Last updated on November 23rd, 2023
Are you planning a trip to bella Italia but wondering how you’ll go about eating in Italy while pregnant?
Well, all four of my pregnancies were carried out in Italy so I have a lot of experience up my sleeve. There are many reasons why it’s wonderful to be pregnant and have a baby in Italy and food is way up there!
Italians always let you cut the line, sit down, take your time – literally anything flies in Italy for pregnant women. And even after you have the baby, it gets even better as far as special treatment goes.
And if that wasn’t enough, the food is amazing for growing a tiny person inside you. It’s healthy, wholesome, satisfying and tastes amazing. Carrots actually taste like carrots, broccoli actually tastes like broccoli – not something that was picked 8 weeks ago and has been sitting in a refrigerated truck for 6 of them. It truly is amazing how much better the produce is here (bonus: no GMO’s!).
Most meat and dairy is produced in Italy, if not in the region you are in. Again, the taste and nutritional value of these products are much higher in comparison to those that have been overly processed for extremely long shelf lives.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eating in Italy while pregnant so read on for:
- a full guide to how I ate during my four pregnancies in Italy
- what I recommend ordering
- what to avoid
- useful phrases and vocabulary
- ton of tips and tricks to help you along the way!
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Always consult your doctor for nutritional and travel advice during your pregnancy.
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Foods to Avoid in Italy While Pregnant
There are some foods you want to avoid while pregnant in Italy and depending on the region you are in, many of the local dishes may be made with these foods so be sure to confirm before ordering that there are none of the following (if not obvious):
- salumi – any kind of cured meat including prosciutto crudo, salame, finocchiona, bresaola, speck
- formaggi crudi – unpasteurized cheeses – confirm before ordering
- carpaccio di pesce – raw fish salad
- carpaccio di manzo – raw beef appetizer
- tartare/carne cruda – raw beef
- pesce crudo – raw fish
- tonno – avoid tuna if you can, which is high in mercury unless it’s canned or cooked well-done.
- bistecca – steak (or ask for it well done)
- caffè – coffee in large quantities
- tiramisù – contains raw eggs
- zabaione – contains raw eggs
- cannoli – confirm that the ricotta is pasteurized before ordering
- gelato – be sure to ask if the gelateria uses raw eggs in their cream gelato flavors.
- mozzarella – technically fresh mozzarella is not cooked to a high enough temperature to be considered pasteurized. If it’s cooked like on pizza, don’t worry about it – it’s fine.
- crostini neri – crostini made with liver patè
Learn More: Read Is Prosciutto Raw?
Foods to Eat in Italy While Pregnant
Take advantage of all the great fresh and local produce while traveling throughout Italy – it’s so much more flavorful than in other parts of the world as by law, they cannot be GMO and are picked within days of hitting the supermarket or restaurant. Depending on the season you might even get a chance to taste the seasonal almonds grown in Italy or the fresh berries grown in Matera (Basilicata). Blueberries grow in Tuscany in the spring and pomegranates are popular throughout Italy in the winter.
If you are in northern Italy, there are tens of varieties of radicchio, a super salad food (and great because since it grows in a ‘tight head’, dirt doesn’t get into the leaves). Garlic is everywhere in Italian cooking so take advantage of all the garlicky dishes such as pici all’aglione (handmade spaghetti with garlic sauce from Tuscany).
Italian meat is usually raised locally so it’s really some of the best I have ever tasted in my life. In addition, fish is a staple on much of the coast (which is most of Italy) so dig in. Avoid anything raw, as listed above, and stick to broiled, pan fried or grilled varieties as fried fish can give you heartburn, especially later in pregnancy.
What To Eat at Restaurants in Italy While Pregnant
Since much of Italian cooking uses local produce and season ingredients, many of the regional dishes are nutrient rich enough to make sure you are getting all that you need in one dish.
Some simple primi (first course dishes), should be supplemented with a protein source. The good thing about Italy is that the secondi (second courses – meat or fish) is that the portions are typically small and don’t come with a side so you can just order a pasta or rice dish and a secondo and you are all set.
You are also permitted to share dishes in Italy so if you think it’s going to be too much, just share a plate, or several for that matter! These were some of my favorites to get when I was pregnant. I will indicate when you should supplement with a protein source.
- Ribollita* – vegetable and bread soup
- Minestrone* – vegetable soup
- Pappa al pomodoro* – tomato and bread soup
- Sformato di verdure* – vegetable souffle
- Pizza Margherita – cheese pizza
- Orecchiette con cime di rape* – pasta with turnip greens
- Tagliatelle con ragù – fresh egg pasta with meat sauce
- Lasagne – lasagna
- Grigliata mista – grilled mixed meats (sausage, pork chop, ribs)
- Pesce alla griglia/al cartoccio – grilled or baked fish
- Verdure alla griglia* – grilled vegetables
- Frittata di stagione – seasonal egg omelette
*Supplement with a protein source either found under antipasti or secondi on the menu.
Foods to Buy From Markets and Grocery Stores in Italy While Pregnant
Luckily Italy has also expanded its grocery section in terms of ‘healthy snack items’ so stock up if you see a supermarket or if you are running low. Check near the produce for nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Health bars are usually in different places but they may be in a specific “health” aisle or you may have to ask.
- Frutta e verdura fresca – fresh fruit and vegetables. My favorites were always apples, bananas, clementines, plums and less ripe peaches for easy travel.
- Barette – granola or protein bars
- Frutta secca – dried fruit and nuts
- Pizza a taglio – pizza by the slice (located in the bakery section)
- Prosciutto cotto – cooked ham to make sandwiches (order at deli or next to refrigerated section already packaged)
- Focaccia – focaccia to make sandwiches. Read more about Bread in Italy.
Fun Fact: Most grocery stores have a ‘skip the line’ sign for pregnant women. If not, just scoot your way to the front of the line – stick that belly out!
Street Foods for Pregnancy
- Gelato – confirm that the gelateria doesn’t use raw eggs in their cream flavors
- Panini – sandwiches
- Porchetta – roasted pork sandwich
- Cecina/Farinata – chickpea flatbread (Tuscany)
- Pane con panelle – chickpea fritter sandwich (Palermo, Sicily)
- Arancini – fried rice balls (Sicily)
- Crocchè – fried potato dumplings (Sicily)
- Granita (con brioche) – flavored shaved ice (with a pastry) (Sicily)
- Spremuta – freshly squeezed orange juice (Sicily)
- Focaccia – flatbread
- Cuoppo – fried fish (Naples)
- Panuozzo – pizza pocket. Order the cheese variety with no cured meats (Naples)
- Pampanella – spicy pork loin strips (Molise)
- Borlengo – savory pancake flavored with bacon and rosemary (Emilia-Romagna)
- Piadina Romagnola – flatbread sandwich. Order without cured meats (Emilia-Romagna)
- Castagne arrosto – roasted chestnuts
- Panada – Italian empanada (Sardinia)
Tips and Advice for Eating in Italy While Pregnant
- Although raw vegetables will be washed, if you have any concerns, just stick to the cooked vegetables found under the contorni section of the menu (after secondi).
- Always wash fruits and vegetables, even if you are out and about. Check for city water spigots to quickly wash fruit or carry a small bottle of water and some napkins with you.
- Bring favorite snacks from home just in case such as energy bars, beef jerky, your favorite nuts and dried fruit. They pack well and won’t go bad.
- Always confirm with the waiter if you have any doubts that cured meats or raw eggs are being used in a dish.
- Notify your waiter that you are pregnant and you cannot eat unpasteurized cheese and cured meats just to be sure it doesn’t end up on your plate.
- Keep snacks handy such as nuts or dried fruit that you can sneakily eat in long museum tours (you are not permitted to eat in museums but if you are doing a long tour you may need to. Nuts are easy to eat without making a mess and without anyone noticing).
- Confirm that the creamy gelato flavors aren’t made with raw eggs before ordering gelato.
- Carry hand sanitizer
- Order decaf coffee. Read about How to Order Coffee in Italy.
- Order non-alcoholic cocktails – most cocktail bars and places serving aperitivo can make you a virgin drink or freshly squeezed juice. If they don’t have a specific non-alcoholic menu, don’t be afraid to ask. Most places will have crodino which is a non-alcoholic bitter with which you can make a spritz – the classic Italian drink that is bright orange. More Options: Check out Non-Alcoholic Italian Drinks – That We Actually Drink in Italy.
Tuscan Travelers: Traveling specifically in Tuscany? Check out Eating in Tuscany While Pregnant – From a Mamma of Four in Florence for specific recommendations and tips based on my experience in Tuscany during Pregnancy.
What Do Italian Women Eat During Pregnancy?
Italian women try to eat as normally as possible, being sure to increase their protein intake and staying away from unpasteurized cheeses and cured meats. They stay away from steak because Italians don’t enjoy well done red meat. Better just give it up.
They continue to eat raw fruits and vegetables, just as I did, but they wash them really well, sometimes two times, as my dear friend Olivia did when she was pregnant (I was never that thorough).
Another thing I noticed about Italian women who I either saw, met or with whom I was part of a pre-natal group, is that they never seemed to ‘explode’. Their weight increased, but in moderation. I think this is because Italian women usually don’t diet. They may eat more or less depending on how tight their pants are, but they don’t diet like in North America. And thus, they need not use pregnancy as an excuse to eat everything in sight. They just eat more than they would to grow their baby, being sure to eat snacks in between meals.
Helpful Phrases for Eating in Italy While Pregnant
Is this pasteurized?
Vorrei il carne ben cotto per piacere
I would like the meat well-cooked please.
Ci sono salumi crudi in questo piatto?
Are there cured meats in this dish?
Ci sono le uova non pastorizzate in questo piatto?
Are there raw eggs in this dish?
Il vostro gelato è fatto con le uova?
Is your gelato made with raw eggs?
Posso ordinare ….. senza i salumi?
May I order ….. without the cured meat?
Posso ordinare questo con prosciutto cotto invece di prosciutto crudo, per favore?
May I please order with ham instead of prosciutto?
Vorrei un cappuccino decaffeinato, per piacere.
I would like a decaf cappuccino, please.
Posso avere un drink senza alcool?
May I have a cocktail without alcohol?
Eating in Italy While Pregnant FAQ
Italy is one of the greatest places to travel to if you are vegan. Since so much of the regional cooking is based off of the cucina povera or the “poor man’s food”, many dishes were originally created vegan. Look for dishes like ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, pizza marinara, minestrone, farinata con cavolo nero, cecina but also be sure to check out the antipasti and contorni sections of the menu where you will find lots of salads, vegan sides and plenty of vegetables. Check out our full guide to eating vegan in Italy.
These days it’s not too hard as many restaurants do offer GF options but it’s better to scope places out when you are in larger cities to be sure you are getting what you want. In small, provincial towns, it can be much harder but just stick to the grilled meats and fresh fish and you will be just fine.
Italy’s level of listeria is in line with the rest of Europe and is extremely low so don’t obsess about it while you are here.
Salmonella does exist in Italy and there are around 2500 cases per year but you can easily avoid it if you avoid raw eggs and only consume fully cooked chicken. Cross contamination does happen but it’s no more common than in other countries.