Tomatoes may seem like an innocent fruit (yep, they’re not a vegetable) that are always presumed to be safe during pregnancy.
They come in so many preparations and forms that I’ve put together this complete guide to tomatoes when you’re pregnant.
I love tomatoes, and eat loads of them. It’s in the genes – my mother told me that my red hair is because she ate too many tomatoes when she was pregnant with me. If only that were true!
Hopefully, you’ll find the answer you’re looking for here – whether you’re wondering if you can eat them raw in a salad, or drink tomato soup if you’re feeling nauseous. Or perhaps you’re craving them like crazy? Find out why, and much more.
Are Raw or Unwashed Tomatoes Safe for Pregnant Women?
The only time when tomatoes may not be safe in pregnancy is if they’re unwashed. Raw tomatoes – or any other produce – should always be washed before eating them raw.
In the absence of any heat during cooking, that’s the only defense you have against bacteria.
Washing includes any tomatoes that are advertised as ‘pre-washed’. For this reason, it’s a good idea to make salads and sandwiches yourself at home, rather than relying on pre-prepared ones.
The reasons behind this, and a guide on how to wash produce properly during pregnancy can be found here.
If a tomato is raw and washed, or cooked, it’s safe in pregnancy – and you can get the nutritional benefits – detailed below.
Are Tomatoes Good for You in Pregnancy? What Are The Benefits?
Tomatoes are a good source of folate, the natural form of folic acid, coming it at approximately 18mcg per tomato. They’re also an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K – all of which are essential during pregnancy.
Their red color comes from lycopene, an antioxidant which has numerous health benefits (source: National Library of Medicine). The deeper the red of the tomato, the more amounts of lycopene it will contain.
However, lycopene should only be eaten in regular food amounts during pregnancy (as it is when you eat tomatoes).
Lycopene supplements may need to be avoided, as their benefits in pregnancy are as yet unknown, and there is no evidence of their safety.
In general it’s safe to eat tomatoes and tomato products in pregnancy, in ‘normal’ culinary amounts.
Are Canned (Tinned) Tomatoes Safe During Pregnancy?
Tomatoes from a can are safe to eat during pregnancy, as they are cooked and sterilized as part of the canning process. However, one of the most common concerns about canned tomatoes comes from the can itself, rather than its contents.
When I say “canned” tomatoes, this means all types – whole, chopped, or with other additions like basil or herbs. They can all be treated the same way.
Canned Tomatoes and BPA in Pregnancy
Canned tomatoes (and other acidic food) frequently come in cans lined with a plastic coating, to prevent the natural acid in the food eroding the can or tin.
That plastic (or epoxy resin) often contains a chemical called bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA.
You may have heard of BPA already, as there is some controversy around its safety. Most of us have had exposure to BPA as it’s present in many plastic products, from bottles to food containers (source: WebMD).
The controversy stems partially from the fact that there are limited human studies into the effects of BPA, particularly in pregnancy. What we do have to draw from are many animal studies (source: NHS).
These studies have frequently highlighted problems with ingesting high amounts of BPA.
The National Toxicology Program in the US has “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures”, but also indicated more research was needed (source: FDA)
Subsequently, the FDA stipulated that baby bottles, sippy cups and similar products be made from BPA-free plastics.
However, so far, no government advice states that pregnant women need to avoid BPA, and there is no evidence that it is harmful (sources: UK Food Safety, Australia Food Standards, FDA). Avoiding BPA is entirely a personal choice.
What does this mean if you want to eat canned tomatoes? Canned tomatoes are still safe to eat – there’s nothing in the tomatoes themselves that is unsafe.
However, there are steps you can take to reduce your BPA exposure, if you wish:
- Choose canned tomatoes marked “BPA free” where possible
- Never store opened canned tomatoes in their can in the fridge – decant them into a glass or non-BPA container
- Opt for preserved tomatoes or sauce in glass jars, rather than cans
- Substitute fresh tomatoes for canned in recipes
There is no need to panic if you have eaten canned tomatoes during pregnancy, as the caution surrounding BPA is more to do with higher or repeated levels of exposure, resulting in build-up.
Remember, BPA linings are NOT used in all canned food, only ones that tend to be more acidic, like tomatoes, fruit or similar. Most canned food is perfectly safe during pregnancy.
Is Tomato Soup Safe When Pregnant?
The same information regarding canned tomatoes (above) also applies to canned tomato soup.
Most of the ingredients in a typical tomato soup are safe for pregnant women to eat. There are usually no herbs or spices in tomato soup that should be avoided, incuding popular ones like basil, or other vegetables like red bell peppers (you can read about the benefits of eating peppers here).
Creamier tomato soups, such as tomato bisque, may sometimes have cream or milk in them – this is usually pasteurized and is fine since the tomato soup is usually heated before serving.
If eating a raw tomato soup, such as a chilled Gaspacho, then ensure that all the fresh ingredients are thoroughly washed before being blended. If you didn’t make it yourself, check first.
Will Tomato Soup Help with Nausea or Morning Sickness?
On the whole, tomato-based products aren’t recommended for morning sickness or nausea because tomatoes are acidic.
Acidic foods are a known trigger of acid reflux and heartburn (source: WebMD) so if you’ve been prone to this during your pregnancy, it’s likely that tomato soup (or other tomato-based foods) may aggravate the problem rather than relieve it.
That said, if you’re craving tomatoes (which is dealt with later in this article), or if tomato soup is all you feel like eating, or if you can’t keep anything else down, then tomato soup is fine if it works for you.
