Eating pepperoni while pregnant is a controversial topic. Many pregnant women love the taste of pepperoni on pizza or in sandwiches, but aren’t sure if it’s safe to indulge in this cured meat during pregnancy.
This comprehensive guide will explore whether or not you can eat pepperoni when pregnant, the potential benefits and risks, tips for safely enjoying it, and healthy alternatives to satisfy your pepperoni cravings.
After reading, you’ll understand the latest expert recommendations on consuming pepperoni during pregnancy so you can make an informed decision for you and your baby’s health.
- Pepperoni can be safely eaten in moderation during pregnancy if it is thoroughly cooked.
- The main risks are from raw pepperoni containing bacteria or parasites like Listeria and Toxoplasma.
- Opt for turkey or beef pepperoni and heat deli pepperoni to steaming to reduce risks.
- Pepperoni provides protein, iron, B vitamins and zinc but can also be high in sodium and nitrates.
- If avoiding pepperoni, alternatives like salami, chorizo, prosciutto, and vegetarian pepperoni can help satisfy cravings.
Is Pepperoni Safe to Eat During Pregnancy?
Pepperoni is typically made from pork, beef or turkey that has been seasoned, cured, smoked and then air-dried or fermented. The curing, smoking and drying process helps preserve the meat and give pepperoni its characteristic spicy, smoky flavor.
According to the latest dietary guidelines, consuming cured and processed meats like pepperoni in moderation during pregnancy is considered safe by most experts if the meat is fully cooked.
The concern with pepperoni revolves around consuming raw or undercooked pepperoni, which poses a higher risk of contamination with bacteria, parasites or toxins that can cause foodborne illnesses like listeriosis and toxoplasmosis which can be dangerous during pregnancy.
As long as you ensure any pepperoni or pepperoni-containing foods like pizza are thoroughly cooked to steaming hot temperatures of 165°F or above, it is generally safe to eat pepperoni in moderation during pregnancy.
To stay on the safe side, pregnant women are advised to avoid eating raw or undercooked pepperoni such as what you might find on an antipasto platter. You should also take caution with pre-packaged snack foods containing pepperoni like lunchables, charcuterie or cheese boards unless you can verify the pepperoni used is fully cooked.
Nutritional Value of Pepperoni
Pepperoni can provide some beneficial nutrients for pregnant women and babies when consumed in moderation, but it can also contain high amounts of sodium, nitrates and saturated fat if not carefully selected.
Some of the nutrients found in a 1-ounce serving of pepperoni:
- Protein: 6g. Protein is essential for baby’s growth and development.
- Iron: 10% DV. Iron helps prevent anemia and is needed to make hemoglobin.
- Zinc: 10% DV. Zinc supports immune function and cell growth.
- Vitamin B12: 15% DV. B12 is important for red blood cell formation.
- Fat: 9g, mostly from heart-unhealthy saturated fat sources.
- Sodium: 400mg, 17% DV. Pepperoni is very high in sodium.
- Nitrates: Often used as preservatives which can form cancer-causing compounds.
When choosing pepperoni, look for uncured turkey or beef pepperoni lower in fat, sodium and nitrates. Be mindful of portion sizes, as too much pepperoni can lead to excessive calories, sodium, nitrates and saturated fat.
Health Benefits of Pepperoni
Despite some nutritional downsides, eating pepperoni in moderation during pregnancy may offer a few health benefits:
- Protein for Growth: The protein in pepperoni supports fetal growth and development, as well as the increased maternal blood volume.
- Iron Prevents Anemia: Many women can become iron deficient during pregnancy, making iron-rich foods like pepperoni important.
- Vitamin B12 for Energy: Pepperoni provides vitamin B12 which gives mom and baby an energy boost and prevents fatigue.
- Zinc for Immunity: Zinc supports immune function and cell division and growth for healthy fetal development.
Just 2-3 slices of pepperoni can provide protein, iron, zinc and B12 to support pregnancy. But be sure to limit sodium, nitrates and saturated fat by choosing low-sodium uncured options.
Risks and Precautions of Eating Pepperoni While Pregnant
While pepperoni can offer some nutritional benefits, there are some important risks and precautions to consider:
Consuming raw, uncooked or undercooked pepperoni increases the risk for exposure to harmful bacteria, parasites or toxins that can cause foodborne illness in pregnant women including:
- Listeria: Can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor.
- Salmonella: Causes fever, dehydration, uterine contractions.
- E. coli: Can trigger bloody diarrhea, urinary tract infections.
- Toxoplasma: Increases risk of premature delivery, low birth weight.
These risks are why thoroughly cooking pepperoni to steaming hot temperatures is so important. Take extra care when reheating or microwaving pepperoni that it reaches safe internal temperatures.
Nitrates and Nitrites
Pepperoni often contains preservatives like sodium nitrate or nitrite which can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when exposed to high heat. Look for uncured or nitrate/nitrite-free options to minimize this risk.
Pepperoni is very high in sodium, with upwards of 400mg per serving. Consuming too much sodium during pregnancy can increase swelling, blood pressure issues and other complications. Be mindful of portions and choose low-sodium varieties whenever possible.
Deli Meat Precautions
If eating pre-packaged pepperoni or salami from the deli counter, take these extra precautions:
- Verify the deli meat was stored properly under 41°F at all times. Listeria bacteria thrive at warmer temperatures.
