Considering that there’s so much to watch out for in pregnancy, like cold or undercooked meat, deli meat, raw-egg mayonnaise and so on, it becomes a bit of a nightmare just trying to work out if you can eat a simple sandwich when you’re pregnant. On top of that, you’re supposed to be eating nutrient-dense food instead of junk in pregnancy, which is harder than it sounds, right?
Which sandwich fillings are pregnancy safe? The good news is that there are plenty of pregnancy-friendly sandwich fillings that you can enjoy without feeling like you’re missing out on an exciting or tasty lunch or snack. Follow some simple guidelines and you can easily tell which sandwiches to eat or avoid in pregnancy.
I’ve investigated a lot of common sandwich fillings and broken down their components to help pregnant women choose what to have in a sandwich. I’ve tried to explain whether or not the ingredients are safe in pregnancy, including which ones you should switch or substitute.
Which Sandwich Bread to Choose in Pregnancy
All sandwich bread is safe for pregnant women to eat, but you can make wiser choices when choosing bread. For example:
- Opt for brown or wholegrain bread over white
- Choose wraps or flatbreads rather than bulky subs or bagels
- The sweeter the bread, the more calories it will contain, so avoid breads like brioche
- Try to minimize the amount of butter, mayo or dairy spreads as they add little else but fat and calories.
Common Sandwich Fillings and Whether They’re Pregnancy-Safe
Below is a list of popular sandwich fillings and whether they’re safe in pregnancy.
Tuna sandwiches are safe in pregnancy, but pregnant women should limit their intake of tuna due to its mercury content. Aim for no more than two servings of tuna a week, in any form (including sandwiches). Tuna mayo sandwiches are fine in pregnancy if the mayo is pasteurized, as most commercial mayonnaise is. You may also be interested in this article I wrote on the safety of mayonnaise in pregnancy.
Deli Meat or ‘Sandwich Meat’ Sandwiches
Deli meat sandwiches (for example, luncheon meat, salami or processed sliced meats) must contain deli meat that is heated until steaming hot for it to be safe in pregnancy, due to the possible presence of listeria. Some deli meats are tasty when they’re warm, but some aren’t – it’s down to which deli meat you would still like to eat if it’s steaming hot. Toasted or grilled sandwiches are a good way of eating hot deli meat.
Some sandwiches that usually contain deli meat, like a Reuben, are often served hot anyway – but check that the meat is steaming hot and that the dressing, sauerkraut, and cheese are all pasteurized first.
Ham and/or bacon sandwiches
Ham and bacon as a sandwich ingredient should be treated the same way as deli meat (above) and the ham or bacon should be heated or cooked through until steaming hot. In the UK (but not the USA) packet ham that is bought at a supermarket is considered safe to eat without heating it first.
Turkey and chicken sandwiches
Chicken, turkey and other poultry sandwiches are safe in pregnancy if the meat is in cold-cut form (i.e. carved) and not processed. If it’s cooked and cold, this is fine if it’s been stored properly in the fridge and eaten within a couple of days.
This is much safer if you have prepared the sandwich yourself (see notes below on ordering sandwiches in delis or restaurants). In the UK, packets of sandwich meat (of any kind) are considered safe to eat cold in a sandwich, whereas the general advice in the USA is to heat the meat through.
Beef and similar roasted meat sandwiches
The roasted meat in any sandwich should be cooked all the way through with no pink left in the middle. As many places sell their cooked, cold roast beef rare to medium, you will have to either avoid it or cook it through when you get home. Cold, cooked meat with no pink is fine if it’s been stored and refrigerated properly, but to be on the safe side, it’s better heated through until steaming.
Seafood Sandwiches (including prawns or shrimp)
Popular seafood sandwiches (e.g. a prawn mayonnaise sandwich) and other cooked, cold fish are OK to eat in pregnancy if they have been cooked, stored and refrigerated properly, and eaten no more than a couple of days after being cooked.
Cold, cooked prawns mixed with commercial, pasteurized mayo in a sandwich is safe to eat in pregnancy. Smoked salmon may not be safe in pregnancy and should be avoided. You might like to read this other article I wrote, all about smoked salmon and pregnancy.