Can Pregnant Women Drink Tomato Juice?
Most commercially-made tomato or vegetable juices are pasteurized and are therefore safe for pregnant women to drink.
Fresh tomato juice – made by the glass, such as those found at food stands, farmers’ markets or fairs may not be pasteurized. Pregnant women should avoid non-sterilized juice due to the small risk of bacterial contamination (source: FDA).
Any store-bought or supermarket tomato juice has to state on the label if it’s unpasterurized, so check this first.
To help out, here’s a list of tomato juice brands that are safe for pregnant women:
- Clamato (if you”re interested in whether clams are safe to eat during pregnancy, you can read this article here)
- R.W. Knudsen
Types of Tomato and their Pregnancy Safety
Tomatoes ar so versatile, you’ll find them in dozens of forms, so here’s a quick rundown of the most common types, and whether they’re OK for pregnant women:
- Sundried tomatoes (also semi-dried, or ‘sun blush’ tomatoes) – these are fine if from a can or jar. Avoid ones sold in delis or stores from ‘open’ containers or at a buffet, as there’s a small risk of listeria and/or cross-contamination.
- Cherry tomatoes – safe to eat during pregnancy, remember to wash them first
- Yellow, purple, black or other tomatoes – all are safe in pregnancy, treat them as you would red tomatoes
- Heirloom tomatoes – al varieties are safe and the usual caveat about washing them (if you’re eating them raw) still applies.
- Green tomatoes – these are very often fried, so they can be high in saturated or trans fats, and add unnecessary calories. They’re safe to eat, however.
Is Tomato Ketchup or Tomato Sauce OK When Pregnant?
It’s fine to eat tomato ketchup when you’re pregnant, so long as it’s not beyond the “use by” or expiry date.
Once opened, keeping ketchup in the fridge will make it last longer, up to several weeks. If it starts to turn brown, or if the bottle gets bloated, throw it out and replace it.
One of the most common problems with tomato ketchup isn’t the ketchup itself, but the crud that accumulates around the bottle cap. This harbors bacteria, so give it a wipe every now and again to clean it, in between using the bottle.
Other tomato sauces that aren’t called ketchup (or catsup) but that are the same thing are also safe in pregnancy. They’re usually a tomato condiment made with vinegar, sugar and tomatoes.
Tomato Cravings or Aversions: What it Might Mean
Tomatoes seem to have effects at either end of the spectrum for pregnant women. you may crave them, or suddenly hate them!
Cravings: Why am I Craving Tomatoes?
At the moment there is little scientific evidence to link specific cravings to a definite cause. Tomato cravings have been reported frequently (along with fruit and chocolate), but as yet, the cause is not known.
Many cravings are for sharp, tangy, sour food or fruit (source: ScienceDirect) and tomatoes may well satisfy women who crave this type of taste during pregnancy.
Tomatophagia, or a strong craving for tomatoes, has been linked to iron deficiency, but only due to one case study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1999 (source: NEJM).
Your healthcare provider will more than likely check your iron levels throughout your pregnancy, but if this is a concern, then mention it during your next appointment.
Aversions: Why are tomatoes making me sick?
Because tomatoes are acidic, they may trigger gastrintestinal symptoms like heartburn or reflux, which are more common during pregnancy (source: MN State).
This may be a reason why tomatoes make you feel sick or uncomfortable.
There is some evidence to suggest that a food that makes you feel sick early in pregnancy will continue to be something you’re averse to (source: ScienceDirect).
If, for example, a tomato dish made you feel sick early on, you may have a tomato aversion for the remainder of your pregnancy.
If tomatoes are making you ill, then choose other fruits and veggies during pregnancy – many of the key nutrients in tomatoes can be found in other foods.
Dishes Containing Tomatoes When You’re Pregnant
Some of the most common queries aren’t just for tomatoes themselves, but recipes and cooking methods that include tomatoes in them. Here are the most common ones that are asked about:
Tomato Salsa – this is generally safe. If you like Mexican food, there’s also a complete guide to eating Mexican food when you’re pregnant right here.
Paste or Pesto (e.g in cooking, or on pasta) – is fine to eat during pregnancy.
With cheeses – e.g. a tomato and mozzarella salad, or a cheese and tomato sandwich, panini or toastie. The tomatoes themselves are perfectly safe to eat if the washing advice (above) is followed. Cheeses should be checked individually. For that, you can use this ultimate guide to cheese in pregnancy.
There’s also an ultimate guide to all types of cheese in pregnancy here, which lists dozens of cheeses you can eat in pregnancy.
Tomatoes in a sandwich – these are absolutely fine if they’re washed first, as explained earlier in this article.
Meat or fish in tomato sauce (for example, meatballs in tomato sauce, or mackerel in tomato sauce) – all are usually OK for pregnant women to eat, as these dishes are fully cooked, and there’s nothing unsafe in tomato sauce.
You can check each fish individually by searching for it on Pregnancy Food Checker (use the magnifying glass near the top right).
Alcohol-based sauces – for example, vodka tomato sauce. This is a separate subject on its own, so click here to find out if you should eat alcohol cooked in food when pregnant.
Overall, tomatoes are a nutritious and healthy addition to your pregnancy diet plan, so long as they’re washed and prepped properly.
Choose tomato products that aren’t canned where possible if you have concerns about BPA, and feel free to eat them if that’s what you’re craving. Equally, don’t be afraid to avoid them if they’re just not agreeing with you.
Eating more fruit and veggies? You may also be interested in: