It can often feel as though many of your favorite pre-pregnancy foods are suddenly off limits once you become pregnant. While you're generally well-advised to avoid certain soft cheeses, ricotta cheese is actually quite safe during pregnancy. In fact, it's a rich source of protein and calcium, and can be a healthy component of your diet.
The reason you're advised to avoid soft cheeses during pregnancy, explain Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel in their book "What To Expect When You're Expecting," is that many of these cheeses are made from unpasteurized milk, particularly in other countries. In the United States, cheese -- even soft cheese -- made from unpasteurized milk is quite rare. As such, most soft cheeses are quite safe. Ricotta falls into the category of soft cheese made from pasteurized milk in the United States, making it a safe choice for pregnant women.
The reason pasteurization of dairy is important -- particularly during pregnancy -- is that it's a process of very quickly heating milk to a high temperature for the purpose of destroying bacteria. Unpasteurized milk, and foods made from unpasteurized milk, can contain bacterial contamination that puts you at risk of food poisoning. While your immune system can normally protect you from infection, during pregnancy you're more susceptible than usual. Further, many bacterial species can cross the placenta, putting your baby at risk.
In fact, ricotta isn't just safe during pregnancy, it's actually quite healthy, provided that it's made with skim or low-fat milk. It's a rich source of protein, which you use to produce new cells and tissues, in addition to hormones and other important chemicals. Your developing baby needs plenty of protein to grow. Ricotta also contains large quantities of calcium, which you use to help maintain the integrity of your skeleton, and which your baby uses to build bones, explains Dr. Miriam Stoppard in her book "Conception, Pregnancy and Birth."
The one concern you might have in deciding whether to eat ricotta during pregnancy is that some ricotta is made with full-fat milk. Dairy products made with whole milk contain large quantities of fat, much of which is heart-unhealthy saturated fat. While you -- and your developing baby -- need some fat in your diet in order to stay healthy, it's best to avoid too much saturated fat, since this can contribute to heart problems.
- “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”; Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel; 2008
- “Conception, Pregnancy and Birth”; Miriam Stoppard, M.D.; 2008
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.