Last Updated on December 15, 2019
Eggs are one of the best foods to eat in pregnancy, but only if they’re eaten safely. This paradox – they’re great, but can be a source of salmonella too – is what causes many pregnant women to query whether they should eat eggs or not.
Can Pregnant women eat eggs? Eggs are safe for pregnant women to eat if they are fully cooked, as this removes any risk of salmonella poisoning. Some dishes, such as sunny-side-up eggs or soft-boiled eggs should be avoided in pregnancy due to the risk of salmonella.
Undercooked eggs may appear in dishes that many people don’t realize contain egg in the first place. In this article, I’ll run through all the different ways of cooking eggs and whether they are safe in pregnancy. I’ll also give examples of some dishes that contain raw egg that you have to watch out for when pregnant.
Are Eggs Nutritionally Good for Pregnant Women?
First, the good news. Eggs are a good source of amino acids and protein, as well as containing about 125mg of choline. Choline contributes to your baby’s brain development and is an essential nutrient in pregnancy. Eggs also contain a number of B vitamins and minerals, making them an excellent addition to your pregnancy diet.
If you follow the simple guidelines in this article on eating cooked eggs or egg dishes, you should be able to enjoy eggs safely in pregnancy. If you want to eat them daily, scroll down to the notes about their potential impact on your cholesterol levels.
A Special Note on UK Eggs in Pregnancy
If you’re reading from the UK or visiting the UK on vacation, then British “Lion Mark” eggs are safe to eat if you’re pregnant, even if soft-boiled or runny. In 2016 the UK government’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF) announced that Lion Mark stamped eggs had such a low risk of salmonella they were deemed safe for pregnant women and other groups, such as the elderly, who can’t normally eat raw or runny eggs (source: ACMSF). Be aware, though:
- This only applies to UK Lion Mark Stamped Eggs
- This only applies to hens’ eggs, not other bird eggs
- This does NOT apply to imported or non-stamped eggs
- If there’s no stamp on the egg, cook it through.
The Lion Mark eggs look like this – the stamp is often on the carton as well as each egg (of any color, I just like white ones!)
A Guide to Cooked Egg Dishes if You’re Pregnant
Below is a table I’ve made of all the different ways of cooking, eating and serving eggs, plus whether each one is safe in pregnancy. This applies whether you’re in a restaurant and eating out, or cooking your own eggs at home. These are the guidelines for hen’s eggs as they’re the most common:
|Cooking Method||Pregnancy Safety Notes|
|Fried Eggs||Safe in pregnancy if cooked all the way through, including the yolk, until no longer runny. This means that over-easy eggs and sunny-side-up eggs aren’t suitable for pregnant women, and have to be cooked right the way through.|
|Omelets||Make sure the omelet (or omelette) isn’t runny in the center, particularly if it has a lot of filling. In traditional French cooking, the omelette is often left a little runny for the residual heat to finish it off, but ask for it to be cooked for a little longer.|
|Boiled Eggs||Hardboiled eggs are safe for pregnant women. Soft-boiled, “runny” or “dippy” eggs are not suitable in pregnancy, so it’s better to avoid these.|
|Scrambled Eggs||Scrambled eggs are tricky because they start to leech liquid if they’re overdone, so many people (and restaurants) try to cook them until ‘just done’ and fluffy. This is fine, so long as the eggs aren’t actually runny in places – they shouldn’t be, if done properly, but keep an eye out for it.|
|Poached Eggs||Unfortunately, due to the way poached eggs are prepared, there isn’t a ‘cooked’ version of them and so pregnant women should avoid poached eggs. However, many dishes that feature a poached egg (for example, smashed avocado on toast) can be almost as good with a fully cooked fried egg instead, as a substitute.|
Egg Dishes That Pregnant Women Should Avoid
There are some dishes that contain raw or undercooked eggs and it’s not immediately obvious that they do. Below is a list of common dishes that you should potentially avoid in pregnancy due to their egg content:
- Hollandaise sauce – This is an emulsion of raw egg yolk and butter (which is why it’s so delicious), but unfortunately hollandaise sauce is not suitable for pregnant women. The eggs aren’t cooked to a high enough temperature to make them safe, and the sauce is often kept warm in restaurant kitchens prior to being served. The most recent time I had food poisoning was from hollandaise sauce, and this was in a 5-star kitchen. It cannot be made ‘safe’ by cooking it longer or the sauce splits, so sadly it has to be avoided altogether if you’re pregnant.
- Béarnaise, Maltaise, mousseline sauces made from hollandaise as the ‘mother sauce’ – this means any sauce with a different name that is essentially hollandaise, with additions. For example, Béarnaise is hollandaise sauce, with added tarragon, shallot and pepper. It’s the same ‘base’ sauce (what the French call a ‘mother sauce’), so also uses raw egg and should be avoided. If you’re eating a sauce you’re unfamiliar with, ask about the ingredients first.
- By extension of hollandaise sauce, Eggs Benedict is a dish that pregnant women should avoid. It’s a double whammy of poached eggs topped with hollandaise sauce, and both the eggs and the sauce are not safe for pregnant women to eat. Eggs Royale has the dubious honor of being even worse, since it contains raw fish (smoked salmon) as well, so pregnant women should avoid it. Almost all ‘benedict’ dishes contain poached eggs or hollandaise, so these should be swapped for something else when pregnant.
