A woman’s nutrition is critical when she is pregnant or lactating. Eating food that is nutritious and high-quality, as well as following your doctor’s recommended intake of both macro and micronutrients, can have a significant positive impact on both the mother and the baby during pregnancy.
If a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough nutrients, it could affect the baby’s growth, cause physical anomalies, and lead to severe birth defects. Additionally, it would also be detrimental to the mother’s health.
There are food, entrée, and nutrient options below for every meal and snack throughout the day. Before making decisions about your diet during pregnancy, you should always consult with a healthcare professional to ensure you are following the appropriate guidance for your individual needs.
1. Breakfast Cereal Fortified with Folic Acid
Prenatal vitamins contain high levels of folic acid to prevent birth defects.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), folic acid can help form the neural tube, the precursor development to the spinal cord, spine, skull, and brain, early in the pregnancy when the baby is developing.
You can increase your folic acid levels by eating certain breakfast cereals. Some brands have 100 percent of the recommended amount of folic acid- you can check by looking at the nutrition label.
Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, containing 56 milligrams per 100 grams (about half a cup).3 Vitamin C can help boost your immune system during pregnancy as you take care of your growing baby. It can also help your body absorb iron during pregnancy, which is important for blood cell production.
Not only are strawberries a great source of nutrients, they can also help satisfy any sweet cravings you may have during pregnancy. A study from Nutrients has found that pregnant women have increased their consumption of sweet foods by 16.3 percent.
Fresh fruit is a better alternative to sugary snacks. Strawberries specifically are a good option because they are high in nutrients.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which considers them to be safe. Yes, the FDA considers eggs to be safe for pregnant women to eat. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).5 You do, however, need to pay attention to the way eggs are prepared:
- For cooked eggs, make sure both the yolks and whites firm up.
- Fry eggs for two minutes on each side.
- Scrambled eggs should be firm throughout everything in the pan. Do not eat runny scrambles.
- Avoid raw or slightly cooked eggs.
Why should pregnant women choose eggs? They contain about 24 micrograms of iodine. An egg contains a little under one fifth of the recommended amount of this nutrient. Pregnant women need 50% more of this nutrient than other women.
Iodine deficiency can lead to a number of serious health complications, including neonatal hypothyroidism, perinatal mortality, birth defects, brain damage, and an increased risk of an unplanned abortion.
4. Vegetable Salads
Pregnancy is a time when it’s especially important to focus on getting enough protein. This nutrient is important for fetal growth, maintaining optimal body functioning, increasing blood supply, and preparing the woman for lactation.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women should consume 75 to 100 grams of protein each day, which can come from numerous sources, such as chicken, lean beef, lamb, nuts, and vegetables.
Animal protein is better quality than vegetable protein, so pregnant women should eat meat instead of plants.
The quality of a protein is determined by how well it is absorbed and the quantity of amino acids it contains.
During pregnancy, an aversion to meat is common. If you’re not able to eat meat while pregnant, a salad with lots of different vegetables can give you the required amount of protein. Various types of veggies mixed together can make the protein quality content higher.
Making a salad from leafy greens, spinach, green peas, broccoli, and lima beans is a good way to get high amounts of plant-based protein.
If you’re experiencing pregnancy bloating or discomfort from broccoli and lima beans, cooking them may help make them easier to digest. Asparagus and sweet potatoes are also excellent substitutions.
Protein is found in high amounts in these two vegetables and they are less likely to cause bloating and gastrointestinal issues, which are often associated with cruciferous vegetables.
Eat fish while pregnant? Some fish contain healthy fats, which are good for your and your baby’s development.
Eating fish can help to prevent pre-term labor and delivery, as well as lower the risk of pre-eclampsia, as long as the fish is low in mercury.
The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that people eat 8-12 ounces of cooked seafood each week. This seafood should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit in order to be safe to eat.
High-mercury fish that you should avoid include the following:
Instead, select lower-mercury fish
- Canned tuna
6. Berry Smoothies
Berries have a low glycemic index, so they shouldn’t cause major spikes in blood sugar while pregnant. Fiber found in fruit reduces the number of times a pregnant woman visits her OB/GYN during both early and late stages of pregnancy.
Pregnancy can cause constipation by slowing down the digestive system. Fiber can help soften stool and aid in digestion. Try mixing the following berries (fresh or frozen), which offer the most fiber impact:
- 1 cup of blackberries
- 1 cup of blueberries
- 1 cup of raspberries
Place the lid on the blender, and add a liquid, such as milk, until the ingredients are just covered. Turn on the blender and mix until the desired consistency is reached.
7. No Sugar Added Yogurt
Calcium is necessary for the development of your baby’s bones, heart, and nervous system, as well as for muscle function, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
If you don’t consume enough calcium during pregnancy, your body will take calcium from your bones. Having weak muscles can be detrimental while pregnant as it can make it harder to carry the weight of the baby.
Eating yogurt that doesn’t have any sugar added to it can give you calcium, protein, and probiotics (bacteria that help you digest food). Yogurt that has no sugar added is not the same as yogurt that is sugar-free.
