressings.

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According to the FDA, pregnant women should avoid eating or tasting anything that may contain raw or undercooked eggs — although commercial mayonnaise, dressings, and sauces made with pasteurized eggs are safe.

You might not have known that Caesar salad dressing often contains raw egg yolks, especially when it’s homemade or a from a higher-end store. So Caesar dressing is definitely a no-go for pregnant women, unless the label clearly indicates that it's either egg-free or contains commercially pasteurized eggs.

Blue cheese dressing is another risk because if the cheese isn't pasteurized, which it sometimes isn't, then it could contain Listeria. So it's best to stay away from creamy homemade dressings that could contain raw eggs or soft cheeses, Mehta-Lee says, and opt for other dressings instead.

11. Homemade ice cream

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When it comes to pregnancy cravings, ice cream probably makes the top of the list. In most cases, ice cream is completely safe to eat if you buy it packaged, from a store, but the rules change when the ice cream is homemade.

"Homemade ice cream is known for containing raw egg yolks to give a creamy texture, so it's best to stay away unless you're positive it's egg-free," Mehta-Lee says. And it should go without saying, but if the homemade ice cream also has cookie dough, then definitely stay away — that's a double whammy of raw eggs and possible Salmonella contamination. So stick to store-bought until the bun is out of the oven.

12. Hollandaise sauce

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Hollandaise is that creamy, lemony sauce poured over eggs Benedict or asparagus. It's difficult to prepare properly because it involves very undercooked egg yolks to get the right texture. So there's a pretty big chance that your hollandaise will contain raw eggs, which means there's also a high risk of it containing Salmonella, Mehta-Lee says.

Not to mention, if hollandaise isn't kept at the right temperature or sits out too long, it can rapidly grow other bacteria that causes foodborne illness — it's known for outbreaks. So definitely stay away during pregnancy, but it's also smart to be careful when ordering hollandaise even when you aren't pregnant.

13. Meringue

Meringue is made by beating raw egg whites with sugar. It's totally safe to eat when it's fully cooked — like it is in those little hard meringue cookies. However, if the meringue isn't cooked all the way through, or only torched on the top (like it is in lemon meringue pie), you should avoid it while you're pregnant.

"If the egg whites are still raw in the meringue, they could contain Salmonella and end up making the mother very sick," says Mehta-Lee. So even if the soft meringue is store-bought or from a restaurant, just say no. Even though undercooked meringue made with pasteurized eggs is safe to eat in all other stages of life, it really isn't a good choice for pregnant women.

14. Tiramisu

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Similar to meringue, the creamy filling in tiramisu is often made with raw egg yolks and either gently cooked or not cooked at all. Unless you are positive that the eggs were cooked at a high enough temperature to kill bacteria or the dessert is egg-free, tiramisu really isn't safe to eat during pregnancy due to the risk of Salmonella exposure. Not to mention, tiramisu often contains some alcohol, which makes it even less of a healthy choice for pregnant women.

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