So you and sushi are on a break — for now.
Sure, your heart may be yearning for that sweet sashimi-wasabi combo.
Or an Italian sub, or raw milk cheese.
But the good news is, there is a huge range of tempting, trustworthy tastes on the pregnancy platter.
We’re going to take you through why pregnancy nutrition matters and how to get the sustenance you need (and enjoy mealtimes in the process).
Read on for options that will keep you and your baby safe while giving you the fuel you need to grow a human.
In this article: 📝
- Why is proper nutrition important during pregnancy?
- What is the nutrition requirement in pregnancy?
- What foods should you eat during pregnancy?
- What foods should you avoid during pregnancy?
- Pregnancy nutrition — the struggle can be real
- Pregnancy nutrition — the bottom line
Why is proper nutrition important during pregnancy?
Proper nutrition is always important — and certainly when you’re pregnant.
It’s all about keeping your strength at its max to cope with pregnancy’s very particular physical requirements.
Sufficient amounts of the right foods (preferably as many small snack-like meals over the course of the day) :
- Give your body the power it needs to manage this incredible task.
- Provide your baby-to-be with the proper nourishment to grow and develop.
- Ensure that you and your little one gain enough weight over this important period.
While it won’t be the same for everyone, healthy weight gain during pregnancy is usually between 25 and 35 pounds.
This depends on various factors, including your weight going into your pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor about your unique body and needs.)
But while this may all sound great on paper, it’s sometimes easier said than done.
You might be experiencing some rather interesting cravings.
(Who knew ice cream and anchovies could be such good friends?)
Many of these are harmless and can be enjoyed in moderation, provided they’re not getting in the way of a balanced, healthy diet.
But sometimes, pregnancy cravings can make it that much more difficult to finalize your meal plans.
It’s really important to talk to your doctor if you’re struggling.
Some pregnant women experience something called pica, where they have a yearning to eat non-food items like dirt, chalk, rocks, or crayons.
Eating these could be harmful to you and your baby, and there are interventions (like counseling) that can really help.
What is the nutrition requirement in pregnancy?
Nutrition requirements change depending on where you’re at in your pregnancy.
(To put that in context, a bowl of oatmeal is somewhere in the region of 350 calories. And a Greek salad with chicken and balsamic and olive oil dressing is about 450 calories.)
So the old adage of eating for two is not exactly the case in the sense that you need to double your food intake.
But it is important to ensure that you have sufficient nourishment for the job at hand.
When it comes to the main players, here are the vitamins and minerals to pay attention to:
Folate (aka Vitamin B9) and Folic acid
Folate is vitamin B9 that occurs naturally in a wide variety of food, including dark leafy greens, beans, fresh fruits, whole grains, and eggs.
You can also consume it as folic acid — a vital supplement to take during pregnancy.
Ideally, it should be started four weeks before pregnancy, and continued throughout the first trimester.
The guidelines are to get between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid if you’re pregnant or TTC.
Folic acid benefits both mama and baby because it’s vital for creating red blood cells.
It also helps in the development of the neural tube, which will become your baby’s brain and spine.
Research shows that this important vitamin helps to prevent some birth differences that can affect a baby’s health, growth, and development.
Birth differences that affect the neural tube include anencephaly (where a baby is born with parts of the brain and skull missing) and spina bifida (where the spinal cord doesn’t develop as it should).
Folic acid is found in a number of foods, including dark leafy veg, beans, whole grains, liver, sunflower seed, and eggs. Some cereals are also fortified with folic acid.
Prenatal vitamins are also a great way to ensure you get the folic acid you need.
If you’re at all unsure about whether you’re meeting the requirements, talk to your doctor.
You may have heard that iron is particularly important when you’re pregnant.
That’s because it helps your body make blood.
The recommended amount is between 30 and 60 milligrams per day when you’re pregnant.
Sources of iron include fish, chicken, meat, eggs, and beans.
Some grains (like certain cereals) are fortified with iron.
Iron deficient anemia (where the body is unable to produce enough red blood cells) can lead to serious complications for mother and baby alike.
When you’re pregnant, your blood volume increases by about 45%, so right now, the ability to make blood is a very big deal.
Your iron intake will help the development of the fetus and placenta as well as up the amount of blood that’s circulating in your body.
It’s important to note that there’s some contention about iron supplements during pregnancy.
You may be able to get sufficient levels from your diet.
And there’s research to suggest that too much iron can also have detrimental effects.
So the best thing to do is talk to your doctor about whether iron supplements will benefit you.
Calcium is another star on this list, helping to prevent pregnancy-related health conditions like preeclampsia, and is essential during pregnancy for a healthy, growing baby.
The recommended amount of calcium when you’re pregnant is around 1200 milligrams per day.
