Can You Eat Pesto When Pregnant?

Pregnant woman

Short answer
Traditional basil pesto is perfectly safe to eat during pregnancy. Some of the more unusual pesto sauces, however, may contain ingredients that are not recommended to consume when pregnant.

Long answer
Traditional basil pesto is made from just seven ingredients: olive oil, basil, garlic, salt, pine nuts, and two hard cheeses. The NHS states that all of these are fine for pregnant women to eat, and most dieticians consider pesto to be perfectly healthy.

Where it gets complicated is when you're planning to eat a pesto that deviates from the classic recipe. Here, we're looking at some of the non-traditional ingredients that you might encounter when buying supermarket pesto.

Traditional pesto is nut-free (pine nuts are seeds), but you’ll find some pesto sauces containing cashews, pistachios, and many other kinds of nuts. Unless you have an allergy, nuts are not just safe for pregnant women to eat but actively encouraged thanks to their high levels of fibre, protein, minerals, and healthy fats. The jury's out on whether peanuts are safe, although the NHS says that you don't need to avoid them when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Fruits and vegetables
As you would expect, fruit and vegetables are highly recommended during pregnancy (with raw sprouts and radishes being the only exceptions). While not traditional, many supermarket pestos contain all kinds of fruit and vegetables, such as lemon juice, beetroot, aubergine, and olives, to name a few. These are perfectly safe for pregnant women, plus if you're buying long-life pesto (as most shop-bought ones are), they will have been pasteurised, which gives you added peace of mind.

There's one pesto on the market that, believe it or not, contains 'nduja, which is a kind of spreadable salami. The NHS says you should "be careful" consuming cured meats during pregnancy, especially those made with nitrites, so we'd recommend giving that particular sauce a miss.

There's conflicting advice on whether eating fish and shellfish during pregnancy is safe, but the general advice is to steer clear of fish known to contain high levels of mercury (such as swordfish, shark, and raw shellfish) and not to eat oily fish more than twice a week. When it comes to pesto, the only fish you are likely to see used in some sauces are anchovies, which are considered perfectly safe to eat.

Unpasteurised, soft, and blue cheeses
Mould-ripened soft cheeses, blue cheeses, and cheeses made from unpasteurised milk are not recommended when pregnant. Luckily, you'll struggle to find pesto sauces that contain them.

Some shop-bought pestos, particularly the cheaper ones, may contain certain preservatives, additives, or food dyes that are not recommended to consume during pregnancy. To be on the safe side, we always recommend opting for food that is free from these ingredients whenever possible while pregnant.

Potluck foods
This American term refers to any food for which you don't know exactly what's in it. That includes food you might get at a restaurant, from a takeaway, or when you go over to friends for dinner. We believe there is absolutely no need for paranoia when it comes to eating when pregnant. However, if you're concerned, it can't hurt to ask if the food contains any ingredients that you may not reasonably expect to be part of its recipe.