Can You Eat Lunch Meat When Pregnant?

Eating While Pregnant: Heat Up That Lunch Meat

The initial moment you find out that you’re pregnant is filled with excitement, but once you settle down a bit, you’ll probably realize there’s a lot to remember as far as the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy. On that list are foods you should and shouldn’t eat. Lunch meat is one item doctors recommend that pregnant women eat with caution.

Listeria Concerns

Pregnancy - pregnant woman health care

Can Pregnant Women Eat Steak?

Learn More

The main concern over eating lunch meat while you're pregnant is that it may be contaminated with the bacteria listeria, which can cause listeriosis. A healthy adult often won’t even become very ill if he or she gets this infection, but it can seriously harm a pregnant mom and her unborn baby. Pregnant women are also 20 times more likely to get listeriosis.

The infection can cause miscarriage, premature labor, delivery of a low birth weight infant or even infant death. Even if you don’t show any symptoms, you can pass listeriosis on to your baby. Babies with the infection may develop health problems later in life, including intellectual disability, paralysis, seizures, blindness, or brain, heart or kidney impairment.

Eating Lunch Meat Safely

It’s best to avoid eating lunch meat while you’re pregnant, but if you really can’t find another easy lunch option, heat the lunch meat to steaming or 165 degrees F before making that sandwich. A grilled sandwich rather than a cold one might add a little variety to your diet as well.

This guideline goes for lunch meat purchased and packaged at the deli and for prepackaged meats. Before it's sealed, prepackaged lunch meat is sprayed with an additive designed to prevent listeria, but you should still heat it.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnancy - pregnant woman health care

Prosciutto and Pregnancy

Learn More

Lunch meat isn’t the only food you should avoid during pregnancy. Any fish high in mercury, such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel or tilefish, are off-limits as well. You should also stay away from raw or undercooked seafood, including sushi, sashimi, raw oysters, scallops, clams, and any seafood labeled nova style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky. Smoked seafood is OK as long it’s in a cooked dish or canned.

Undercooked steaks are also out for the next nine months. Cook all meat and poultry to well done before eating. The temperature varies depending on the type of meat you’re cooking. Canned pates and meat spreads are OK to eat, but avoid refrigerated meat spread products.

You’ll also have to forego any over-medium or sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast and switch to scrambled. That means anything else with raw eggs is out as well, including eggnog, raw batter, homemade hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing.

Any cheeses or juices that aren’t pasteurized are off-limits. This usually includes brie, feta and blue cheese, but check the label. Some manufacturers use pasteurized milk, which makes them acceptable.

Wash all your fruits and vegetables and avoid raw sprouts grown from alfalfa, clover and radish. As long as you cook the sprouts thoroughly, you can eat them.

As much as you probably feel like you need an energy boost, limit your caffeine to 200 milligrams a day. An 8-ounce cup of coffee has around 95 milligrams, an 8-ounce cup of tea contains around 47 milligrams, and a 12-ounce caffeinated soda has around 33 milligrams.

Completely avoid drinking alcohol and herbal tea, unless your doctor gives the go-ahead on a specific herbal tea.

Good Foods During Pregnancy

With all the food you have to avoid, you may be wondering which foods are actually safe during pregnancy. Many foods are acceptable, and most of them give you and your baby a much-needed dose of vitamins or nutrients.

  • High-fiber foods: Whole grain breads, cereals, beans, pasta, rice, fruits and vegetables
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Iron: Lean meats, spinach, beans and breakfast cereals
  • Iodine: Dairy products, baked potatoes, cooked navy beans, and 8 to 12 ounces of cooked seafood such as cod, salmon or shrimp
  • Vitamin C: Oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, honeydew, papaya, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green peppers, tomatoes and mustard greens
  • Folate: Dark green leafy vegetables, veal, lima beans, black beans, black-eyed peas and chickpeas
  • Vitamin A: Carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, water squash, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots or cantaloupe

If you aren’t on a prenatal vitamin, start now to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals that you and your baby need.

Contacting Your Doctor

If you experience any of the symptoms of listeriosis or have eaten a food that is recalled because of listeria contamination, contact your doctor. He can administer a blood test to check for infection. Antibiotics can treat listeriosis and help protect your baby.

Symptoms of listeriosis are generally flu-like, including fever, chills, muscle aches, and diarrhea or upset stomach.