Calcium can be found in a range of delicious foods, including dairy foods, sardines, almonds, edamame, winter squash, and leafy greens.
And, of course, supplements can really help.
Talk to your healthcare provider about whether your prenatal vitamin has sufficient calcium for you or if you need an added boost.
Vitamin D helps your body absorb and use calcium and phosphorus, making it really important for your immune system and bone health.
While research is still ongoing, a lack of vitamin D is linked to a range of health issues, including preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
And it may impact whether your baby is born early.
Interestingly, this ongoing Australian study is finding that vitamin D may be connected to the health and development of children for years after they’ve been born.
According to the WHO, sunshine is still the best source of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, there are so many reasons why you may not be able to get the sunlight you need.
If your vitamin D supplies are low, it’s recommended that you take a 200 IU supplement.
Again, it’s best to check in with your healthcare provider about this one.
Other key vitamins and minerals
As well as the big players, here are other important vitamins and minerals to factor in:
This is known as the “metabolizer” mineral element and is essential for a healthy thyroid.
Lack of iodine can cause hypothyroidism in mama and baby.
Iodine helps with your baby’s brain development and is found in table salt, dairy products, seafood, and eggs.
(Do not consume too much salt though, and be careful with dairy products and seafood.)
Choline helps with the development of your baby’s brain and spinal cord.
It’s recommended that you get 450 milligrams a day.
Sources include milk, liver, eggs, peanuts, and soy.
Glowing skin, sharp eyes, and strong bones — Vitamin A is found in leafy greens, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
You should be very careful if you decide to take this as a supplement because it is a fat-based vitamin which means it is harder to eliminate from your body if you end up taking too much.
Consult your doctor before doing so.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Folic Acid is not the only B vitamin on this list.
Helping with the formation of red blood cells and the metabolism of protein, fats, and carbohydrates, B6 is an important addition to your diet.
Red meats, whole grain cereals, and bananas are good sources.
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
This B vitamin assists in the maintenance of your nervous system and helps to form red blood cells.
Dairy products, meat, chicken, and fish are good sources.
If you are vegan then it’s vital to take a B12 supplement during pregnancy.
Lastly, it’s important to make sure that you’re well-hydrated.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you have between eight and twelve glasses of water daily.
Keeping your system well-lubricated has many benefits.
It ensures that nutrients can travel around your body efficiently, your digestive system functions better, and the amniotic fluid that protects your baby stays topped up.
What foods should you eat during pregnancy?
We all have different preferences and cultural influences, so there’s no one-size-fits-all pregnancy diet that needs to be followed.
But there are some important foods to eat during pregnancy that will keep you healthy, support your baby’s growth and development and give you a boost.
Here are some ideas of what to include in a healthy pregnancy diet.
You’re about to spend a whole lot of time getting vegetables into your little one’s mouth.
Why not practice with yourself?
Just make sure to wash your veggies thoroughly first to avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses.
These vegetables come with a host of nutritional benefits, including being a great source of fiber.
(Pregnancy constipation can be REAL.)
- Leafy greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
Fruit is a welcome addition to a pregnancy diet, offering a sweet, healthy treat with a nutritional punch.
Again, don’t forget to wash your fruit thoroughly.
While you don’t have to avoid any particular fruit, fruit juices are not such a great idea as they are jam-packed with sugars and your body works a little harder at breaking them down.
And again, wash everything well!
Here are some refreshing favorites:
- Citrus fruits
- Pineapple (Heard rumors about pineapple and pregnancy? Here’s the scoop.)
You may have heard that “proteins are the building blocks of life.”
So when you’re building a baby, they’re more important than ever.
Protein is key for supporting the increased blood volume that comes with pregnancy, the growth and changes in your own body, and the needs of the fetus and placenta.
Not getting enough can impact the growth and development of your baby.
This is why, if you are a vegan, you should consult with your doctor and ensure that you are taking a good Vitamin B12 supplement.
And if you are not vegan, make sure you avoid uncooked meats and fish so that you don’t get sick with a bacterial or parasitic infection.
Experts recommend a minimum of 60 grams of protein a day when you’re pregnant.
Sources include :
- Fish — just don’t eat any raw fish during pregnancy and avoid fish high in methylmercury
- Lean red meat — avoid raw, undercooked, and processed meats
- Peanut butter
Whole grains are great sources of fiber.
Plus, many whole grains are fortified with iron and folic acid — both vital elements of your pregnancy diet.
- Whole grain cereal
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat muffins, bagels, tortillas, bread, pitas
Dairy products are full of important nutrients, like calcium and vitamin D.
They can also be a good protein source.
And there’s evidence to suggest that moderate intake may help your baby reach a healthy birth weight — just opt for pasteurized options (more on this in a moment).
- Hard cheeses
Fats are a great source of energy and are important for your little one’s tissue development, which may even impact their health later in their life.
