The Real Reason You Shouldn't Eat Deli Meats During Pregnancy

Cravings during pregnancy are real, whether they're hankerings for ice cream, pickles, citrus fruits, or spicy foods. But what if you're craving something that you're told you shouldn't have while pregnant, like a cold-cut sandwich? Deli meat is actually something that doctors advise against eating during pregnancy.

There are quite a few food restrictions for pregnant people, which may feel frustrating at times. You should avoid seafood that's high in mercury, like bigeye tuna, king mackerel, and swordfish (via Mayo Clinic). You should also steer clear of any seafood that's raw or undercooked, like sushi or lox. The same goes for any other undercooked meat or poultry. Unpasteurized dairy products, such as soft cheeses or raw milk, shouldn't be consumed when pregnant, and you should also avoid alcohol and excess caffeine.

And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should avoid meats such as deli meats, hot dogs, and fermented or dry sausages if you're pregnant, since you're considered to be in a high-risk population. This is because these foods are more likely to contain a bacteria called Listeria, which can cause listeriosis.

The dangers of listeriosis

Pregnant people are ten times more likely than the general population to develop listeriosis, a serious kind of food poisoning (via American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Symptoms can include fever, chills, diarrhea, muscle aches, headache, and stiff neck. Sometimes symptoms don't show up for two months after eating food contaminated with Listeria, and sometimes pregnant people don't have symptoms at all.

If someone who's pregnant gets listeriosis, severe vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, and the illness can also put you at risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, or premature birth. Regardless of whether or not a pregnant person experiences symptoms, listeriosis can also be passed on to the fetus, which can cause infections in the blood and brain.

It's recommended that if you do eat deli meat while pregnant, you heat the meat until it's steaming or reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit (via CDC). Even though risk of illness is low, the potential severity for pregnant people means that it should still be taken seriously, Dr. Steve Rad told TODAY.

Dr. Rad, Medical Director of Los Angeles Fetal & Maternal Care Center, is celebrity Chrissy Teigen's doctor, who shared on social media that she heats her deli meat before consuming it while pregnant. She said that while she wants to indulge her cravings, she also wants to lower her risk of illness.

If you're still wary of including deli meat in your diet while pregnant, try a vegan meat alternative or replace the meat with veggies and cheese, suggests BabyCenter.