As long as it’s made from pasteurized milk, mozzarella (even the softer fresh variety) is almost universally safe for you to eat while pregnant.

If you’re a cheese lover, the recommendation to avoid certain soft cheeses during pregnancy may feel downright demoralizing. No mold-ripened Roquefort, no fresh Camembert, no imported gorgonzola? What’s a cheese-ophile to do?

With some soft cheeses a no-go for 9 months, you may wonder if you can drown your sorrows in some stretchy mozzarella — only to hear buzz that fresh mozz might also be unsafe in pregnancy.

Fortunately, there’s good news about your favorite pizza cheese. All mozzarella made from pasteurized milk is almost universally safe for you to eat while pregnant.

Keep reading for the lowdown on including it in your diet during pregnancy.

Remember your science lesson about pasteurization from way back when? Pasteurization is a process of heating foods — dairy products in particular — to temperatures high enough to kill pathogens.

Because pasteurization virtually eliminates harmful bacteria, mozzarella made from pasteurized milk is fine to consume during pregnancy, both cooked and in its fresh, uncooked form.

Read food labels carefully to be sure any mozzarella you purchase is made with pasteurized milk. Or, if dining out, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the origins of the cheese in your pasta or salad.

If it’s been pasteurized, you’re good to dig in.

Choosing pasteurized mozzarella is critical because the risks of eating soft cheese in pregnancy come down to one offending bacteria in particular: listeria. When unpasteurized or raw milk is used to make soft cheeses, listeria has more opportunity to grow and potentially cause infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listeriosis (the bacterial infection caused by listeria) is especially serious in pregnancy.

When you’re pregnant, you’re 10 times more likely than other people to get a listeria infection, and the infection can spread to babies in utero. Serious complications can result, including miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, and even death in newborns.

Beyond concerns of pasteurization, use your senses to assess the safety of any questionable cheese (you know, the hunk that’s been sitting in your fridge for ages).

If the mozzarella has a foul odor or any visible mold, don’t eat it. Especially during pregnancy, it’s smart to follow the old food spoilage adage: When in doubt, throw it out.

Believe it or not, the list of soft cheese to avoid during pregnancy is actually pretty short.

As long as cheese isn’t mold-ripened and is made with pasteurized milk, you’re in the clear to enjoy tons of delicious cheeses, including the following:

We don’t typically think of cheese as a health food, but mozzarella actually provides a number of nutritional benefits.

For one thing, its star nutrient, calcium, is a key player in bone health. Your body also funnels calcium to your unborn baby, helping them grow bones and teeth.

It’s recommended that if you’re over the age of 18, you should consume 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day during pregnancy.

Teens who are pregnant need 1,300 mg per day. With 200 mg per 1-ounce serving, mozzarella can provide a substantial chunk of this mineral.

Mozzarella also shines in its high protein content of 7 grams (g) per 1-ounce serving.

While the current recommended dietary allowance for protein is just 0.8 g per kilogram (kg) body weight (0.35 grams per pound or g/lb), you need more protein when pregnant.

Researchers suggest about 1.2 g of protein per 1 kg body weight (0.54 g/lb) during early pregnancy and about 1.5 g/kg (0.68 g/lb) during the later stages of pregnancy.

A serving of mozz will contribute to protein’s many functions during pregnancy, including creating breast and uterine tissue, increasing your blood supply, and promoting the growth of your baby’s brain.

As cheeses go, mozzarella is a relatively low-sodium option, with approximately 7 percent of your daily value per ounce. If you’re on a low-sodium diet due to preeclampsia or other concerns, a bit of the stretchy stuff can be a smart choice for satisfying that cheese craving.

Meanwhile, as a nutrient-dense food, mozzarella is an easy go-to for fulfilling your extra calorie allotment during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

And as that stick of string cheese fuels your own healthy weight gain, it might help your baby’s, too.

Studies from 2012 and 2019 showed a positive association between milk and dairy consumption during pregnancy and greater infant birth weight and length.

Like all full-fat dairy, cheese does have more than its fair share of saturated fat.

Whole milk mozzarella contains 4 g of saturated fat per ounce (about 20 percent of the daily value), and even part-skim mozzarella contains 3 g (16 percent of the daily value) per 1-oz serving.

Since saturated fat has been associated with health issues like heart disease and weight gain, you may have concerns about this cheese’s healthfulness. But keep in mind that you need healthy fat sources like cheese during pregnancy.

And intriguingly, some studies have indicated that not all saturated fat is created equal. Recent research indicates that whole foods like cheese may have protective health effects, despite their saturated fat content.

One 3-week study found that full-fat dairy foods didn’t adversely affect blood cholesterol, glucose, or insulin levels. (Note that this study was funded by the Danish Dairy Research Foundation.)

Another study even showed that eating more cheese led to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

As always, talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your diet during pregnancy.

Adding a bit of mozzarella to your pregnancy diet is simple! Try these healthy, low-prep snacks:

  • Pair mozzarella slices with a handful of whole wheat crackers or a piece of fresh fruit.
  • Make a caprese salad by drizzling balsamic vinegar over sliced mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil leaves.
  • Spread marinara sauce on a whole wheat English muffin half. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and bake at 400 degrees for 8–10 minutes — you have yourself an easy pizza!

With all the foods off the menu during pregnancy, isn’t it nice to know you can still enjoy the gooey stretch and salty flavor of mozzarella?

Opt for cheese made with pasteurized milk and you’re in the clear to enjoy this savory favorite in pizza, pasta, and cheesy dips.