The type of fat matters. Eating healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) rather than saturated fats is the way to go.
You’ll find polyunsaturated fats in:
- Flax seed
- Sunflower, corn, soybean, and canola oil
Sources of monounsaturated fats include:
- Olive, peanut, and canola oil
- Pumpkin and sesame seeds
And here is a good round-up of all the foods listed above to take with you to the grocery store.
These delicious smoothie options can also help you get the nutritional intake you need with little hassle.
What foods should you avoid during pregnancy?
First rule: wash and cook your food WELL.
The risk of foodborne illnesses during pregnancy is high.
(For example, pregnant women are ten times (!) more likely to get listeriosis.)
Added to this, illnesses caused by bacteria and parasites can pose more of a risk when you’re pregnant — both for you and your baby.
In serious cases, these can lead to your baby being born early or suffering congenital disorders, or even to pregnancy loss.
So here’s a list of foods to steer clear of while you’re pregnant:
Yes, sushi, we know you’re a risk.
Raw clams and scallops are also on the list.
And unfortunately, that ceviche is a no-no for now.
For fish, that means that it shouldn’t be see-through at all and that it should flake when you stick a fork in it.
Fish with high mercury content
That includes tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and marlin.
Refrigerated smoked seafood
Lox and jerky are sadly on the naughty list.
Raw or undercooked meat
For meat, the guidelines are to cook it to an internal temperature of at least 160° F and for poultry, 165° F.
(The FDA has a useful food safety chart to help.)
These include things like hotdogs, luncheon meats, and pâté.
These can also cause Listeriosis which is why they are a definite no-no.
Unpasteurized dairy products
Soft cheeses should be treated with serious caution, again, because they can cause Listeriosis which can be fatal to your unborn baby.
Raw eggs and flour
Sorry to the cookie dough fans out there!
No amount of alcohol is safe right now, so best to avoid it.
As for caffeine, it’s not a total no-go, but it’s a good idea to limit your intake.
The ACOG recommends a max of 200 mg a day.
(That’s about one twelve-ounce cup.)
If you’re unsure whether you should be eating a particular food, check in with your healthcare provider.
As we mentioned before, there is no one-size-fits-all.
Doctors generally don’t recommend avoiding certain allergenic foods — like peanut butter — to try to prevent allergies in your children later on, as studies have shown that this doesn’t appear to be effective.
In fact, the opposite could very well be the case.
Pregnancy nutrition — the struggle can be real
Foods that you’ve been eating your whole life may suddenly make you feel less than your best.
So it’s even more important to pay attention to what you eat.
The sweet stuff may be exacerbating symptoms, as may very fatty and processed food.
Eating small amounts every one to three hours can really help with pregnancy symptoms.
As can staying hydrated and getting enough rest.
You might find that eating bland foods before you sleep can really help.
(Crackers for the win!)
(Head here for tips on dealing with pregnancy nausea from real mamas who’ve been there.)
And if you’re really not feeling well, talk to your healthcare provider.
Extreme nausea and vomiting can lead to hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) where you need to be hospitalized to ensure you become rehydrated and get enough nutrients in.
The FDA has approved something called Diclegic for the treatment of pregnancy nausea.
It’s a combination of pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and an antihistamine medication called doxylamine (which you may know by its brand name Unisom).
The ACOG suggests either pyridoxine or pyridoxine with doxylamine as a safe and effective first-line treatment for pregnancy nausea and vomiting.
But always consult your doctor before taking any medications or supplements.
The bottom line is, if you’re struggling, reach out.
You don’t have to simply struggle through these symptoms or write them off as the experience of being pregnant.
There is help available.
Pregnancy nutrition — the bottom line
Eating healthily is an important part of pregnancy, and will help your baby to develop and grow.
If you’re concerned you’re not getting enough or the right balance of nutrients for you and baby (hey, we get it, pregnancy nausea can be a pain in the butt), you could always try a pregnancy supplement.
You might be wondering what vitamin supplement you need to take during pregnancy.
One our Peanut mamas love and recommend is the Vitabiotics Pregnacare Max supplement, which contains 400µg folic acid at the exact level recommended by the UK Department of Health (after all, folic acid contributes to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy).
It also includes Omega 3 DHA, which supports the eye and brain development of the fetus.
Overall, healthy eating during pregnancy is no different from healthy eating at any other time – it’s just particularly important to ensure that you are eating enough of the essential nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, for both you and your baby.
Taking the time to slow down and enjoy your meals can be a great way to show yourself a little TLC right now and prepare you and your baby for the path ahead.
So bon appétit, mama!
And if you need support along the way — or would like to share your favorite pregnancy food finds — your Peanut community is here for you.
And once baby is here, check out our guide to postpartum nutrition.