8 Reasons To Limit Junk Food During Pregnancy

✔ Research-backed

Eating fast food during pregnancy may be tempting to many women because your body may cause you to crave salty or sweet food. However, eating junk food may not be a good option because pregnant women require healthy prenatal nutrition to nourish themselves and their growing fetus.

Since junk food is low in nutrients, eating it can adversely affect fetal development. Some negative effects of junk food may be an increase in digestive issues, weight gain, and risk of genetic abnormalities or birth defects in children. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid unhealthy eating habits and choose your food options mindfully.

This post shares some side effects of eating junk food during pregnancy and how you can curb the craving.

In This Article

Why Should You Limit Eating Junk Food During Pregnancy?

You and your baby need a good amount of nutrients during pregnancy for healthy weight gain in you and proper development of brain, bones, organs and immune system in your baby.

Junk food is low in nutritional value and doesn’t provide enough nutrients for good maternal health during pregnancy. If you fill up on junk foods, there’s little room left to eat the nutritious food you need.

protip_icon Did you know?
Junk food stimulates the brain’s satiety center slowly, leading to overeating (9). Overconsumption of junk food may lead to unwanted weight gain and associated health issues during pregnancy.

Here are the possible ways junk food may affect you and your baby :
  1. The baby develops a liking for fatty foods: A study published in Frontiers in EndocrinologyiThe study of hormones, endocrine glands, and organs. explains how a mother’s diet can influence her baby’s food preferences

The study, which was carried out on pregnant rats, revealed that the rats that ate high-fat food during pregnancy had heavier pups, which preferred fatty foods. Their brain circuitry got altered to have a weakness for fatty foods throughout their adulthood. However, a balanced diet showed a lesser craving for fatty foods in the rat offspring (1).

  1. There may be an increased risk of allergies: High sugar content in the diet can lead to allergies and asthma. As per a study published in the European Respiratory Journal (2), children of women who had ’free sugars’ (added sugars) in the form of sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juices or honey in their diet during pregnancy, had an increased risk of allergy and asthma between the ages of 7 and 9.

    Fast food during pregnancy can raise risk of allergies

    Image: IStock

  1. Chances of genetic abnormalities may increase: A study on pregnant rats found that the mother’s high fat or sugary foods had impaired peripheral insuliniA hormone produced in the body that regulates blood sugar levels. signaling at mitochondrial mitochondrial dysfunctioniWhen the mitochondria fail to function properly as a result of another disease or condition. in the female offspring. And this passed on to the next three generations (3).
  1. May result in an increased in-take of acrylamide: According to the US Food and Drug Administration, AcrylamideiA natural chemical used to make plastics, treat wastewater, among other things. is a chemical that may be formed when foods are fried at very high temperatures, such as french fries, potato chips and other fried foods in the category of junk (4). Studies have found that a higher level of acrylamide can lead to smaller head circumference and low birth weight in babies (5).

    Acrylamide in junk food can affect fetal growth and development

    Image: Shutterstock

  1. The chances of gaining excess weight might be higher: Too much junk food during pregnancy can lead to excessive weight gain (6). Experts at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that obesity puts the pregnant woman and the baby at the risk of various complications, including preeclampsiaiA condition in pregnancy marked by high blood pressure and a rise in protein in the urine. , birthing a large baby, preterm labor, gestational diabetes, sleep apnea, increased risk of congenital disabilities, miscarriage, and stillbirths (7).
  1. Junk foods have zero nutritional value: Many foods we consider junk are high in sugar, salt, fats, and cholesterol, which should not be eaten in excess during pregnancy.
  1. Might lead to digestive problems: An excessive intake of deep-fried food may upset your stomach. It might cause gas, bloating, and indigestion. Also, many junk foods lack fiber content, which is essential for smooth bowel movements.
    Fast food during pregnancy can cause digestive issues

    Image: Shutterstock

protip_icon Be watchful
Eating improperly cooked or processed junk foods can cause food-borne infections, such as listeriosisiA severe infection caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. (9).
  1. Risk of gestational diabetes increases: Junk foods are often high in sugar and calories. Studies have revealed that the consumption of junk food increases the risk of gestational diabetes (7). According to the US Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), gestational diabetes affects around 2-10% of pregnancies annually in the United States.

Limiting your intake of junk foods may be easier said than done. Hence, read on as we share some tricks to manage cravings.

How To Control Junk Food Cravings?

First decide that you want to eat healthy foods during your pregnancy to increase the health of you and your baby.

  1. Stock your shelves with healthy snacks. Avoid junk foods, high-calorie snacks, soft drinks, or processed foods, and replenish your kitchen shelves with natural and healthy snacks. Baked foods are healthier than fried foods. Bake foods at home and enjoy your snacks without any food additives and preservatives.

    Replace junk food with healthier options

    Image: IStock

  1. Snack on fruit and nuts. Whenever you feel like munching, snack on dry fruits and fresh fruits. They will satiate your hunger as well as provide you with essential nutrients.

Mahima Satvik, a new mom and blogger, shares her tried and tested tips on healthy snacking during pregnancy. She says, “Hunger pangs struck me at the oddest hours. So, I always had a stash of healthy snacks — nuts, fruits, yogurt, and granola bars. Having them handy prevented me from reaching out for junk food (i).”

