Between the constant need to pee, inconvenient brain fog, and an inability to control your — ahem — gas, pregnancy can do some strange things to your body. Blame it on the hormones.
And if you’re like many of us, pregnancy cravings can be a challenge all their own. These cravings may be incredibly powerful, and frankly, downright odd. Hello, third pickle peanut butter sandwich of the week.
Of course, not all food cravings include unusual combinations. You might just crave a no-frills, popular snack — like beef jerky.
But you may want to think twice before reaching for that Slim Jim or bag of gas station jerky. While beef jerky might have been your go-to snack before pregnancy, it can be unsafe to eat while pregnant. Let’s take a closer look.
Beef jerky is a simple, delicious snack that you can find just about anywhere.
It’s meat — and no, there’s nothing wrong with eating meat while pregnant. But beef jerky isn’t your typical meat product. In all likelihood, you haven’t given much thought to how jerky is prepared — truthfully, most people haven’t.
Yet, you’ve probably been warned about the danger of eating undercooked animal products during your pregnancy due to the risk of a foodborne illness.
Foodborne illness and toxoplasma
Although anyone can get sick with foodborne illness (aka food poisoning), your chances are higher because pregnancy can wreak havoc on the immune system. And as a result, your body may have difficulty fighting off bacteria that can make you sick.
This includes bacteria that causes illnesses like toxoplasma. Not only can you get sick, but your baby may be affected, too.
You’re probably thinking: Beef jerky isn’t raw, so what’s the big deal?
While it’s true that jerky isn’t raw, it’s also not cooked in the traditional sense.
Cooking meat at a high temperature helps kill bacteria that can make you sick. Jerky is dried meat, and the reality is, drying meat might not kill all bacteria. When you buy jerky at the store, you can’t be sure of the temperature it was dried at.
So each time you take a bite of jerky, you’re essentially gambling with your health.
Toxoplasmosis is a common infection, and in healthy people, it doesn’t usually cause serious problems. Some people don’t even realize they have the infection, especially since it can clear up on its own.
But since this illness can lead to birth defects, it’s important that you do what you can to avoid toxoplasmosis during pregnancy. This includes washing fruit and vegetables before eating, washing your hands after handling undercooked meat, and yes, avoiding beef jerky.
Salt and spike in blood pressure
The risk of a foodborne illness isn’t the only reason to avoid beef jerky in pregnancy. While a bite of jerky can curb a craving, it’s also high in salt.
Depending on how much you consume, your blood pressure could spike, which isn’t healthy for you or your baby. Too much salt can also increase discomfort due to swelling.
High blood pressure during pregnancy increases risk for preterm labor, as well as preeclampsia.
So, what if that beef jerky craving just won’t go away?
Well, one option is to prepare (or get someone else to!) a steak. Just make sure it’s cooked to well done — that means leaving it on the heat until it hits 165°F (74°C). Don’t worry — well-done meat can be flavorful, too. A trip to the spice cabinet can work wonders. (And adding lots of black pepper may be just the trick to satisfying that jerky craving!)
Or, grab some plant-based or vegetarian jerky made from different ingredients like eggplant, jackfruit, tofu, and even mushrooms. Plant-based jerky might not taste exactly like beef jerky, but you may find it delicious and satisfying.
Go easy, though. Although it’s a plant-based snack, it’s still processed, so it may be high in sodium. The same goes for well-cooked bacon, which is safe but about as salty as snacks come.
What about putting beef jerky in the microwave or oven in an attempt to cook it and kill bacteria? Well, this might work, but there’s no guarantee. Err on the side of caution and avoid jerky. In a few months you can welcome it back into your life.
We don’t want to be a killjoy, but you’ve probably already heard this. We can confirm: Beef jerky isn’t the only food to avoid during pregnancy. Basically, you’ll want to avoid any items that aren’t thoroughly cooked, as well as unpasteurized beverages.
Foods and drinks to avoid include:
- raw oysters
- raw scallops
- raw cookie dough; notice, though, that baked cookies are not on this list
- raw eggs, which includes things like homemade mayo
- undercooked meat, poultry, and seafood
- raw sprouts
- pre-made grocery store chicken and tuna salad
- unpasteurized milk, juice, and apple cider
- raw milk products such as feta
- deli meats; though if you zap them in the microwave, you can kill any bacteria — more on this below
Get into a habit of reading food labels, and avoid anything labeled smoked, nova-style, kippered, jerky, or lox.
It’s OK to eat hot dogs, lunch meat, cold cuts, and dry sausages, but don’t eat these straight out of the package. Always reheat these to an internal temperature of 165°F before eating.
When you’re preparing poultry and other meats at home, don’t assume these are safe to eat just because they look cooked. Use a food thermometer and test the internal temperature — it should be 165°F.
If you’re already dealing with nausea and vomiting, it can be difficult to distinguish normal pregnancy sickness from a food-borne illness. A few telltale signs pointing to an actual illness include:
- flu-like symptoms
- sore muscles
- skin rash
- sore throat
If you have these symptoms and believe or suspect that you’ve eaten undercooked meat or seafood, call your OB-GYN immediately.
A blood test can diagnose toxoplasmosis. In all likelihood, your doctor will perform an amniocentesis, which is a prenatal test that can also check the fetus for infections.
If you’re infected, you’ll receive an antibiotic that’s also safe for your unborn baby.
The news isn’t all bad. While there are some things you need to steer clear of — including meat jerkies — you can enjoy most foods during pregnancy.
Now might even be a good time to replace the processed foods with more nutritious options — you’re already drinking a bajillion gallons of water a day to avoid dehydration, so why not enjoy a great, balanced diet as well?
- lean meats, such as cooked fish, poultry, red meat, and turkey
- egg whites
- fresh fruits
- pasteurized milk and other dairy products — calcium goodness!
- pasteurized orange juice
- fresh vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables — all rich in folate
- whole-grain bread, rice, and cereals
- peanut butter
- low-mercury fish, like flounder, haddock, whitefish, and trout
Fighting a beef jerky craving might be a challenge — but you can do it. If all else fails, grab a steak, plant-based jerky, or well-cooked lean protein. This might be exactly what you need to curb strong cravings.