Sugar-free yogurt generally contains artificial sweeteners. Yogurt contains natural sugars from milk, but no sugar added yogurt uses natural flavors instead of added sweeteners.
8. Lean Meat
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which are essential for the growth and repair of every cell in both your body and your baby’s. You should eat at least three servings of protein per day to keep your hunger at bay. Protein stabilizes your blood sugar, which is why it’s important to eat protein-rich foods.
This means that eating lean meat is one of the best things you can do during pregnancy. This food is not only full of protein, but also high in iron. This is important for helping your baby develop their red blood cell supply, as well as supporting your own.
Anemia during pregnancy is common because blood volume increases. Iron also plays a role in developing baby’s brain.
Beef cuts like round, sirloin, chuck and loin; ground beef with less than 15 percent fat; pork tenderloin or loin chop; poultry like chicken and turkey; and lamb leg, arm or loin all have a low fat content.
A small amount of your favorite cut of meat added to vegetable soup, salad, or rice or noodle dish will give it a lot of flavor. Finally, remember to cook your meat thoroughly. You should cook chicken to an internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any illness-causing bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella.
This vegetarian protein source is good for meat eaters and vegetarians alike and should be eaten by everyone. A cup of cooked lentils contains a high amount of protein, around 17 grams, as well as a good amount of iron, 7 milligrams.
Lentils are a good source of the B vitamin folate, which is important for forming your baby’s brain and nervous system. Folate also has a protective effect against neural-tube defects such as spina bifida.
Lentils are rich in fiber, which helps to keep the digestive system running smoothly and prevents constipation during pregnancy.
Lentils are not only healthy and delicious, but also easy to cook with and versatile in many dishes.
French or black lentils can be used in salads, while brown lentils can be used instead of chickpeas in hummus. Red lentils can be used to make thick, stew-like soup.
The avocado is a creamy green fruit that is full of folate, along with vitamin B6. This combination promotes healthy tissue and brain growth for baby, and could help ease morning sickness for the mother.
Avocados are not only a delicious food but also a good source of healthy fats. These healthy fats help the body to better absorb many of the vitamins found in fruits and vegetables. The high fat content in avocados can help keep you full for a longer period of time, so you are less likely to feel the need to eat something immediately.
Although you may primarily think of avocado in relation to guacamole, it has other uses as well. You can use mashed avocado in place of cheese or mayo in sandwiches, or add diced avocado to a salad.
The soybean pods that have been cooked are a good source of protein for vegetarians. There are 18 grams of protein in one cup of the shelled pods.
But they’re rich in other important pregnancy nutrients, too. Edamame contains a high amount of calcium, iron, and folate.
Edamame can be topped with sea salt for a quick snack, pureed with lemon juice and olive oil to make a creamy spread, or thrown into salads for a fast protein boost.
Talk about small but mighty. Nuts are very nutritious, containing vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, potassium and vitamin E, as well as protein, fiber and healthy fats. Since they are easy to transport, they make a great pregnancy snack to take with you on the go.
Are certain types better than others? Each nut has a different nutritional value, and they can all be a part of a healthy diet during pregnancy.
But some might be especially worth reaching for. Both walnuts and almonds are good for you, but walnuts are richer in omega-3 fatty acids while almonds give you more calcium. And peanuts? They’re loaded with folate. (Who knew?)
Nuts can give oatmeal and yogurt a crunchy texture and can also be used as an alternative to breadcrumbs for chicken and fish dishes.
The carrots’ bright orange color means that they are full of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. The nutrient is necessary for the development of your baby’s eyes, skin, and organs.
Try adding shredded carrots to pancakes, muffins, or quick bread batters. You can also cook them in a steamer with a little butter and cinnamon, similar to sweet potatoes.
Carrot sticks are a great snack to have with hummus, ranch dressing, or even plain yogurt.
14. Red Bell Peppers
Vitamins C and A, plus fiber, are found in abundance in these vegetables. Another big benefit? Eating a diet rich in vegetables during pregnancy has been found to reduce the risk of developing complications such as high blood pressure and preeclampsia.
The next time you want a crunchy snack like pretzels or chips, try using red bell peppers instead.
Stomach doing flips at the thought of veggies? Mangoes are rich in vitamins A and C and are delicious. Mangoes can be used in a salsa that goes well with fish or chicken. The frozen mango cubes can also be blended with yogurt to make a smoothie.
Okay, it’s technically not a food. H2O is essential for a pregnancy diet, so aim to drink 8 to 10 8-ounce glasses per day.
Why is water so important? Your placenta is responsible for providing nutrients to your baby and helping with cell growth. Staying hydrated is important for you, too.
One of the best ways to avoid constipation during pregnancy is to drink enough water. Plus, dehydration can increase the risk for early labor.
You should drink water regularly to take advantage of all the benefits it offers. Fill up a water bottle and carry it around with you to make it easier to drink water throughout the day. If you feel uncomfortably full after drinking too much, drink small amounts throughout the day.