  1. Choose your foods sensibly. What you eat is what your baby gets. Make a list of foods that you eat and identify their nutritional content. This can greatly help you be more aware of the content of the foods. Snacking on a chocolate or pizza slice once a while will do no harm to your body or the baby. However, try not to make it a daily habit.

    Be more aware of the content of the foods

    Image: IStock

Get smart and cook some dishes at home to feed your cravings. Here are the alternatives if you have a craving for:

  • potato chips or such stuff – go for baked kale chips, beet chips or dried seaweed.
  • cakes and candies – snack on bananas, apples or any other fruit paired with almond butter or a drizzle of melted chocolate.
  • ice creams – fruity yogurt or ice cream made with bananas.

And, if you want to opt for eating out, then here are some meal options that can help ensure food safety (8):

  • Stir-fried chicken or seafood, which is light on the oil and sauces
  • A whole wheat roll-up or wraps without mayonnaise and with salad
  • Two slices of vegetarian pizza with a green salad as side dish
  • Brown rice or whole-wheat pasta with tomato based sauce
  • Clear soups
  • Avoid salads with creamy or oil-based dressings as they can be very high in fat.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why do I crave fast food when pregnant?

According to a recent medical study, the neuronal mechanism induces dopaminergic circuits during pregnancy and results in food cravings (10).

2. Will my junk food cravings go away during pregnancy?

Pregnancy food cravings can start as early as the fifth week of pregnancy and eventually end by the third trimester (11).

3. Can junk food lead to pregnancy complications or birth defects?

No scientific evidence shares a direct link between consuming junk food and pregnancy complications or congenital disabilities. However, regular or excessive junk food intake could cause unwanted weight gain (obesity), which can raise the risk of congenital abnormalities and other pregnancy complications such as stillbirth, macrosomia, and preterm birth (6).

4. Can eating junk food during pregnancy lead to obesity in the baby?

Overconsumption of junk food during pregnancy may lead to high fetal birth weight (macrosomia). High fetal weight may slow labor and increase the chances of medical interventions during delivery. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy is crucial (9).

Junk food might seem tempting, and you may crave them quite often. However, regularly eating junk food during pregnancy might not be a good option. Pregnant women require nutrient-dense foods to nourish themselves and their babies. Junk food is low in nutrition and may increase the risk of complications such as gestational diabetes and digestive problems. Some great healthy snack alternatives are fruits, nuts, and yogurt. Nevertheless, eating a burger or pizza once in a while won’t harm you. Enjoy your pregnancy, pamper yourself occasionally, and remember to take care of your health.

Infographic: Alternatives To Junk Food

Excerpt: It is common to have cravings for junk food during pregnancy. However, it is usually recommended to avoid junk food while expecting due to the health risks. Therefore, we suggest you save this infographic as it lists the healthy alternatives to junk food.

how to unjunk the junk food (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Consuming junk food during pregnancy may increase the risk of allergies and genetic abnormalities in the fetus.
  • Regular consumption of junk food can cause pregnant women to gain excessive weight, leading to issues such as preeclampsia, obesity, and gestational diabetes.
  • Junk foods are high in salt and sugar, which are not recommended for pregnant women.
  • Junk food can also cause nutrient deficiencies, indigestion, and bloating during pregnancy.
  • Therefore, pregnant women should opt for a variety of healthy and tasty foods to reduce their cravings for junk food.

Personal Experience: Source

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Julie Paradis et al.; (2017); Perinatal Western Diet Consumption Leads to Profound Plasticity and GABAergic Phenotype Changes within Hypothalamus and Reward Pathway from Birth to Sexual Maturity in Rat.
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2017.00216/full
  2. Annabelle Bédard et al.; (2017); Maternal intake of sugar during pregnancy and childhood respiratory and atopic outcomes.
    https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/50/1/1700073
  3. Jessica L Saben et al.; (2016); Maternal Metabolic Syndrome Programs Mitochondrial Dysfunction via Germline Changes across Three Generations.
    https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/50/1/1700073
  4. Acrylamide Questions and Answers.
    https://www.fda.gov/food/chemical-contaminants-food/acrylamide-questions-and-answers#2
  5. Talita Duarte-Salles et al.; (2013); Dietary Acrylamide Intake during Pregnancy and Fetal Growth—Results from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa).
    https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1205396
  6. Obesity and Pregnancy.
    https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/obesity-and-pregnancy?utm_source=redirect&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=otn
  7. Ligia J. Dominguez et al.; (2014); Fast Food Consumption and Gestational Diabetes Incidence in the SUN Project.
    https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0106627
  8. Eating out and takeaway tips.
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/nutrition-in-pregnancy/eating-out-and-takeaway-tips
  9. Is It Safe To Consume Junk Food In Pregnancy?
    https://www.ifwip.org/junk-food-pregnancy-fast-food/
  10. The neuronal mechanisms responsible for food cravings during pregnancy are identified
  11. Pregnancy FAQs
    https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/pregnancy/pregnancy-faqs/
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Claudia Wilson
Claudia WilsonMS, RDN, CSSD, CSCS
Claudia Wilson is a registered dietitian/ nutritionist, a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition (CSSD), and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). With an experience of 12 years, she currently manages her private practice All of Nutrition and authored One-Two Punch.

Read full bio of Claudia Wilson