When you’re expecting, food cravings are a given. However, now that you have the responsibility of feeding your unborn baby too, you might wonder what is safe to eat. For example, if you enjoy topping your pizza with pepperoni, is it still okay to do so?
It would seem there are a million different opinions out there on what is and isn’t safe to eat during pregnancy. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was concerned about the conflicting information (and the fact that in my mom’s day, a lot of the pregnancy food rules we have now didn’t exist back then, which made things even more confusing when I asked her about them).
Take for example, pepperoni. While I’m not a fan of pepperoni in general, many people are. So is this popular pizza topping safe to consume when pregnant? Though pizza is safe to eat while pregnant, you might want to be cautious about going crazy with that pepperoni.
What The Experts Say
Pepperoni may have negative effects on pregnancy for several reasons.
Pepperoni and other cured meats contain nitrate and nitrite preservatives that help increase flavor and prolong shelf life of the product. If you regularly consume nitrates and nitrites, you increase your risk of developing cancer, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
The preservative salts react with compounds in the meat to produce nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. Studies have revealed that eating cured meat during pregnancy may increase the risk of a brain tumor in your unborn baby as nitrates and nitrites can cross the placenta.
The cancer risk is increased because baby’s developing brain is easily susceptible to damage and the toxic effects of nitrates and nitrites.
Another negative effect of eating pepperoni while pregnant is heartburn. Pepperoni is also a high fat food and can contribute to health problems such as excess weight gain.
If you must eat pepperoni, safer alternatives, in moderation, include turkey or versions without nitrates and nitrites. You can also use shredded chicken, low-fat cheese, vegetables and lean ground beef as pizza toppings.
It is important to get the majority of your nutrients from healthy foods. According to Dr. Miriam Stoppard, author of the book Conception, Pregnancy and Birth, you should concentrate on eating food that is low in sugar and saturated fat.
Pepperoni is not the only food to be cautious about during pregnancy. Check out this list of other don’ts.
Food Safety During Pregnancy
The American Pregnancy Association maintains a list of foods to avoid during pregnancy. Here are some of their suggestions.
- Avoid soft, mold-ripened cheeses like brie and blue-veined cheeses, as these may contain listeria bacteria which can cause listeriosis. Though most likely nothing to worry about for you, baby can be seriously impacted.
- Avoid meats high in nitrates and nitrites and cold cured meats (again, the listeria threat). If you want a cold cut sandwich, be sure to heat it up thoroughly before consuming.
- Avoid high-mercury fish like shark, tilefish, king mackerel and swordfish. Stick to 12 ounces total of fish per week and go for choices such as wild salmon, scallops, pollack and anchovies. Mayo Clinic states that pregnant women should also not eat raw or under cooked seafood or shellfish during pregnancy, as these can expose baby to harmful parasites and bacteria.
- Avoid raw eggs and homemade sauces that may contain partially cooked egg content such as hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise and eggnog.
- Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or juice, as these can contain harmful bacteria.
- Avoid refrigerated pates and meat spreads.
- Avoid eating raw sprouts, as these may contain E. Coli or salmonella bacteria. If you want to eat them, make sure to thoroughly cook them first.
- Absolutely no alcohol. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant. If you’d like an alcohol substitute, try blending sparkling water with your favorite fruit juice, such as pomegranate, apple or orange and pour it into a wine glass. But don’t add a wedge of lemon to your drink — lemon wedges may also contain harmful bacteria.
- Try to limit caffeine as too much may increase the risk of miscarriage. Studies have shown that pregnant women who drink 200 milligrams of caffeine or more a day have a twofold increase in miscarriages.
Want to learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy? Check out this food guide for pregnant women.