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Is pate safe to eat?
Q: I just read that eating refrigerated pate can cause birth defects because of the vitamin A. I’m 17 weeks pregnant, and I was eating pate almost every day for breakfast (two or three bread slices with pate cream on them). Was I ingesting too much?
A: Warnings about excessive doses of vitamin A during pregnancy have caused many people to lose sight of its benefits. Vitamin A is required for night vision and is needed for the formation of healthy skin, mucus membranes and bone. It’s necessary for optimal immune functioning as well. Without enough vitamin A you would be more susceptible to infections. In many parts of the world, vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem, and childbearing women are given injections of it immediately following delivery.

That said, there are concerns about taking excessive doses of vitamin A. These concerns stem from reports of birth defects in women who used a synthetic from of vitamin A as a treatment for acne. Another study reported higher rates of “cranio neural crest” deformities in offspring of women taking high doses of vitamin A. This study analyzed the nutrition of more than 22,000 pregnant women and found that those who consumed over 10,000 I.U. of vitamin A daily had a higher chance of delivering infants with deformities of the head, heart and brain. However, it should be noted that only one baby in 57 whose mothers took the high levels of vitamin A actually developed a problem. The vast majority of infants with high vitamin A exposure had no problems.

Another thing to note is that only certain forms of vitamin A are of concern. Beta carotene, the form found in vegetables and most prenatal supplements, is converted to vitamin A in your body as needed. This form is safe and has not been linked to any birth defects. Pre-formed vitamin A (retinol or retinyl esters) is found in liver, vitamin tablets and fortified cereals.

On the basis of these studies, pregnant women are advised to maintain a daily intake of vitamin A not to exceed 8,000 IU. While liver does contain high levels of vitamin A (a 3 ounce serving contains 30,000 IU of vitamin A) chicken or goose pate has around 800 to 1,000 IU per ounce of pate. From your description, it’s unlikely that you consumed more than a couple of ounces of pate daily. Therefore, your total daily vitamin A intake did not exceed recommended allowances, and there’s no reason to believe that you harmed your baby in any way.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist