A lot of us eat what we love without giving too much thought to what’s in it — that is until those two pink lines on a home pregnancy test change our perspective on everything.
And while we’re pretty sure pepperoni doesn’t contain any of those major off-limits ingredients we’ve been warned about — like alcohol and raw tuna — we wonder if there’s anything cautionary about this popular pizza topper that we should know.
Pregnant pizza lovers rejoice: That pepperoni topping your sliced savory pie is typically fine. But there are a few things you should know before you open a cold snack pack and chow down.
Because pepperoni is, well, delicious, we don’t tend to give it the somewhat offensive moniker of “mystery meat.” But how many of us really know what it is?
It’s a type of salami.
If that didn’t clear things up enough, here’s a bit more about pepperoni:
- It’s typically made from beef and pork trimmings. No, we can’t tell you what part of the animal these come from.
- It’s heavily spiced up with chili peppers, cayenne, paprika, salt, and perhaps other seasonings.
- It’s dried and cured (read: raw), often using nitrates and nitrites as preservatives.
We’re guessing that last one got your attention!
When is it OK to eat raw meat when pregnant? When it’s cooked.
And because pizza is typically baked in a super-hot pizza oven (or reheated in your microwave if previously frozen) after toppings are added, the pepperoni on your pie is just fine. (We’ll look the other way if you have a particular affinity for the kind that curls into little oil-filled meat cups once baked.)
But as we’ll elaborate on in a moment, pepperoni isn’t the healthiest food on the planet — and that pizza it’s sitting on isn’t exactly a bed of lettuce. So eating cooked pepperoni in moderation is probably a good plan.
Unlike with that piping hot pizza pie, there are a few problems with consuming cold pepperoni slices if you’re pregnant.
As a cured deli meat, pepperoni is technically uncooked. Uncooked meats can harbor bacteria and parasites like listeria and toxoplasma, respectively.
When a person who isn’t pregnant consumes foods contaminated with these toxins, they’re typically unaffected. But a pregnant person has a weakened immune system and is more likely to get sick with food poisoning, like listeriosis or toxoplasmosis. This can be dangerous for you and your baby.
Another thing to consider is the nitrates and nitrites often used to preserve pepperoni. While the jury is out on whether these are truly problematic, many pregnant people prefer to avoid them.
If you’re not bothered by preservatives and really want to eat a few slices, you can zap them in the microwave or put them in a baked dish — or fry them up with your scrambled eggs. But it’s best to avoid pepperoni out of the bag or sliced at the deli counter.
As mentioned, raw meats can harbor bacteria and parasites that can lead to infections — and these infections can, in rare cases, cause harm to your developing baby.
If you believe you’ve consumed unsafe meat, or if you notice any of the following symptoms — particularly in the first trimester — contact your doctor right away:
- fever over 100.4°F (38°C)
- nausea or vomiting
- muscle aches
- swollen glands
Although rare (with an
If you have listeriosis, especially during the first trimester, your risk of miscarriage increases. In the third trimester, you may experience premature labor or have a low birth weight baby. If your baby gets the infection late in your pregnancy, their risk goes up for health problems like developmental delays, seizures, and other impairments.
As you probably can guess, pepperoni — while safe for you to consume on a pizza or otherwise cooked — isn’t the healthiest snack. A single ounce portion of one popular brand of this sliced meat contains:
- 140 calories
- 5 grams of protein
- 13 grams fat (17 percent of the recommended daily amount)
- 5 grams saturated fat (25 percent of the recommended daily amount)
- 500 milligrams sodium (22 percent of the recommended daily amount)
Although protein is important in pregnancy (and so is fat!), we’re going to give it to you straight: Lean proteins and healthy fats are better choices in pregnancy and in life. But as they say: Everything in moderation.
Like other cured salamis, pepperoni is a raw food. Whether from the deli counter or out of the bag, you should avoid eating it cold because it can harbor bacteria that can harm your developing baby.
However, cooked pepperoni is fine. So when that triple meat lover’s pizza craving hits, you can feel safe indulging — just be mindful that it probably shouldn’t be an everyday thing, and that a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats will serve you well during these 9 months.