6 Foods You Never Knew You Should Avoid During Pregnancy
As an expecting mama and integrative and functional medicine physician, the minute I found out I was pregnant I did enormous amounts of research on foods that I could eat and those I should avoid. It was my first pregnancy, and I wanted nothing more than to ensure my little growing baby was safe!
After attending medical school, completing my residency training, and taking care of prenatal moms, I knew the top foods women should avoid—uncooked meats, fish high in mercury (as well as smoked fish), deli meat, soft cheese, and unpasteurized dairy. Eating these foods can increase the risk of listeria in the baby and the mother, which can be harmful. This is a list that is supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), but I also learned there are a bunch of other foods that many women don't know could potentially be injurious to their pregnancy. Here are six of them:
1. Green papaya:
My mom told me about this one years ago, and I never believed her. I thought she was making it up until I did my own research1. Green, unripe papayas have prostaglandin and oxytocin enzymes that can actually induce uterine contractions and spasms as well as lead to possible losses early in pregnancy. It's in many Asian dishes, so always double check this ingredient and avoid this tropical fruit. Ripe papayas are OK to eat and are actually full of many essential vitamins for growing fetuses.
Many are surprised to learn they should avoid this summer fruit. Pineapples contain bromelain, a great supplement for allergy season and for arthritic pain but can also soften2 the cervix—which is hazardous to the fetus during the first trimester in large quantities. Therefore, a bromelain supplement is a big no, and I caution women to avoid this fruit altogether during the first trimester.
3. Aloe vera:
Everyone is obsessed with all the benefits3 of aloe vera, which range from promoting wound healing, soothing sunburn, and aiding in GI disorders to improving asthma and diabetes—just to name a few. But pregnant women should not eat or drink anything containing aloe vera, as it increases the risk of uterine hemorrhage and pregnancy loss. This is because aloe vera inhibits prostaglandins and thromboxane A2, inhibiting platelet aggregation and prolonging bleeding time. It's best to avoid any aloe vera in all forms from juices, gels, and supplements for the duration of pregnancy.
Fenugreek is mainly used for stimulating milk production postpartum because it contains phytoestrogen, which aids milk production. However, during pregnancy this can be dangerous—especially if consumed in excessive amounts during the third trimester. Fenugreek also contains oxytocin, which can cause uterine spasms and contractions leading4 to pregnancy loss.
5. Holy basil:
Holy basil is the king of herbs, and this adaptogen has numerous health benefits that can aid in stress reduction, improve blood glucose control, improve cholesterol, and help with asthma and colds. However, excessive amounts during pregnancy can stimulate5 uterine contractions and can be harmful to the fetus.
This Indian spice, also known as "hing," is traditionally used for cooking, but in large amounts it can be problematic for expecting mamas. It should especially be avoided by mothers with high blood pressure since it can worsen blood pressure levels as well. Excessive amounts of this raw spice taken orally can cause6 nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and GI disturbances, so it's best to limit it in your cooking or avoid it altogether.
Here's what this doctor stopped (and started) doing as soon as she got pregnant.
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Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who studied family medicine at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of science in biology and psychology in 2004 and her doctor of medicine at American University of Antigua College of Medicine in 2010. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also currently working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her interests include integrative, holistic, and functional medicine; women's health; preventive medicine; international medicine; and health care reform. She's also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki master. She enjoys writing and educating everyone on important health matters.