Is It Safe to Eat Pickles and Pickled Food During Pregnancy?

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Given the similarity of pickles to other foods with pregnancy-specific safety considerations, like sauerkraut and kimchi, the safety of this ever-common pregnancy craving is questioned. Many pregnant women also experience such intense cravings only to end up eating a large number of pickles and wonder if it is possible to eat ‘too many’ pickles. 

Pickles and pickled food are safe during pregnancy if you choose pasteurized pickles and avoid unfermented varieties. This is important to ensure the pickles are safe for you (and your baby) and are not contaminated with any bacteria.  

The difference between fermented foods and pickled foods can be quite blurry. And what about homemade pickles, are these safe too?

In this article, I’ll explain the difference between fermented and pickled foods, why pickles are safe, and other types of pickled foods to try. 

If you are wondering why you are experiencing cravings for pickles (even if you are not yet pregnant) we have the answers in our article “Why Do Pregnant Women Crave Pickles.”

Can Pregnant Women Eat Pickles? Are They Safe?  

At their simplest, pickles are just cucumbers that have been marinated in a mixture of vinegar, water, and ‘pickling spices.” While none of these ingredients alone are known to be unsafe during pregnancy, the time spent marinating (or pickling) can feel similar to the process of fermenting and make some women worry. 

Tip: Wondering why you’re craving pickles like crazy? We have the answer here.

Unlike fermented veggies, like kimchi, pickling does not rely on bacteria. The vinegar in pickle juice is actually antimicrobial, making it unlikely that your pickles will grow bacteria (source: Frontiers in Microbiology).

Typically, store-bought pickles are pasteurized. Not only does this keep them stable on grocery shelves and in your pantry for longer, but also decreases any risk of getting sick. Some pickles may also be fermented, however, and these types are best avoided.

Fermented pickles are more likely to be found in farmers’ markets or in the fresh produce section of your grocery store. 

If you prefer the tang of homemade pickles, you don’t need to give them up during pregnancy- you can also pasteurize right in your kitchen! Jarring and canning pickles at home is both possible and safe when you follow two important steps. 

  1. sterilize the jars before use
  2. process the full jars in hot or boiling water to pasteurize 

Follow this guide to safely make pickles and other pickled foods at home.

Aside from ensuring you eat only pasteurized pickles, vinegar may also cause trouble for some women. Vinegar, pickle juice’s primary ingredient, is highly acidic. If you have been prone to heartburn or reflux this is something to watch out for. 

three jars of pickled cucumbers

Eating Large Amounts of Pickles (Whole Jars) When Pregnant 

When pickle cravings strike, they can come on hard and before you know it, the entire jar of pickles is empty. This is more common than you may imagine!

Pickles and cucumbers themselves do not contain any nutrients to watch out for, but eating an entire jar of them may lead you to feel less than stellar. 

High in salt, eating an entire jar of pickles can cause feelings of being puffy or bloated. In order to keep the sodium-water balance in the body, eating this much salt can cause the body to hang on to water which leads to bloat. Keeping up with your fluid intake by drinking water can help remedy this. 

If swelling is something you’re experiencing a lot during your pregnancy, our guide to swelling-reducing food might help (plus some to avoid… including high salt foods like pickles).

As I mentioned above, pickle juice is very acidic which can cause an issue for women prone to heartburn. If eating a few pickles makes you feel reflux or heartburn, eating an entire jar is likely to only make these feelings worse. This ‘side effect’ is highly individual, and not something to be concerned with if you don’t experience heartburn. 

Though eating a full jar of pickles is not likely to cause any serious harm to mom or baby, you may simply feel better sticking to enjoying only a few pickles daily. 

Are Pickles Good for Pregnant Women to Eat?  

Since they are so often craved, it is also common to wonder whether or not enjoying pickles comes along with any nutrition or health benefits. Most notably, pickles tend to be quite high in sodium, with a single pickle spear containing over 325 mg of sodium (source: USDA). 

Many of us are familiar with the general dietary advice to limit sodium intake, however, not getting enough salt in the mom’s diet actually increases risks for babies to have poor growth in the womb.

Sodium plays a more important role in pregnancy due to the increase in maternal blood volume and in helping the baby’s growth (source: Journal of Biomedical Sciences). 

Even during pregnancy, women should need the same amount of salt as other healthy adults. It is recommended to get no more than 3000 mg of sodium in your diet daily (source: UCSF Health). 

Other than the salt, pickles contain very little if any other nutrient, but do make a refreshing and light addition to a meal or snack. And of course, eating a pickle (or a few) is a great way to satisfy salty cravings

jars of pickled fruit and veg

Can I Drink Pickle Juice During Pregnancy? 

Along with the common craving to eat the pickles themselves, it is common in pregnancy to also want to drink pickle juice. Pickle juice is also found in recipes for some marinades and dressings. 

If within date and stored properly, there is nothing unsafe about drinking pickle juice. Drinking pickle juice may actually provide some benefits. The juice is being researched as an electrolyte replacement, similar to commercial sports drinks.

Pickle juice has sodium, as well as some potassium and magnesium, which can replace losses from sweat or vomiting, though may not be enough to aid serious dehydration (source: Cleveland Clinic, Journal of Athletic Training). 

Again, the strong acidity of vinegar can lead to heartburn, so use caution if you are prone. 

a jar of pickled onions on a table

Other Pickle Types and Pregnancy Safety  

Aside from regular old pickles (made from cucumber, of course), you can also pickle just about anything your heart desires. Below are the safety considerations for some of the most common pickled foods. 

Pickled Onions– Pickled onions (typically red onions) are a common topping for burgers and salad. These are made similar to pickled cucumbers or marinated/quick pickled cucumbers. So long as food safety is followed when preparing, pickled onion is safe to enjoy. 

Eating BBQ’d burgers? Then read this guide to BBQ while pregnant.

Mango pickle (and other types such as lime pickle or chutneys)- A popular, spicy Indian dish, mango or lime pickle involve many different spices and herbs. One of these herbs, fenugreek, is best avoided while pregnant (source: PLOS One). To continue eating mango pickle while pregnant, omit or substitute a safe seasoning for the fenugreek. 

You might also be interested in what spicy food does during pregnancy.

Pickled Eggs As with all eggs, the main safety concern is salmonella. To maintain safety, be sure the eggs have been fully cooked before pickling. 

Pickled Sausages or other meat products (including pig’s feet)- Just as with other meat products, it is best and safest to heat pickled sausages until steaming hot before eating. Reheating helps eliminate any chance of bacteria and accidental foodborne illness. 

Pickled Fish- The safety of pickled fish, including herring, comes down to preparation. If the fish was fully cooked before pickling, then it is safe to enjoy. If the fish was pickled without being fully cooked beforehand, then it is best avoided or heated to steaming hot before eating. 

Pickled Beets, cabbage, jalapeno, and other veggies– Many of your favorite veggies also come in pickled varieties. Even the jarred jalapenos found in grocery stores may be pickled! When sold commercially, these foods are likely safe as they are pasteurized. Be sure to avoid any versions that also list the veggies as ‘fermented.’ 

Pickled ginger– Pickled ginger is most often found in Asian-style cuisine and alongside sushi, where it may be dyed to a light pink hue. Like other pickled veggies, pickled ginger is also safe during pregnancy and may even alleviate nausea!

Overall, pasteurized, non-fermented pickles (and other pickled foods) are not only delicious but also safe to enjoy when expecting. You can satisfy your cravings safely – just try not to eat the whole jar!