The Various Healthy Eating Habit to Cultivate During Pregnancy
If you’re concerned about what foods to eat to keep you and your baby healthy while you’re pregnant, that’s totally normal. Don’t worry — it’s easier than you think once you know which foods to prioritize.
Good nutrition during pregnancy can help ensure that your baby gets the best start possible. The meal plan is a balanced one that provides lots of:
- complex carbohydrates
- healthy types of fat
- vitamins and minerals
- fiber and fluids
A healthy pregnancy eating pattern contains much of the same balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients as healthy eating patterns in general.
The difference is that you need higher amounts to compensate for all the work your body is doing and baby’s additional needs.
If you already have healthy eating habits, it shouldn’t be too hard to make slight adjustments to ensure a healthy pregnancy. And if you’re starting from scratch on healthy eating? Not to worry — there are lots of healthy and yummy options.
Balance and variety
If you’re pregnant, you only need to consume about 300 calories more per day.
The old adage that you need to “eat for two” doesn’t mean that you double your intake: The key is moderation and working with your healthcare team to find the right calorie and nutrition goals for you.
Whenever possible, eat complex carbohydrates, such as:
- whole grain breads and pastas
Limiting their tempting but lower fiber, nutritionally deficient cousins, the simple carbs:
- white bread
- excess added sugar
Your protein needs increase considerably during pregnancy and peak during your third trimester.
To ensure you’re getting enough protein throughout your pregnancy, be sure to add a protein-rich food source to every meal and snack.
Examples of good, protein-rich foods include:
- nuts and nut butters
- chicken or turkey
- Greek yogurt and cheese
- lean beef or pork
Try preparing some easy, protein-rich portable snacks for when you’re on the go. And talk to your doctor if you have questions regarding your specific protein needs.
Vegetables and fruits
Vegetables contain loads of nutrients you and your growing baby need such as:
- vitamins A and C
- vitamin E
- folic acid
- B vitamins
- trace minerals
Here are some tips for getting more veggies into your meals without going full-on rabbit. Try making veggie-based sauces and adding vegetables to smoothies, soups, casseroles, lasagnas, and guacamole.
Grains and legumes
Whole grains and legumes, such as dried peas and beans, and other healthy carbs like fruit and starchy vegetables should make regular appearances on your plate.
They provide B vitamins and trace minerals, such as zinc selenium and magnesium. Grains and legumes are full of nutrients, including iron and the various B vitamins: thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (vitamin B-2), folate, and niacin.
Your little one needs these for the development of just about every part of their body. For instance, folate intake significantly reduces the risk of having a baby with spina bifida.
These foods supply energy for your baby’s development and help build the placenta and other tissues in your body. It’s all about teamwork when it comes to fueling both you and baby.
Think of fiber as your body’s plumber, keeping constipation and hemorrhoids at bay. Try to eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day from whole grains, veggies, legumes, and fruit. Be sure to increase your intake of fluids along with fiber for best results.
Some fun options to toss into recipes include:
- chia seeds
Remember to check the nutrition panel and choose products made with whole grains that contain the most fiber per serving.
Remember those trendy low fat diets from the ’90s? Long gone are the days of avoiding fat. While you don’t want to consume excessive amounts of fats, it’s also dangerous to eliminate all fat from your meals. A healthy balance is recommended.
High fat foods to limit include fried foods and packaged products containing trans fats. Greasy meals tend to make any nausea or heartburn worse.
Essential fatty acids are important, including omega-3 fatty acids. Even saturated fats, once considered a fat to avoid, are now known to be important for fetal development.
Follow the same guidelines as the general public when it comes to choosing healthy fats. Include more plant-based fat sources like canola, olive, and soybean oil, and limit trans fats.
Some sources of healthy fats include:
- pumpkin and sunflower seeds
- chia seeds
- fatty fish
- olive oil
These foods provide the right types of fats to fuel your baby’s brain development.