Any type of meat or fish spread sandwiches
All types of meat spreads, fish pastes or pâté should be avoided in pregnancy due to the higher risk of listeria contamination. This refers to any paste, spread or pate found in the refrigerated section of a supermarket, for example:
- Potted meat or potted beef
- Pre-prepared fresh fillings like ham hock / pulled pork
- Fish pâté (e.g. mackerel, salmon, crab)
- Any other pâté (veg or meat)
One exception is if the meat is canned or in a jar, which means it’s likely to be pasteurized and safe to eat. However, always check the label as sometimes the meat is only sterilized and NOT pasteurized.
Veg and salad in sandwiches
Veggie or salad-based are always healthier sandwich options, but these should be prepared yourself, to ensure that the veg is prepped, peeled and washed thoroughly. This avoids any potential contamination with listeria or toxoplasmosis, both of which live in soil where fresh produce grows.
Cross-contamination can occur (along with listeria) if you’re ordering a salad based sandwich from a deli or similar establishment, so these should be avoided. If you really want to eat salad in a sandwich that you’re going out and ordering, choose one that can be heated up (e.g. tomatoes and onions, rather than lettuce) and ask for it to be served steaming hot.
When prepping sandwiches at home, ensure the veggies and salad are washed thoroughly and avoid pre-bagged or ready-made salad, as this carries a small but significant risk of being contaminated with listeria. Alternatively, roast the veggies – this makes then both pregnancy-safe, and delicious!
Mayonnaise based sandwiches
Sandwiches containing mayonnaise such as chicken mayo, tuna mayo and so on can be eaten if the mayonnaise is pasteurized. Commercially-made sandwich mayo filling is usually safe for pregnant women to eat. Exercise more caution if eating at a restaurant or deli as the mayonnaise may contain raw eggs.
Cheese sandwiches (including grilled cheese sandwiches) should be made with pasteurized or hard cheese like cheddar, gouda or swiss. Do not eat sandwiches containing soft cheeses like brie, since soft, mold-ripened cheeses are more likely to be affected by listeria contamination. Heating or melting hard cheeses until it’s bubbling hot is even safer, but you can generally eat hard cheeses as they are.
Egg sandwiches or sandwiches containing egg as an additional ingredient should contain hard-boiled eggs only, not any soft or runny yolks due to the risk of salmonella. The same caution should be applied to mayonnaise, which should be a commercially-made, pasteurized brand if using mayo in the egg sandwich.
Sandwiches to Avoid (and Ingredients to Watch Out For) in Pregnancy
Since I can’t cover every single sandwich filling that exists, here are some general guidelines on what you should be looking out for and avoiding when eating (or preparing) a sandwich:
- Avoid unpasteurized mayonnaise (usually the homemade type) and dressings. For example, caesar salad dressing often contains raw egg and should be avoided.
- Go easy on mayo, butter or dairy spreads as they add calories and fat, and not many micronutrients.
- If adding salad to a sandwich at home, ensure it’s thoroughly washed to reduce the risk of listeria. If you’re eating from a salad bar or restaurant (see below) use extra caution and ask for a sandwich to be heated up until steaming or ask for it without salad, if need be.
- Avoid any raw or undercooked meat. This is common is roast beef sandwiches, but check first.
- Having a hot sandwich, where the contents are heated until steaming hot, is always safer than eating a cold sandwich. However, there are a few cold sandwiches to choose from, so it’s a matter of personal preference.
What’s the Healthiest Type of Sandwich I can Eat When Pregnant?
If you’re out and about and grabbing a sandwich on the go, it’s better to choose a sandwich filling that follows the guidelines on what to avoid, rather than trying to pick the healthiest one as your choices are somewhat reduced.
The healthiest sandwich is often one you’ve made yourself because you have full control over the portion size and the ingredients. Some ideas on what to make at home are:
- Up your veggie intake. Try a wholewheat wrap with roasted Mediterranean veggies and hummus. Throw in a couple of falafel if you’re super hungry!
- Herbs can add flavor without calories. Try an avocado & salad sub with a herby or French dressing
- Lean protein stops you feeling hungry (cold, cooked chicken, turkey or prawns/shrimp) with some low-fat mayo and salad, or try hot smoked salmon, dill and cucumber
- Healthier versions of classics. Try a hot, toasted ham sandwich with a sprinkling of grated cheese (instead of slices or slabs) and some mustard & crunchy salad
Eating Take-Out or Deli Sandwiches in Pregnancy
Being pregnant doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on the convenience of having a sandwich made up for you in a deli or a sandwich chain like Subway, Jimmy John’s or Potbelly.
