During pregnancy a woman’s nutritional needs change slightly, requiring more of certain vitamins and minerals and less of others. Calcium and protein are two of the building blocks that humans need for the body to properly function, and are especially important during pregnancy to aid in fetal development. Cheese can be a good source of calcium and protein, which are part of a healthy diet during pregnancy, but certain cheeses are off-limits during this fragile time.
Hard cheeses like cheddar, Swiss and Muenster are perfectly fine to add to a morning omelet or eat by the slice during pregnancy. One serving of cheese adds valuable nutrients to the dietary needs of a pregnant woman. During pregnancy, women need at least 1,300 milligrams of calcium and 75 to 100 grams of protein per day. One ounce of cheddar provides 202 milligrams of calcium and seven grams of protein, and an ounce of Parmesan offers 314 milligrams of calcium and 11 grams of protein. For pregnant women who may not like yogurt or milk, therefore, cheese is a good way to obtain some of the required calcium intake.
Unfortunately for pregnant cheese lovers, some cheeses can potentially provide more than just nutritional value. Soft cheeses, such as Brie, Feta and blue cheese can also be a good source of calcium but are potential breeding grounds for the bacteria Listeria. Listeria has been found in unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk. Ingesting such products can cause listeriosis, a rare, food-borne illness that can cause complications for both the mother and her baby. Since soft cheeses are typically made with unpasteurized milk, they are more likely to be contaminated with Listeria.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women are 20 times more likely to become infected with listeriosis than a healthy, non-pregnant adult. Pregnant women are more susceptible to listeriosis than non-pregnant adults because pregnancy weakens the immune system and the ability to fight off pathogens. The illness can also be passed to newborns through the placenta, even if the mother shows no signs of illness, which can cause premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth and serious health problems for the newborn–including death.
There is, however, an exception to the no-soft-cheese-during-pregnancy rule. If the soft cheese is pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk, it safe for pregnant women to eat. Since the pasteurization process kills the bacteria, these cheeses can still provide the needed calcium in a pregnant woman’s diet. The labels on such cheeses must expressly say they are pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk.
Although cheese is a good source of calcium during a pregnancy, it can also be high in fat and calories, so although it provides the calcium and protein necessary for a healthy pregnancy, it should be eaten in moderation. Since healthy weight gain is also important for a healthy pregnancy, bingeing on cheese is never a good idea. Too much cheese could contribute to unhealthy weight gain. As a snack, or incorporated into a meal, however, it can be a healthy choice.
By Brandi M. Fleeks