Craving cheesecake? Before you dig in, you might want to read the ingredients list.
If you’re pregnant, you’ll need to watch for certain ingredients, like raw eggs and unpasteurized cheeses. These foods may harbor bacteria that can make both you and your baby sick.
Most cheesecake is safe. But to be sure, check out the details below. We’ll cover how you can enjoy cheesecake safely during pregnancy, what the dangers are, and how to spot illness if you’ve eaten contaminated foods.
There are a variety of ways to make cheesecake. Some methods involve baking. Others quickly whip up without the need to cook. You can even make non-dairy varieties using nuts or vegan cream cheese.
The most common types of cheesecake:
- New York cheesecake. It’s typically made from cream cheese, heavy cream or sour cream, eggs, and sugar. “Regular” cheesecake is similar but tends to be a bit lighter and flavored with different types of ingredients and fillers. Both types have a graham cracker or cookie crumb crust and are baked in an oven.
- No-bake cheesecake. This is mixed and chilled before eating. Instead of eggs, it may use gelatin as a stabilizer. And you may encounter recipes that utilize anything from condensed milk to sour cream to whipped cream to give it flavor and fluffy texture.
- Vegan cheesecake. It can be made with soaked cashews and coconut milk, tofu, or even vegan cream cheese. It’s either baked or simply chilled.
There are also cheesecakes that don’t use cream cheese as a base. For example, ricotta or mascarpone may be delicious at center stage. Depending on where you live or your cultural background, you may also make cheesecake with other soft cheeses — farmer’s cheese, cottage cheese, or requeijão, just to name a few.
In theory, most of these types of cheesecakes can be made safely.
The key? Whatever recipe you find, you’ll want to choose one that involves pasteurized cheeses, creams, and other dairy ingredients. And if eggs are on the ingredients list, you’ll want to be sure the cake is baked, so you’re not consuming them raw.
What about store-bought or restaurant cheesecakes?
Many of the cheesecakes you’ll find in the freezer section at your local grocery store are made with pasteurized ingredients. For example, the popular Sarah Lee brand cheesecake is made using pasteurized milk and cream cheese.
Other brands made with pasteurized ingredients include (but aren’t limited to):
- The Cheesecake Factory Frozen Original
- Philadelphia Cheesecake No-Bake Filling
- Archer Farms New York-Style Cheesecake
- Edwards Original Whipped Cheesecake
Be sure to follow all cooking/thawing instructions to reach the appropriate internal temperature before consuming.
When out to eat, simply ask your server if the kitchen can tell you more about the ingredients used in the cheesecake. If they can’t verify that the ingredients are pasteurized and fully cooked, consider getting another dessert.
Again, the primary concern is eating cheesecake made with raw milk products or raw eggs. Undercooked cheesecake may also be a concern and difficult to watch out for if you didn’t make it yourself. You may or may not be able to get all these details when you’re out to eat.
Here’s a little vocabulary:
- Unpasteurized milk products (milk, cheeses, cream, etc.) are essentially raw and may contain Listeria, E. coli, Salmonella, or other harmful bacteria.
- Pasteurization is a process that heats the milk and eggs and kills off these types of bacteria so it’s safe for consumption.
Most commercial milks and cheeses you’ll find at the grocery store are pasteurized. Cream cheese, which is the base of many cheesecake recipes, is soft in texture. It isn’t considered a soft cheese, though. Instead, it’s a cheese spread that is most often pasteurized.
Soft cheeses, like brie, queso fresco, or camembert, may or may not be pasteurized. And you’ll also need to read labels carefully (look for “made with pasteurized milk”) or ask at specialty cheese counters or farmers markets.
Any other dairy products used in cheesecakes — like sour cream, heavy cream, or whipped cream — are also likely pasteurized if you buy them at a grocery store in the United States.
What about eggs? Raw eggs may harbor Salmonella bacteria.
Related: Can you eat eggs during pregnancy?
You may not think the risk of getting sick is terribly high. However, there are around
When making cheesecake at home, always use fresh, pasteurized ingredients from reliable sources, like your grocery store. If you have questions about the status of a particular cheese or egg, ask the person running the farm stand or market. When in doubt, don’t use certain ingredients that may not be pasteurized.
Temperature matters, too. If you’re baking your cheesecake, aim to get the internal temperature to 160°F to ensure the eggs are fully cooked. You can purchase an inexpensive baking thermometer at most big box stores or online.
While cheesecake ranges in portion size and ingredients, a 100-gram portion of a cake you might find in the grocery store frozen foods aisle
- 350 calories
- 20.3 grams of total carbohydrates
- 27.6 grams of fat
- 4.9 grams of protein
“All things in moderation” is a good motto for eating during pregnancy. While you may not be fully eating for two, it can sure feel like it when hunger strikes and cravings are intense.
Cheesecake isn’t the worst food in the world, but it does contain a hefty dose of sugar and saturated fats — not exactly the kind of thing you’ll want to indulge in too often.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a weight gain between 11 and 40 pounds during pregnancy with one baby. Your specific gain recommendation depends on your starting body mass index (BMI). Weight gain recommendations for twin pregnancies are higher than singleton pregnancies.
You can get adequate nutrition to fuel your pregnancy by eating approximately an extra 300 calories each day (600 for twins), says ACOG.
Related: Don’t ‘eat for two’ while pregnant
A pregnancy diet with too much added sugar may have negative effects on your baby’s growing brain.
In one 2018 study, researchers looked at 1,234 mother-and-child pairs and examined their sugar consumption during pregnancy and in the early childhood years. Babies and young children who were exposed to more sugar (specifically 49.8 grams per day or more) tended to score lower on tests that measure cognition.
On a positive note, this same study revealed that fruit consumption actually fed children’s brains. So, if you’re enjoying cheesecake (in moderation, of course), consider topping it with a dose of fresh fruit!
Related: Healthy eating during pregnancy
You may not feel sick right away after eating cheesecake made from unsafe ingredients. And not all raw eggs or unpasteurized ingredients will necessarily harbor listeria or other bacteria.
If you do get sick, you can expect symptoms to start within
There are a number of symptoms you should be on the lookout for if you have concerns. Most common include fever and diarrhea, which may resemble other types of food poisoning. Mild symptoms may resolve on their own or you may not even realize you’re sick.
Invasive listeriosis, on the other hand, is a much more serious illness. It happens when the bad bacteria spreads to other parts of your body through the blood. You may experience flu-like symptoms ranging from muscle aches to fatigue to fever.
What’s more concerning is that listeriosis may increase your risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and other complications, like preterm birth or infections in your newborn baby.
If you suspect you may have eaten unsafe cheesecake — with or without symptoms — consider giving your doctor a call to discuss your concerns and determine what next steps you should take.
You can eat cheesecake safely during pregnancy. Just be sure to check the label when buying or when out to eat to ensure your cake is made with pasteurized ingredients.
When making cheesecake at home, choose pasteurized ingredients and cook fully if you’re using eggs. If you’re still concerned, consider trying nondairy options for a yummy treat with a lower risk of foodborne illness.