Can I Eat Jerky While Pregnant?

Beef Jerky

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Jerky can be a protein-rich, satisfying salty snack that’s easy to munch on when you’re on the go. But just because something is a tasty snack option pre-pregnancy does not necessarily mean it will continue to be during pregnancy.

“Generally speaking, only cooked meats are safe in pregnancy,” says Shivani Patel, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UT Southwestern. “Typically, jerky is made by drying meat and not cooking it, so I would caution women from eating jerky while pregnant.”

Read on to learn why you should avoid eating jerky while pregnant and what to eat instead to satisfy your salty cravings.

Eating Jerky During Pregnancy

Eating jerky is not safe during pregnancy. “Jerky isn’t cooked in the traditional sense of the word ‘cook,’” explains Yaffi Lvova, RDN, owner of Baby Bloom Nutrition. “It’s dried, a process that happens at low temperatures for a long amount of time.”

Meats that have been dried at a low temperature are more likely to contain bacteria, like E. coli, putting the consumer at a greater risk of contracting an infection. While most strains of E. coli are harmless or cause temporary digestive woes, infection with certain rarer strains has been found to cause fetal death in pregnant women.

Jerky also tends to be high in salt, adds Dr. Patel, another reason that parents-to-be should steer clear. High salt intake is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure. During pregnancy, high blood pressure can result in symptoms like swollen hands and feet, constant headaches, and difficulty breathing, plus potential organ damage and an increased risk of heart disease.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating jerky while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

Since eating jerky can potentially compromise your immune system, which is already compromised during pregnancy, it is not safe for baby for you to eat jerky while pregnant.

Salty jerky may contribute to high blood pressure during pregnancy, which carries risks for baby including poor fetal growth, low birth weight, placental abruption, preterm birth, or even stillbirth. Meanwhile, if a person who is pregnant contracts a bacterial infection it may only temporarily affect them, but it can cause fetal death in rare cases.

Why You Should Not Eat Jerky While Pregnant

It's best to avoid eating jerky while pregnant because of how pregnancy affects the immune system. "During pregnancy, the immune system is somewhat compromised, leading to greater risk of illness,” says Lvova.

Once your baby starts growing, your immune system adapts to make sure that your body does not reject the fetus. While this does not make your immune system weaker overall, it does increase your risk of contracting certain types of infections, including those that may come from the bacteria in jerky.

Risks of Jerky While Pregnant

Since the immune system is compromised, a pregnant individual is at a greater risk of contracting certain infections. “Not cooking meats increases the risk for bacterial infections and infections from the parasite toxoplasmosis,” explains Dr. Patel. Depending on the bacterial strain, infections in pregnant individuals caused by E. coli can result in urinary tract infections and, in rare cases, fetal death.

Meanwhile, according to one study published in Pediatrics, children born to mothers who had toxoplasmosis were twice as likely to become deaf, 60% more likely to have smaller than normal heads, and 30% more likely to have low IQs.

“Jerky also has a lot of salt in it,” Dr. Patel says. “I would caution women with medical conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease from eating foods high in salt.”

If you already have high blood pressure, you may be at an increased risk for preeclampsia, which is a type of high blood pressure during pregnancy that can damage the pregnant parent's organs and stunt a baby’s growth.

When Can I Resume Eating Jerky?

Jerky lovers will need to skip their favorite snack while they are growing their little one. “I would recommend avoiding jerky throughout the nine months of pregnancy,” says Lvova. A study published in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology found that levels of immune cells begin to increase and return to normal function about three months postpartum, so you may even want to wait until then to resume eating jerky.

Pregnancy Safe Alternatives

There are plenty of snacks pregnant individuals can choose that will satisfy their savory, salty cravings and are safe to eat during pregnancy.

Olives

Dr. Patel recommends munching on olives to replicate the savory flavor of beef jerky. Olives are rich in monounsaturated fats, which play a key role in baby’s brain and eye development as well as reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Seaweed Snacks

Perhaps not an obvious choice, crispy seaweed snacks may sate your jerky craving. “Adding seaweed to food, or even eating seaweed snacks, would provide that salty, umami flavor similar to jerky,” suggests Lvova. Seaweed is one of the richest food sources of iodine, a trace element that plays a crucial role in healthy thyroid function and will keep your metabolism humming during pregnancy.

Trail Mix

A classic trail mix can replicate the flavor, texture, and convenience of beef jerky. “Dried fruits can provide a similar bite, while the salt and convenience could be replicated by nuts,” Lvova says. Plus, you’ll get a dose of immune-boosting antioxidants from the dried fruit and energizing protein from the nuts.

Reach for Protein and Iron

Edamame, chickpeas, and pumpkin seeds are great sources of the protein and iron you might be missing out on without jerky. Although these bite-sized snacks do not boast as much protein as red meat, they are safe to consume during pregnancy.

A Word From Verywell

Since jerky is dried and not cooked, you should refrain from eating it while your immune system is in a more compromised state during pregnancy. Doing so will help you avoid the risk of developing a bacterial infection that could be harmful to you or your baby. Instead, choose other salty, savory snacks. If you have any questions about eating jerky during your pregnancy, check with a healthcare provider to determine what is best for you.

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13 Sources
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