Can a Pregnant Woman Eat Smoked Meats?

If you're not already aware of it, you need to add one more food to avoid to your pregnancy list -- smoked meat, which includes bacon, hot dogs and ham. Smoked meat may contain bacteria and other organisms that can make you and your baby sick. Heat kills the bacteria, but the high fat and sodium content of these foods make them an unhealthy option during pregnancy.

Smoked meat poses a health risk to you and your baby. (Image: sunlow/iStock/Getty Images)

Contamination

When you're pregnant, changing hormones suppress your immune system. Smoked meats can harbor listeria and E. coli, which can make you very ill with food poisoning. These organisms also cross the placental barrier, posing a serious health risk to your unborn baby. Listeria can cause headache, muscle aches, fever, nausea and vomiting. Your baby is at risk for miscarriage, preterm birth, infection and even death. E. Coli can cause stomach cramps, fever, diarrhea and dehydration. A severe infection can lead to miscarriage or preterm delivery.

Carcinogens

Barbecued meat is meat that's been grilled from smoking wood, so it, too, is considered smoked and off-limits to pregnant women. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are present in the environment through burning oil, gas, car exhaust and tobacco smoke. They are potential cancer-causing agents. When meat is barbecued, the meat's fat and charcoal smoke combine to produce polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. PAHs cross the placental barrier, and your unborn baby is more sensitive to this environmental toxin than an adult is.

Research

When you eat barbecued meat, you put your baby at risk for being small for his gestational age. A study published in 2012 in the journal "Nutrition" asked 432 pregnant women about their eating habits throughout each trimester of pregnancy, including smoked meat consumption. Women who ate barbecued meat in their last trimester had babies with a lower weight, shorter length and smaller head circumference even though the duration of their pregnancies were the same as those not eating smoked meat.

Considerations

If you are really craving smoked meat during your pregnancy, the Colorado State University Extension states it is safe to eat it if you cook it until steaming hot. Heat destroys bacteria and other organisms. The site authors recommend heating hot dogs and lunch meat to 165 degrees and ham to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep in mind that ham, bacon, lunch meat and hot dogs contain a lot of saturated fat and sodium and minimal nutrients, which is not beneficial to you or your baby's health. Opt for lean meats, eggs and fish and hold the bacon and barbecued brisket until after your baby is born.

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