Why Can’t You Eat Hummus While Pregnant? (And other common questions about favorite foods you might need to avoid)

Hummus has made its way to the blacklist when it comes to foods not to eat while pregnant, and while there is so much research to sift through, and so many opposing points of view, as prenatal dietitians, we want to make sure our patients, and readers, get the best information available to them on which foods are safest for them while pregnant.

So, here’s the good, the bad, and the questionable, when it comes to safe foods for pregnancy.

Hummus. This plant-based protein has iron, folate, phosphate and B-vitamins. What’s not to love? Well, the FDA recommends pregnant women steer clear of pates and spreads, including vegetable spreads. Why? Hummus has high-water and low-acidity, and it is susceptible to bacteria, in particular listeria and salmonella. As we discussed in a previous post about pregnant women being more susceptible to foodborne illnesses, we recommend you err on the side of caution when it comes to store-bought hummus. If you make it at home and don’t put it on a table for all to share (cross-contamination at buffet tables is a big ick), go for it!

Tahini. Another favorite and sooo delicious, tahini, is rarely pasteurized. The sesame seeds in tahini are susceptible to bacteria like salmonella and listeria as well. And it’s hard to know if the store-bought variety has used roasted seeds or raw. Again, err on the side of caution. Just for now!

Sushi. Sushi guidelines depend on where you’re living. We’re going to base our recommendations on those that come from Food Safety and the FDA. The general consensus is that pregnant women should avoid raw seafood and fish. Pregnant women can eat sushi if it is cooked. Always check the contents of your sushi roll, and be aware of the mercury content in some fish, as you should avoid foods with high levels of mercury as well.

Pickles & pickled foods. Pickles are the cliché craving, but cravings are real. They can be hormonal, cultural, or the body’s way of just telling you it needs more salt or a certain nutrient. Pickles are safe, as most store-bought pickles are pasteurized and vinegar is a natural antimicrobial. The pickle’s cousins (kimchi and sauerkraut) are generally safe to eat while pregnant as well, as long as they are prepared and stored properly. Though their fermenting process is different (fermented with spices), they are generally pasteurized and safe and healthy options.

Deli meats. Oh, the salty deliciousness of a pastrami, salami, or pepperoni sandwich! Pregnant women are often told to steer clear deli meats (all meats that are preserved or processed by adding salt or spices or preservatives, by smoking or curing) because they carry the risk of listeria and some (particularly ham) carries the risk of toxoplasma gondii. Again, pregnant women need to be very mindful of their susceptibility to foodborne illnesses. That said, you can enjoy a hot deli meat sandwich “steaming hot.” Do not take deli meats at a buffet or restaurant or family gathering. It’s jut not worth the risk.

Deli salads. Springtime and summer are known for egg salads, macaroni salads, potato salads, and picnics with big spreads. Are these salads safe? Made at home, or commercially prepared salads, that are stored properly (in the fridge), cooked well (hard-boiled eggs), are generally safe. But deli salads made on-site are not. They have an increased risk of dangerous bacteria. Likewise, those deli salads that have been out of the fridge on the picnic table all afternoon – take a hard pass. 

When in doubt, contact your ObGyn or pregnancy dietitian to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. It’s important to keep you and your developing baby healthy and safe. As pregnant women are more susceptible to foodborne bacteria, now is the time to take extra precautions to wash your fruits and vegetables well, make sure your meats are well cooked, and keep things stored and refrigerated properly. If you suspect food poisoning, go straight to the clinic.

Feeling a bit confused? Consider our online prenatal nutrition course that includes meal plans, tips, and recommendations from expert pregnancy dietitians