Why can’t I eat bean sprouts when pregnant?

Eating raw sprouts like alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts is not recommended for pregnant women. This is because raw sprouts may contain harmful bacteria that can lead to foodborne illnesses. Consuming contaminated sprouts while pregnant can be dangerous for both mother and baby.

What are the risks of eating raw sprouts during pregnancy?

Raw sprouts have been linked to many foodborne illness outbreaks over the years. The warm, moist conditions needed to grow sprouts are also ideal for growing harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. These bacteria can contaminate the sprouts at any point from farm to fork.

When pregnant women become infected with foodborne illnesses, they are at higher risk for complications. Salmonellosis and listeriosis in particular can cause pregnancy complications like:

  • Preterm labor and delivery
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth
  • Infection of the fetus

Newborns who are exposed to pathogens in utero may develop sepsis, meningitis, or pneumonia after birth. Listeriosis has the highest risk of stillbirth and neonatal complications.

Key bacteria risks

Salmonella – Raw sprouts have been the source of many salmonella outbreaks. Salmonella infection causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get sick from salmonella than the general population.

Listeria – Listeria bacteria can grow even in refrigerator temperatures. Listeriosis typically causes mild flu-like symptoms in healthy adults but leads to serious complications in pregnant women and their fetuses or newborns.

E. coli – Certain strains of E. coli like O157:H7 produce the Shiga toxin that can cause severe illness. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which damages the kidneys.

Which types of bean sprouts are unsafe?

The FDA recommends avoiding raw sprouts altogether during pregnancy regardless of the type. Some common varieties that are often eaten raw and have been linked to outbreaks include:

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Radish sprouts
  • Clover sprouts
  • Broccoli sprouts

Even organic sprouts that claim to be pathogen-free can harbor risks. The pathogens may be present at low levels not detected by testing. Washing does not fully decontaminate sprouts either.

Are cooked bean sprouts safe to eat?

Thoroughly cooking sprouts can destroy any harmful bacteria present and reduce the risks. The FDA and CDC recommend cooking sprouts until steaming hot throughout before eating them.

Some safe ways to have bean sprouts during pregnancy include:

  • In stir fries
  • In hot soups and curries
  • Blanched or sautéed thoroughly as a side dish
  • In cooked, reheated leftovers

Pregnant women should also follow these general food safety guidelines when handling and eating cooked sprouts:

  • Use fresh sprouts and cook them right away
  • Wash hands before and after handling sprouts
  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping sprouts and their juices away from other foods
  • Cook sprouts to 165°F or hotter and use a food thermometer to check
  • Reheat cooked sprouts thoroughly before eating as leftovers

Can I substitute sprouts in my recipes while pregnant?

Pregnant women have several healthier options to substitute for sprouts in recipes:

  • Shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • Diced bell peppers
  • Thinly sliced carrots, cucumbers, or radishes
  • Roasted vegetables like eggplant or zucchini
  • Sautéed or roasted tofu
  • Lean shredded chicken breast
  • Thinly sliced mushrooms

The vegetables can be quickly sautéed or roasted before adding to dishes for extra flavor and texture in place of sprouts. This allows pregnant women to still enjoy many of their favorite sandwiches, Buddha bowls, spring rolls, and stir-fries without the risks.

Are fresh herbs safe to eat when pregnant?

Fresh herbs like cilantro, basil, mint, and parsley do not carry the same risks as raw sprouts in pregnancy. Herbs are generally safe to consume when washed properly and used in cooked foods. A few general tips include:

  • Wash herbs thoroughly under running water before use
  • Avoid pre-chopped, packaged herbs which can contain more bacteria
  • Trim and discard the ends of fresh herb sprigs
  • Use herbs quickly or store properly in the refrigerator
  • Cook recipes containing fresh herbs thoroughly

As an extra precaution, pregnant women can opt for pasteurized fresh herbs to eliminate bacteria risks. However, normal healthy women do not need to avoid fresh herbs in cooked foods that are prepared safely.

Are there any benefits to eating bean sprouts?

When prepared safely, bean sprouts can be a nutritious addition to the diet. Some potential benefits of sprouts include:

  • High in vitamins C, K, and folate
  • Contain antioxidants
  • A good source of dietary fiber
  • Rich in amino acids and proteins
  • Low in calories and fat
  • May have anti-cancer effects from sulforaphane

However, these nutrients and compounds are also found in abundance in other cooked vegetables without the risks. So pregnant women can easily meet their nutritional needs with safer alternatives.

Folate needs during pregnancy

Bean sprouts are touted as being high in folate, an especially important vitamin during pregnancy. Folate is vital for proper fetal growth and preventing birth defects of the brain and spine.

However, folate is plentiful in many healthy foods like green leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits, nuts and fortified grains. Expectant mothers can aim to get 600 mcg of folate daily from their diet or supplements.

When can I eat bean sprouts again after pregnancy?

Women can generally return to eating raw sprouts after giving birth as long as they are no longer pregnant or breastfeeding. Anyone recovering from pregnancy or delivery complications should first consult their doctor.

Some important notes for new moms:

  • Avoid eating sprouts if you have a compromised immune system after birth
  • Cook sprouts thoroughly to lower infection risks if breastfeeding
  • Wash hands, tools, and surfaces well after handling raw sprouts
  • Wait until your baby is at least 6 months old before offering cooked sprouts
  • Introduce potential allergens like sprouts slowly once baby starts solids

In most healthy cases, women can add sprouts back to their diet after giving birth. But it is still wise to take precautions and only eat fully cooked sprouts while caring for a newborn.


Pregnant women are advised to avoid eating raw bean sprouts and the potential foodborne illness risks they carry. Thoroughly cooking sprouts reduces bacteria to safe levels. But the best approach is to simply avoid bean sprouts altogether during pregnancy and substitute other nutritious fruits and vegetables with no harmful effects. After giving birth and finishing breastfeeding, most women can safely add sprouts back to their diet.

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