When you're pregnant, anything you put in your mouth can affect your growing baby. Lunch meat, also known as cold cuts, can pose several risks during pregnancy, from bacterial contamination to the presence of potential carcinogens. There are no recommended limits for lunch meat consumption in pregnancy. You should avoid certain types of lunch meat completely. If you eat lunch meat, choosing wisely and following safety procedures reduces the risks.
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Cold cuts can contain Listeria monocytogene, a bacteria. Listeria monocytogenes causes listeriosis, a potentially life-threatening infection for your baby. Because of changes to your immune system during pregnancy, your risk of developing listeriosis is 20 times greater during pregnancy, the American Pregnancy Association reports. Pregnant women make up 17 percent of all listeriosis cases, according to the APA. Infection occurs most often in the third trimester of pregnancy; symptoms appear on average three weeks after exposure. You may have mild flu symptoms, although occasionally a more serious illness, with stiff neck, confusion or seizure, can occur. Listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or serious infant illness at birth. Cooking lunch meats to steaming or 160 degrees Fahrenheit kills the bacteria.
Nitrites in Cold Cuts
Manufacturers use nitrites in cold cuts to give them a pink color and to act as a preservative against pathogens that cause botulism. Nitrites can have carcinogenic properties in large quantities, although the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment declared nitrites in food as safe for fetuses in 2000. The United States Department of Agriculture has lowered the amount of sodium nitrite in lunch meat to just 20 percent of the level allowed 25 years ago, according to the American Meat Institute. A University of Minnesota report on nitrites states that known benefits outweigh potential risks, but avoiding processed lunch meats altogether decreases your nitrite exposure.
Pre-packaged processed meat often contain large amounts of sodium. A serving of salami, for example, contains 640 milligrams of sodium, or 27 percent of your daily sodium allowance. Excess sodium can raise your blood pressure. During pregnancy, high blood pressure can increase your risk of developing complications that can harm you and your baby. The same serving of salami also contains 13 grams of fat, 6 grams from saturated fat, or 30 percent of your daily allowance. Cold cuts from deli hams, roast beef or turkey have less fat and lower sodium, making them a better choice as a lunch meat.
If you eat at fast-food restaurants that serve sandwiches while you're pregnant, consider eating a cooked-meat sandwich rather than lunch meat. If you do eat lunch meat, ask to have the sandwich heated in the microwave. Choose lunch meat cut from a turkey or ham breast at the deli rather than processed pre-packaged meats more likely to contain nitrites or excess sodium.