- Mousse (all flavors) – this is often set with raw egg and refrigerated, without the egg being cooked. Usually, this is only the case with homemade recipes or mousses, which call for raw egg and should be avoided. Restaurant or commercial mousse is often made with pasteurized egg and is therefore safe, but always ask first and check the ingredients.
- Meringue (all types: Swiss, French and Italian) – these are all made with raw egg whites and traditionally, the egg white isn’t cooked through when it’s blended with sugar or syrup and whipped. Avoid soft meringues such as lemon meringue pie topping, unless it’s made with Lion Mark eggs in the UK, or is pasteurized. Crisp, hard brittle meringues, such as meringue nests or the type you smash up to make Eton Mess, are safe in pregnancy as they are usually cooked when it’s baked.
- Ice Cream – egg is often used raw in some ice cream or frozen custard recipes. Again, this usually only applies to homemade versions, because commercial ice cream usually contains pasteurized ingredients. I wrote a whole separate article on eating ice cream in pregnancy, and also another on what pregnant women ought to know about frozen custard and yogurt, which you might be interested in.
- “No-bake” recipes like cheesecake set in the fridge – as with mousse, some desserts are ‘set’ with egg in the fridge rather than being baked. Some European/Continental style cheesecakes use this type of recipe, where the egg isn’t cooked and the cheesecake is set in the refrigerator. Baked cheesecake is fine to eat in pregnancy, though you may also want to read my pregnant women’s guide to cheesecake as well.
- Mayonnaise – similar to hollandaise, mayo in its traditional form is an emulsion of egg yolk, acid (lemon juice or vinegar) and oil. If it’s homemade, it may contain raw egg, and so should be avoided by pregnant women. Check with any restaurant as some make it from scratch from raw egg. All commercial mayo (the kind you buy in jars in a store) uses pasteurized egg, so is safe. You may like to read this article I wrote all about mayonnaise when you’re pregnant.
- Salad Dressings – Some of these are made with egg yolk and aren’t cooked. Caesar dressing often contains egg yolk, and the recipe differs as to whether raw or cooked yolks are used, so check first if eating out or making your own. Commercial dressings (store-bought) should contain pasteurized egg yolk and be safe in pregnancy, but homemade and some restaurant dressings should be avoided.
- Raw batter and dough – if you’re used to licking the spoon when making cookies or other types of baking, be aware that the batter mix will contain raw egg (and often, raw flour) and should, therefore, be avoided in pregnancy. It’s not all doom and gloom, though – there are many commercially-made cookie doughs that are suitable to eat raw. I wrote an article on cookie dough ice cream which also contains everything you need to know about cookie dough and pregnancy, including brands that are safe to eat raw.
- Egg Salad (including the type with mayonnaise) – this may be unsafe because the eggs are usually medium to hardboiled, and you’ll have to check that they were definitely hardboiled before being chopped into the salad. Another factor is that egg salad often contains mayo, and this should also be checked to see if it’s made with raw egg.
- Devilled Eggs – these should be OK in pregnancy as the eggs are usually hardboiled before they’re hollowed out and filled. If you didn’t make them, check that the eggs were hardboiled rather than just cooked to medium, and also check that the mayo (if used) is pasteurized, and they should be safe in pregnancy.
- Scotch Eggs or Eggs contained in pies – where the egg is only cooked to a ‘soft’ or ‘runny’ yolk rather than hard-boiled. This is common at higher-end delis and restaurants, particularly in the UK.
Can Pregnant Women Eat Just Egg Yolk, and Not the White, or Vice Versa?
In pregnancy, women should avoid undercooked eggs including both the yolk and the white. Salmonella can be present in either, so it doesn’t make any difference if, say, the white was cooked through and the yolk is runny (like on a sunny side up fried egg).
The egg should be treated as a whole unit and if any part of it is undercooked or runny, you should avoid it in pregnancy. Bear in mind that the yolk contains most of the nutrients contained in eggs, so don’t skip it!
How Many Eggs Can I Eat a Day When Pregnant?
Eggs are a nutritious source of many vitamins, minerals, and protein. They make a good addition to your pregnancy diet, so many women wonder how many they can eat per day in pregnancy.
Eating eggs every day if you’re pregnant depends on your individual circumstances, particularly on your cholesterol levels and how you respond to cholesterol in your diet. The Dietary Guidelines For Americans state that normally, there is no need to limit cholesterol intake, so you could eat eggs every day if you wish. Cholesterol from food only contributes 20% of total cholesterol, and the rest is made by the body (source: Harvard Health).
However, if you know you are a ‘super responder’ to dietary cholesterol, or you are aware that you already have high cholesterol levels, then consult a medical professional before eating eggs every day.
Additional Tips on Eating Eggs:
- This article has focused on hen’s eggs as they’re by far the most common. However, the same advice applies to duck eggs, quail eggs and any other (such as goose eggs). All these should be fully cooked.
- Choose pasture-raised (also known as ‘free range’ or ‘cage free’) eggs where possible – this will be stated on the packaging.
- Bear in mind that the larger the egg, the longer the cooking time will be, especially if you can’t see the egg (e.g. when boiling it)
- Avoid dirty or cracked eggs, and always wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly after handling them, as bacteria can also be on the shell.
- When abroad, always eat eggs fully cooked as different countries have varying farming practices and salmonella may be more prevalent.