- Check the use-by date and don’t purchase if expired.
- Avoid meats sliced directly at the deli counter which are more prone to contamination. Opt for pre-packaged options.
- Look for additions like “uncured”, “nitrate-free”, or “no preservatives” on the label.
- Heat all deli pepperoni or salami to 165°F until steaming before eating if you are unsure it is fully cooked.
According to food safety experts, pre-packaged pepperoni and salami are lower risk than custom sliced deli meats. However, they can still pose a slight risk if storage, expiration dates, or cooking is improperly handled.
Take the same precautions with any lunch or charcuterie meats containing pepperoni or salami by verifying they have been stored properly and are fresh.
Foodborne Illnesses to Avoid
There are two main foodborne illnesses pregnant women need to avoid contracting from undercooked pepperoni:
- Caused by Listeria bacteria, more common in deli meats.
- Can lead to pregnancy complications like miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor.
- Pregnant women 20x more likely to get sick from Listeria than general population.
- Caused by Toxoplasma parasite found in raw or undercooked meat.
- Increases risk of premature delivery, low birth weight, and other complications.
- More common in pork, lamb, and venison than beef or poultry.
Thoroughly cooking pepperoni to safe internal temperatures destroys these pathogens, as does heating deli pepperoni until steaming hot.
Alternatives to Pepperoni
If you want to avoid pepperoni while pregnant, try these tasty alternatives to satisfy your cured meat cravings:
- Salami – Opt for precooked varieties.
- Prosciutto – Cook before eating to reduce parasite risk.
- Pancetta or Guanciale – Cook thoroughly.
- Chorizo – Remove casing and cook.
- Vegetarian “pepperoni” – Made from soy, jackfruit.
- Turkey pepperoni – Lower in fat than pork pepperoni.
- Beef pepperoni – Contains iron and B12.
- Precooked sausage – Read labels to verify “fully cooked.”
While these alternatives are safer, it’s still smart to heat deli-style meats to steaming before eating. Moderation is key, as even precooked meats are high in sodium.
Tips for Safely Enjoying Pepperoni While Pregnant
If you choose to eat pepperoni in moderation during pregnancy, follow these tips for safety:
- Verify any pre-packaged pepperoni reads “fully cooked” on the label before eating.
- Opt for low-sodium, nitrate-free turkey or beef pepperoni when possible.
- Cook frozen or fresh pizzas with pepperoni until cheese and crust are browned and pepperoni is sizzling hot.
- Heat deli pepperoni to 165°F or until steaming before adding to a sandwich or snack.
- Avoid raw pepperoni sticks or meat and cheese platters containing uncured meats.
- Microwave pepperoni slices for 20 seconds before eating to reduce bacteria risk.
- Limit intake to 2-3 times per week to minimize sodium, nitrates, and saturated fat.
- Practice safe food handling and cooking to prevent cross-contamination or undercooking.
As long as you take precautions, the current dietary guidelines say you can safely indulge in moderation.
Cravings During Pregnancy
Cravings for salty, spicy foods like pepperoni are very common during pregnancy due to shifts in hormones, taste preferences, and nutritional needs.
While giving in to cravings is okay on occasion, rely on healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, dairy and legumes as your main pregnancy diet.
Some ways to healthfully satisfy pepperoni cravings include:
- Topping a veggie pizza with turkey pepperoni.
- Adding a few slices of precooked pepperoni to a salad.
- Choosing a sandwich with 1-2 slices of heated deli pepperoni.
- Pairing pepperoni sticks with low-fat cheese and whole grain crackers.
- Mixing a few slices of turkey pepperoni into pasta, eggs or pizza.
If you experience intense or frequent cravings for pepperoni, speak to your doctor about any potential underlying nutritional deficiencies or ways to healthfully satisfy your pregnancy cravings.
Is it safe to microwave pepperoni while pregnant?
Yes, microwaving pepperoni for 15-20 seconds until hot reduces any bacteria risk and makes it safer to eat during pregnancy. Make sure there are no cold spots.
What if I ate raw pepperoni before I knew I was pregnant?
The risks are still low, but contact your doctor to discuss any appropriate testing or monitoring. Avoid additional high-risk foods and thoroughly cook meats.
Is pepperoni safe on pizza during pregnancy?
Pepperoni pizza is safe during pregnancy as long as the pepperoni is thoroughly cooked until sizzling hot. Opt for veggie or turkey pepperoni as a healthier choice when possible.
Can I eat beef or turkey pepperoni while pregnant?
Beef and turkey pepperoni are safer options than pork pepperoni when pregnant. Look for low-sodium, nitrate-free options and cook thoroughly before eating.
What happens if I get listeriosis or toxoplasmosis from pepperoni?
Seek medical care immediately, as these infections increase the risk of pregnancy complications. Your doctor can provide appropriate treatment and monitoring.
While many doctors advise avoiding cold deli meats when pregnant, pepperoni that is thoroughly cooked or heated to steaming temperatures can be safely consumed in moderation. To minimize risks, opt for precooked, low-sodium varieties, ensure proper cooking, and limit intake to 2-3 times weekly. If cravings persist, try swapping in alternative cured meats or vegetarian pepperoni options.
With proper precautions, you may be able to safely satisfy your pepperoni craving without putting your health or your baby’s at risk. As always, consult your own doctor about any dietary concerns during pregnancy.