The Effects of Eating Pepperoni During Pregnancy

You may want to think twice before diving into a pepperoni pizza during your pregnancy. There are several negative effects that pepperoni consumption can have on you, and it also poses a risk to your unborn baby. This is because of the composition of the pepperoni and the preservatives used.

Worrisome Conditions

Pepperoni and many other salted, cured meats -- particularly pork products -- contain nitrate and nitrite preservatives. These preservative salts react with compounds in the meat called secondary amines to produce compounds called nitrosamines, explains the Linus Pauling Institute. Nitrosamines are carcinogens -- there's an increased risk of cancer associated with regular consumption of nitrates and nitrites. Further, studies suggest that nitrates and nitrites can cross the placenta, increasing your child's risk of brain tumors, notes a 1999 study in the "International Journal of Cancer" by Dr. G. Bunin and colleagues.

Unpleasant Effects

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While heartburn isn't as serious as cancer, it's a possible negative effect of eating pepperoni. While pregnant, you may experience a significant slowing in digestive tract function, coupled with loosening of the sphincter that normally separates the stomach from the esophagus. As a result, it's easier for you to get heartburn, which results from stomach acid splashing upward into your esophagus. Spicy and greasy foods, including pepperoni, are likely to trigger heartburn.

Dangers of Fat

While pepperoni may technically be meat, in reality, it's mostly fat. More specifically, it consists of mainly saturated fat, which is heart-unhealthy. During pregnancy, you should concentrate on getting the majority of your nutrients from healthy foods low in added sugars and saturated fat, explains Dr. Miriam Stoppard in her book "Conception, Pregnancy and Birth." High fat foods, including pepperoni, contribute to excess weight gain and other health problems.

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Provided you're able to find pepperoni that isn't cured with nitrate or nitrite salts, which eliminates the risk of cancer, it's probably fine to consume on a very occasional basis. You may wish to reconsider if you experience heartburn, are gaining weight too quickly, or have digestive trouble after eating pepperoni. Regardless, most obstetricians recommend avoiding nitrate- and nitrite-containing meats entirely during pregnancy, so it's crucial to read ingredients labels carefully before you eat something.