You can still eat at Subway, Potbelly, Jimmy John’s or at any other sandwich/deli style store or supermarket counter if you’re pregnant. However, there are some fillings you should avoid, and you may need to make special requests.
The following tips will help you make more pregnancy-safe choices. Due to the large serving sizes of all these types of sandwiches, the smallest ones are referred to here – not the 16 inch or footlongs.
Eating Sandwiches from Subway in Pregnancy
- Avoid luncheon meats (also known as ‘deli meats’ or ‘lunch meats’) where possible. According to the American Pregnancy Association, Subway has recommended that pregnant women avoid deli meat and instead opt for other choices like their meatball, chicken or tuna subs.
- If you do want to eat deli meat, you can ask for it to be heated up until it’s steaming hot. Subway normally warm up the filling, but not to steaming hot temperatures. Ask the server to have it warmed for longer where possible until it’s steaming. This will make any deli meat safer to eat.
- Ask for any other filling usually served warm (e.g. the chicken or meatball) to be heated up until hot in the same way.
- Subway uses cheese made from pasteurized milk, and mayonnaise and dressings made from pasteurized eggs, so these are safe to eat if you’re pregnant.
- Having salad – whether on its own or in a Subway sandwich still carries the small but significant risk of listeria contamination. Subway has stringent cleanliness and hygiene guidelines, but a lot of the meat and veg are prepackaged. Listeria outbreaks can occur at the factory where veg and salad are prepared as well as at the Franchise you’re eating at. Listeria outbreaks are still therefore possible, even if the branch you’re eating at is super-clean.
This is a risk v choice scenario. The lowest risk is not to eat salad from a sandwich joint at all. If you want to eat veggies, you could ask for some of them that will still be tasty if hot (e.g. tomatoes, rather than lettuce) and ask for them to be heated up until very hot.
Three suggested Subway sandwiches that are safe when pregnant
Since Subway’s menu offers the same items in most countries, here are three suggested pregnancy-safe Subway sandwich options. All are 6 inch rather than the footlong.
- Wholewheat bread with rotisserie-style chicken, tomatoes and peppers – ask for everything (including the veg) to be heated longer than their usual time.
- Tuna mayo with melted cheese on a flatbread (no salad)
- Meatball Marinara in a wrap, rather than a sub, or on their slider rolls, if they’ll accommodate the request.
Eating Sandwiches from Potbelly Whilst Pregnant
- As with all sandwiches bought from a deli or chain, it’s better to avoid luncheon or deli meat when choosing your sandwich from Potbelly. However, if you want to continue to eat deli meat from Potbelly, there’s a compromise.
Their toasting machines reach a temperature of over 500F, which is enough to kill any potential listeria. Ask for your sandwich to go through the toasting process twice or be left under the heating element for longer, and it will make deli meat much safer to eat in pregnancy. This may mean your bread is toasted a bit more than you’d normally like, though.
- Choose their non-deli meat such as the chicken or meatballs, and have it heated up until very hot.
- The mayo, cheese and dressings at Potbelly are made from pasteurized ingredients, so are safe for pregnant women to consume.
- Choose salad items that can be toasted under the same grill without making them inedible. Peppers and mushrooms are good choices in this respect, if the local branch will do it for you. Avoid raw salad leaves or greens, due to the risk of cross-contamination.
Three suggested Potbelly Sandwiches that are Safe in Pregnancy:
- The skinny mushroom melt on wholegrain, minus the salad, heated until hot
- The meatball sandwich on their FLATS bread rather than a sub roll – again, heated until hot
- Peanut Butter and Jelly (not the healthiest choice, but totally safe to eat when you’re pregnant and have a sweet craving!)
Eating Sandwiches at Jimmy John’s when Pregnant
Similar guidelines apply to Jimmy John’s like the previous tips, but be aware that Jimmy John’s don’t toast their subs. This means pregnant women will be restricted to only one or two items from the menu because the meat and/or veg cannot be heated to a safer temperature.
Having looked at the menu, most of it is deli-meat based, so you’d be stuck with tuna mayo or tuna salad without lettuce or other added salad, or cheese with condiments like mustard, and maybe opting for it on 9-grain or thick wheat. Again, it comes down to personal choice and risk.
Listeria contamination is rare, but it does happen, and the risk is only lowered by heating deli meat or veg until steaming hot. Hot food is unavailable at Jimmy John’s due to their dedication to speed, which is what they’re famous for.