Eating a balanced diet is vital during pregnancy. Cream cheese can be part of a healthy diet, but there are some things to consider regarding its safety and nutrition. This comprehensive guide will explore all aspects of consuming cream cheese while pregnant.
Cream cheese is a soft, mild-flavored fresh cheese made from milk and cream. The primary ingredient is cow’s or goat’s milk, and cream cheese has a high fat content. Many pregnant women enjoy cream cheese on bagels, as a vegetable dip, or spread on crackers. But is it actually safe and healthy?
The short answer is yes, cream cheese can be safely consumed in moderation during pregnancy for most women. However, there are some potential risks and nutrition facts to be aware of. This guide will cover:
- The safety of eating pasteurized cream cheese
- Foodborne illness risks from unpasteurized cream cheese
- Mercury risks from farm-raised fish in cream cheese spreads
- Nutritional value – is it healthy?
- Health benefits of eating cream cheese
- Potential health risks and precautions
- How much cream cheese is safe in pregnancy?
- Safe handling and storage advice
- Healthy recipes and meal ideas with cream cheese
Understanding if and how to consume cream cheese properly can ensure pregnant women can satisfy cravings and appetite safely.
Is Pasteurized Cream Cheese Safe in Pregnancy?
The main safety concern with cream cheese is the potential for contracting foodborne illnesses if it is made from unpasteurized milk.
Pasteurization involves heating milk to high temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and listeria that can cause food poisoning. Pasteurization renders cream cheese safe for consumption in pregnancy unless the woman has a milk allergy.
It is vital that pregnant women check the packaging labels and only purchase pasteurized cream cheese from reputable brands. Consuming cheese made from raw or unpasteurized milk significantly increases the risk of dangerous foodborne illness while pregnant.
The pasteurization process eliminates these safety risks that can be extremely detrimental to a developing fetus. As long as the pregnant woman is in good health, pasteurized cream cheese from the refrigerated section of major grocery stores is perfectly safe to eat.
Dangers of Unpasteurized Cream Cheese in Pregnancy
Pregnant women need to avoid unpasteurized soft cheeses like cream cheese at all costs. Consuming raw milk products poses health threats due to:
Bacteria – Unpasteurized milk may contain harmful bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter. These can multiply to dangerous levels in soft cheeses especially when raw milk is used in manufacturing.
Toxoplasma gondii – This parasite found in cat feces can infect goats and cows. It may be present in unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses, posing risks for pregnant women as the parasite can cross the placenta and harm the baby.
Listeria – This bacteria can grow even when refrigerated. Listeria infections in pregnancy may cause premature labor, stillbirths, and illness or death in newborns. Pasteurization kills listeria in cream cheese, but improper storage can still allow bacteria to grow.
For these reasons, the FDA and CDC recommend only consuming pasteurized soft cheeses while pregnant. The health consequences simply are not worth the risk.
Are Smoked Salmon Cream Cheese Spreads Safe?
Smoked salmon cream cheese spreads have become popular for spreading on bagels and crackers. But the fish adds another safety consideration for pregnant women.
The primary risk with smoked salmon is it may contain high mercury levels. Farm-raised fish like salmon are fed food containing mercury, which accumulates in the fish. Mercury consumption in pregnancy has been linked to brain and neurological developmental issues in babies.
So pregnant women should take precautions with smoked salmon:
- Limit intake – Eat no more than 2 to 3 servings of low mercury fish per week. Smoked salmon cream cheese as an occasional treat in moderation is fine.
- Choose wild-caught – Wild salmon contains much lower mercury levels than farmed. Opt for spreads made with wild-caught salmon when possible.
- Check labeling – Canned and pouched smoked salmon products should state if the fish is wild or farmed. This allows pregnant women to make informed choices.
With care taken to limit intake and choose wild over farmed salmon when available, smoked salmon cream cheese spreads can be safely enjoyed.
Is Cream Cheese Healthy? Nutrition Facts for Pregnancy
Looking beyond safety, is cream cheese actually nutritious for pregnant women and developing babies? Here is an overview of the nutritional value:
Calories – Around 100 calories per ounce. Given its high calories and fat content, portion control is advised.
Fat – Contains over 8g of fat per ounce, mostly from saturated dairy fat. Recommended dairy fat intake when pregnant is 2-3 servings daily.
Protein – 1 ounce offers 2g of protein. Quality protein helps support fetal growth and development.
Calcium – 10% of the RDI of calcium per ounce, for strong fetal bones and teeth.
Phosphorus – Needed for bone health. Cream cheese provides around 10% of the pregnancy RDI.
Vitamin A – 10% of Vitamin A needs met in 1 ounce. Vitamin A is vital for eyesight and tissue growth.
Riboflavin – Small amounts of B vitamins like riboflavin support energy metabolism.
Overall, the profile of vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats means cream cheese can contribute positively to maternal nutrition and be safely included in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Potential Health Benefits of Cream Cheese in Pregnancy
When enjoyed in sensible amounts and combined with nutritious foods, cream cheese offers several potential benefits for pregnant women:
- Morning sickness relief – The protein, fat, and sodium in cream cheese may help curb nausea when eaten with dry crackers.
- Healthy weight gain – Provides calories and nutrients for adequate maternal weight gain to support the pregnancy.
- Dairy benefits – Provides calcium, protein, phosphorus, vitamins, and minerals from milk. Important for fetal skeletal development.
- Protein for growth – The quality protein supports fetal cell growth and tissue development.
- Brain development – Vitamin B12 in dairy foods aids fetal brain and nervous system growth.