Salt intake is important during pregnancy, and limiting it usually isn’t necessary, even if you already have high blood pressure. In fact, pregnant people often need more salt in their food to compensate for the growing baby, and restricting your intake could be harmful.
However, you don’t need to limit salt while pregnant, it’s important to limit unhealthy, processed salty foods such as fast food and processed meats.
Speak to your healthcare provider if you have questions about your salt intake during pregnancy.
Fluids are an important part of any healthy eating plan. You should consume at least 80 ounces (2.4 liters) per day, and more is better to avoid dehydration. Pregnant people need the extra fluid to support the extra blood and amniotic fluid produced.
If you’re a coffee fan, you should limit caffeinated drinks while pregnant to not exceed 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).
Water also reduces your chance of constipation and the subsequent hemorrhoids that can develop from straining while you go.
The increased flow of urine also reduces your risk of developing a urinary tract infection, which can be dangerous for you and your baby.
What vitamins do I need during pregnancy?
If you choose to take supplements during your pregnancy, make sure you read the labels of every bottle and work with your healthcare providers. It’s important to stay within the daily allowance.
Keep in mind that a complete prenatal vitamin should have a balance of the nutrients that you need, and taking additional supplements may give you more than the recommended daily dosing in total.
Always discuss any supplements or over-the-counter medications you wish to take with your doctor for individual advice.
Choline is a vital nutrient during pregnancy and plays an important role in baby’s brain development. Choline helps to prevent developmental abnormalities of the brain and spine.
Some research suggests that the current choline recommended daily allowance (RDA) for pregnancy (450 mg per day) is inadequate and that a choline intake closer to 930 mg per day is optimal while you’re pregnant.
Keep in mind that most prenatal vitamins don’t contain choline, so look for one that does or take a separate choline supplement. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure the amount is right for you.
Here are some foods high in choline:
- beef liver provides 356 mg per 3-ounce serving.
- eggs — just two egg yolks provide nearly 300 mg of choline
- kidney beans
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in supplements. It’s an important vitamin that stimulates red blood cell formation and the production of important chemical signals in the nervous system. It’s also important in the process of making DNA.
Perhaps more importantly, folic acid, like folate, has been identified as a critical vitamin to prevent neural tube defects in your baby, such as spina bifida.
ACOG recommends taking 400 micrograms (mcg) a day before you conceive, and receiving at least 600 mcg a day from all sources, including meals, during pregnancy.
Good sources of folic acid include:
- cooked green leafy vegetables
- beef liver, cooked
- great northern beans
- fortified cereal
- citrus fruits and juices
Pantothenic acid (B-5)
This vitamin (B-5) is involved in many of the body’s regulatory and metabolic activities. The RDA for the average person is 4 to 7 mg.
Pantothenic acid is present in:
- meats, including chicken and beef
- whole grains
- egg yolks
Riboflavin is important for baby’s development and growth. The RDA for pregnant people is 1.4 mg and 1.6 mg for those who are breastfeeding.
A prenatal vitamin may be your most consistent source, but B-2 can be found in milk and dairy products, with smaller amounts present in soybeans, grains, and pork.
Thiamine is important for metabolism and development of the brain, nervous system, and heart. When you’re pregnant, you need increased amounts of many vitamins, including B-1.
The RDA for pregnant people is about 1.4 mg.
Vitamin A is critical for proper cell growth and the development of the eyes, skin, and blood, as well as immunity and resistance to infection.
Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B-6 is important for your body’s metabolism and for the development of the fetal brain and nervous systems. The RDA for pregnant people is 1.9 mg.
Vitamin B-12 is found mainly in meats and dairy products. So it can be a problem for vegans or strict vegetarians. If you have dietary restrictions, make sure that your vitamin supplement has adequate B-12.
Nutritional yeast, fortified with B-12, is a great staple for vegetarians. It has a salty and savory flavor and tastes similar to Parmesan cheese.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
The body does not stockpile vitamin C, so you need regular sources to fulfill your daily requirement. The RDA for pregnant people is 85 mg.
