meat and cheese plateIs it true that pregnant women should avoid lunch meat and cold cuts?

It is true—sorry to break it to all you deli lovers. There are two reasons that doctors tend to be concerned about pregnant women eating lunch meat. First, lunch meat has been known to be contaminated with listeria, a food-borne pathogen that can be life-threatening. Listeria can cause stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects, and spontaneous miscarriage.

My recommendation is to avoid eating deli meats and cold cuts as much as possible during pregnancy. Certain meats like hot dogs, ham, bologna, dry sausage and other cold, ready-to-eat meats are especially prone to listeria contamination. If they are an important part of your diet that you simply can’t give up, you can reduce the risk of listeria by reheating the meat until it is steaming.

The other concern is that prepackaged meat usually contains high levels of sodium nitrate. Unfortunately, few studies have examined the effect of nitrates during pregnancy. However, research has demonstrated that nitrates can decrease the blood’s ability to effectively carry oxygen in infants, especially those under the age of four months. With these two concerns in mind, I recommend that my patients avoid lunch meat when possible.

Answered by Dr. Karen A. Scott