- Satiety – Keeps pregnant women fuller longer, curbing cravings for unhealthy foods high in refined carbs or sugar.
- Happier babies – New research shows babies whose mothers ate a flavor-varied diet rich in dairy during late pregnancy smiled more after being born!
Consumed judiciously, cream cheese can provide key nutrients pregnant women and growing babies require. Combining it with nutritious ingredients makes it even better.
Are There Any Health Risks or Precautions?
Along with the benefits, there are some potential health risks and precautions pregnant women should be aware of when eating cream cheese:
- Weight gain – The high fat and calorie content means cream cheese is easy to overeat. Stick to recommended serving sizes.
- Fat intake – Saturated fat and cholesterol can be unhealthy in excess. Balance cream cheese with other healthy unsaturated fats.
- Allergies – Cream cheese contains milk allergens. Those with dairy hypersensitivities may need to avoid it.
- Foodborne illness – Only consume pasteurized products. Do not eat moldy or expired cream cheese.
- Blood pressure – Excess sodium may increase pregnancy-related blood pressure issues like preeclampsia. Limit adding extra salt.
- Gestational diabetes – The saturated fat may impact blood sugar. Those diagnosed with gestational diabetes need to limit intake.
Understanding these factors allows pregnant women to make informed dietary choices regarding cream cheese and enjoy it safely.
How Much Cream Cheese is Safe to Eat When Pregnant?
Wondering how much cream cheese you can safely enjoy during pregnancy? Here are some healthy daily serving guidelines:
- 1-2 ounces of full-fat cream cheese
- 1-2 slices of whole grain toast or bagel thinly spread with cream cheese
- 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup cream cheese used in recipes like dips, spreads, or cheesecake
- 1⁄2 cup vegetables with 2 tablespoons cream cheese dip
Sticking within these amounts means pregnant women can get the nutrition and enjoyment from cream cheese without excess calories, fat, sodium and other potential risks. Moderation and variety is key.
Of course, consult a doctor for personalized nutrition advice. Those diagnosed with gestational diabetes may need to further restrict intake.
Proper Handling and Storage of Cream Cheese When Pregnant
As a fresh dairy product, cream cheese requires safe handling and storage practices to avoid foodborne illnesses. Here are some recommendations for pregnant women:
- Check sell-by dates – Purchase cream cheese with the furthest from expiration date possible.
- Use quickly – Consume opened cream cheese within 5-7 days. Discard any with mold.
- Refrigerate promptly – Refrigerate cream cheese immediately at 40°F or below after purchasing and after use. Do not leave it out.
- Avoid cross-contamination – Carefully store cream cheese away from raw meat juices and unwashed produce. Avoid double-dipping with utensils.
- Cook thoroughly if reheating – Only reheat cream cheese dips, appetizers, or dishes to safe internal temperatures of 165°F+ before eating.
With proper care taken during handling and storage, pregnant women can be confident the cream cheese they consume is safe from any dangerous bacteria.
Healthy Cream Cheese Recipes and Pairings for Pregnancy
Want to enjoy cream cheese safely during pregnancy? Here are some nutritious recipe ideas:
- Whole grain toast or bagel with thinly spread cream cheese and smoked wild salmon
- Cream cheese vegetable omelet made with eggs, spinach, tomatoes, onions
- Overnight oats with Greek yogurt, fresh berries, and swirled cream cheese
- Baked potatoes topped with cream cheese, scallions, bacon bits
- Creamy cream cheese pasta sauce with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and spinach
- Veggie wraps with cream cheese, avocado, cucumbers, and sprouts
- Celery sticks or apples sliced with cream cheese
- Cream cheese stuffed dates
- Whole grain crackers with whipped cream cheese dip and everything bagel seasoning
- Cream cheese frosting on fresh fruit tarts
- Cheesecake dip made with cream cheese, lemon, and honey
- Chocolate hazelnut cream cheese spread on graham crackers
With a variety of meals and snacks, pregnant women can easily integrate cream cheese into a healthy diet. Be creative and enjoy it in moderation paired with nutritious ingredients.
Common Cream Cheese Questions During Pregnancy (FAQs)
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about eating cream cheese during pregnancy:
Is it safe to eat cream cheese sandwiches while pregnant?
Yes, cream cheese sandwiches made with pasteurized cheese and whole grain bread can be safely enjoyed during pregnancy. Go light on deli meat to limit sodium and nitrates.
Can pregnant women eat whipped cream cheese?
Whipped cream cheese that is pasteurized is perfectly fine to eat when pregnant. Whipped varieties may have more air but the nutrition profile and safety is the same as regular cream cheese.
Why does cream cheese taste sour during pregnancy?
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can alter taste perceptions. If cream cheese tastes sour, it may be expired and best to discard. Pregnant women tend to be more sensitive to bitter or sour tastes.
Is it okay to eat cream cheese every day?
Eating small amounts of cream cheese daily should not pose any issues for most pregnancies. But variety is still important, so rotate different healthy proteins, fruits, veggies, and whole grains rather than eating cream cheese alone often.
Cream cheese can be part of an enjoyable, nutritious diet during pregnancy as long as it is consumed in moderation. Pasteurized cream cheese from the refrigerated section is perfectly safe for most women to eat when expecting. For ideal nutrition, pair it with healthy whole foods like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. With proper handling and storage, pregnant women can satisfy cravings for cream cheese safely and minimize risks. As always, pregnant women should discuss their detailed dietary needs with a doctor or registered dietitian when concerned.