You can reach your goal through daily intake with these foods:
- citrus fruits (add fresh lemon or lime juice to your water!)
- bell peppers
- lots of other fruits and veggies
Humans produce vitamin D in response to sunlight. Vitamin D itself is found naturally only in some fish liver oils.
Since exposure to sunlight is variable and this vitamin is so important for pregnant people and growing children, all milk is now fortified with vitamin D per quart as regulated by the U.S. government.
Vitamin D supplements are especially important if you don’t drink milk. Your doctor can check vitamin D levels to guide supplementation if you are taking a supplement.
What minerals do I need during pregnancy?
Calcium, vitamin D’s life partner, is important for strong bones and teeth, of course. But it’s also critical for proper development and function of the heart and other muscles, as well as for the blood clotting system.
Your baby demands a huge supply of calcium during development. Pregnant people need 1,000 mg of calcium, preferably in two doses of 500 mg, per day.
Calcium-rich foods include:
- milk and dairy products
- calcium-fortified orange juice and bread
- canned fish with bones
- calcium-set tofu
- cooked beans
- cooked dark leafy greens
Prenatal supplements usually contain only 150 to 200 mg of calcium. So, prenatal vitamins alone won’t provide sufficient calcium for you.
Iodine is critical for the development and functioning of the thyroid gland and regulation of metabolism. The RDA for pregnant people is 220 mcg per day.
You can get iodine from:
- fluoridated drinking water
- iodized (table) salt
- brewer’s yeast
Make sure to eat iron-rich foods daily. Since many people, especially women, don’t get enough iron in their meals, iron is an important part of prenatal supplements.
Iron is often poorly absorbed from plant foods, which is why it’s difficult to reach the proper requirement. Talk to your doctor if you are prone to iron-deficiency anemia. They may recommend a supplement.
Iron-rich foods include:
- fortified cereals
- red meats such as beef and lamb
- kidney, lima, and navy beans
To improve the absorption of plant (or non-heme) iron, pair iron-rich food with a vitamin-C-rich source. For example, add fresh sliced bell peppers or strawberries to your spinach salad.
Magnesium is an important element for teeth and bones, regulation of blood-sugar levels, and the proper functioning of body proteins. It’s also important for tissue growth and repair, and may play a role in reducing preterm delivery.
The recommended upper limit for magnesium for pregnant people is around 300 mg. A good eating plan usually provides enough magnesium, so it’s not present in most prenatal vitamins.
The best food sources of magnesium are:
- seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin
- wheat germ
Chromium is important for your baby’s development. You should get about 30 mcg per day. Foods that contain significant amounts of chromium include:
- whole wheat bread
- peanut butter
- wheat germ
Copper stimulates the growth of cells and tissues, hair growth, and general metabolism. It’s a critical component of baby’s major systems: The heart and circulatory system, the skeleton, and the nervous system.
One mg of copper is recommended daily.
It’s recommended pregnant people take in 11 mg of zinc, while breastfeeding women need a bit more: 12 mg. You can buy prenatal vitamins that contain zinc.
Zinc sources include:
- red meat
Potassium is a mineral that affects cellular function, fluid balance, and blood pressure regulation, as well as proper nerve and muscle function.
Research from 2017 revised potassium intake recommendations to 4,000 mg daily for adults and pregnant people (slightly higher for people who are breastfeeding).
Prenatal vitamins can provide potassium, but potassium is present at high levels in foods such as:
- dark leafy greens
Phosphorus is an important part of the development of the muscular, circulatory, and skeletal systems. The RDA is 700 mg for pregnant and breastfeeding people.
Taking prenatal multivitamins will ensure that you get the basic requirements. But vitamin-packed, fresh foods will help your baby get the best start in life and keep you going strong.
You should always talk to your healthcare provider or dietitian if you are concerned about your eating plan. They can help you determine if you are getting enough nutrients.