What to Eat & Avoid During Pregnancy: Nutritional Guide

Posted at 5:01 PM on Nov 2, 2023

What to Eat During Pregnancy

Whether this is your first pregnancy or your fifth there is always something new to be learned, as science is ever evolving and recommendations do change. One of the most important things to consider when pregnant is what you are eating. What you eat your baby eats. What you drink your baby drinks. What you inhale your baby is exposed to. This means that while you are pregnant now is the time to be extra mindful of what you choose to put into your body and what kind of environment you are in, which means thinking of the chemicals you are around or inhaling things like secondhand smoke, both of which should be avoided during pregnancy.

Below you will find a breakdown of do’s and don’ts of what to eat when pregnant. It is important to remember that no two people are the same and you may need to consult your doctor directly to address any nutritional concerns you may have.

What to Eat During Pregnancy

Maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet during pregnancy is crucial for both the mother's and baby's well-being and overall health. What you eat can impact not only your health, but your growing baby inside of you. Here is a list of some of the best foods to eat during pregnancy and why they are beneficial:

  • Folate-Rich Foods: Folate is essential for fetal development, especially in the early stages of pregnancy. It helps prevent neural tube defects. Foods high in folate include leafy greens (spinach, kale), legumes, fortified cereals, and citrus fruits.
  • Iron-Rich Foods: Iron is vital for the production of red blood cells and to prevent anemia, which is common during pregnancy. Good sources of iron include lean meats, poultry, fish, egg yolks, broccoli, spinach, beans, and fortified cereals.
  • Calcium: Calcium is crucial for the development of the baby's bones, teeth, and muscles. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese are excellent sources of calcium. If you're lactose intolerant or vegan, consider calcium-fortified plant-based milk alternatives.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These fats are essential for the development of the baby's brain and eyes. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are rich sources of omega-3s. If you don't consume fish, you can get them from walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
  • Protein: Protein is crucial for the growth of the baby's organs and tissues. Good sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, and tofu.
  • Whole Grains: Whole grains provide essential nutrients and fiber. They help regulate blood sugar and prevent constipation. Foods like whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, and oats are excellent choices.
  • Leafy Greens: Leafy greens are rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. They are also a good source of fiber, which aids digestion and can help prevent constipation.
  • Citrus Fruits: Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and limes are high in vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron and supports the baby's growth and development.
  • Avocado: Avocado is an excellent source of healthy fats and folate. It also contains potassium, which can help with fluid balance and prevent muscle cramps.
  • Dried Fruit: Dried fruits like raisins, apricots, and prunes are rich in fiber and provide iron and potassium. They can help alleviate constipation, which is common during pregnancy.
  • Nuts: Nuts are packed with essential nutrients, including healthy fats, protein, and fiber. They make for a convenient and nutritious snack.
  • Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is high in protein and calcium, which is beneficial for both the mother's bone health and the baby's development.
  • Eggs: Eggs are a great source of protein and various essential nutrients. They also contain choline, which is important for brain development.
  • Berries: Berries like blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber. They can help boost the immune system and improve digestion.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is crucial for the development of the baby's eyes, skin, and bones.
  • Lean Meats: Lean meats like poultry and lean beef are excellent sources of high-quality protein, iron, and other essential nutrients.
  • Water: Staying well-hydrated is crucial during pregnancy. Water helps with digestion, circulation, and the transportation of nutrients to the baby.

Foods and Drinks to Avoid When Pregnant

  • Raw or Undercooked Seafood: Can contain harmful bacteria and parasites that may cause foodborne illnesses. These can be harmful to both the mother and the baby.
  • Raw Eggs: Foods made with raw or undercooked eggs, such as homemade Caesar dressing, cookie dough, or certain types of mayonnaise, can carry the risk of salmonella infection.
  • Unpasteurized Dairy Products: Unpasteurized milk and dairy products can contain harmful bacteria, such as Listeria and E. coli, which can lead to foodborne illnesses.
  • High-Mercury Fish: Certain fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, have high levels of mercury, which can be harmful to the baby's developing nervous system. Moderate consumption of low-mercury fish like salmon and trout is safe.
  • Unwashed Produce: Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed to remove any contaminants and harmful bacteria.
  • Delicatessen Meats and Hot Dogs: These products may be contaminated with Listeria, a bacterium that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or illness in newborns.
  • Caffeine & Soft Drinks: High caffeine intake during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage and preterm birth. It's advisable to limit caffeine consumption to no more than 200g per day or choose decaffeinated options. Additionally, high-sugar and low-nutrient soft drinks can contribute to excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes. It's best to consume them in moderation or opt for healthier alternatives. This may mean trading in your beloved soda for a carbonated option like bubbly water.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol can pass through the placenta to the baby and potentially cause developmental issues, so it is best to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy.
  • Unwashed Sprouts: Raw sprouts, like alfalfa and clover, can carry a high risk of bacterial contamination. It's safer to avoid them or ensure they are thoroughly cooked.
  • Herbal Teas and Supplements: Some herbal teas and supplements may not be safe during pregnancy, as their effects on the baby are not well understood. Consult with a healthcare provider before using them.
  • Unpasteurized Juices: Like unpasteurized dairy products, unpasteurized fruit juices can carry the risk of harmful bacteria.
  • Large Amounts of Artificial Sweeteners: While some artificial sweeteners are considered safe in moderation, excessive consumption should be avoided. It's essential to consult with a healthcare provider regarding specific sweeteners.

Consulting Your Doctor

As we mentioned, everybody is unique and your nutritional needs may vary. Your doctor is your number one resource to help you plan a safe and healthy pregnancy. This includes helping to create a healthy nutritious meal plan that will encourage the optimal development of your baby while keeping mom to be as healthy as possible.

Additional reads you may enjoy:

Prenatal Vitamins FAQs

Safe Exercises During Pregnancy

Tracking Your Pregnancy: Week by Week