Ask the doctor: hot dogs safe to eat for pregnant moms?

Q: Summer is around the corner, which means family vacations, gatherings and bbqs and of course baseball games.

Is it safe for pregnant women to eat what is considered maybe the most popular food of these summer activities, the all-American hot dog?

A: Once a woman is pregnant, she naturally wants to know what things she needs to avoid and what is safe for her baby. Especially as summer approaches, many moms-to-be wonder if they can enjoy their regular BBQ treats such as hot dogs. There are really two issues when it comes to food consumption during pregnancy: what is dangerous for the baby and what is the best choice of food nutritionally. Given this, are hot dogs safe to eat during pregnancy?

Hot dogs are safe to eat during pregnancy, as long as they are cooked over 160 degrees F. Any processed meat, such as hot dogs, salami, or cold cuts, can potentially be contaminated with bacteria during the packaging stage. One particular bacteria, called Listeria, can pass from a mother to a fetus, causing miscarriage or stillbirth. Thankfully Listeria infections are very rare, occurring in only 3 people per million in the US every year. And Listeria is easily killed by cooking the meat thoroughly.

Hot dogs, and many other cured meats, also contain nitrites, which are used to kill bacteria as well as to give flavor and color. While there has been some controversy about the safety of nitrites in recent years, there is no medical evidence that they are harmful to a developing fetus, especially at the concentrations that are recommended by the FDA.

While hot dogs are safe to eat during pregnancy, they may not be the best choice of food nutritionally if consumed on a regular basis. One beef hot dog contains about 200 calories and 7 grams of protein. However, it also contains 12 grams of fat and 500mg of sodium. These are not harmful to a fetus, but need to be balanced by regular intake of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy.

So go ahead and enjoy your summer treat – but make sure you serve it with a fresh garden salad and fruit.

Drs. Yvonne Bohn, Allison Hill, and Alane Park are preeminent Los Angeles-based OB/GYNs and doctors of “Deliver Me”, the OWN documentary series about pregnancy and childbirth. Their first book, The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, is due out May 3rd (Da Capo Lifelong Books).

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