When you’re eating for two, you aren’t necessarily eating differently if you already follow a healthy and well-balanced diet. Your food portions will change a bit and bringing in certain foods that are especially high in the nutrients you need will be beneficial to you and your growing baby, but overall the same guidelines apply.
Here are some important pregnancy diet guidelines:
- Eat a balanced diet: Eat a balance of high-quality protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. Protein consumption is especially important during pregnancy because it’s needed to maintain the mother’s tissues and fetal growth, especially during the second and third trimesters. Healthy fats, especially DHA, are needed for fetal development and infant growth. During pregnancy, I don’t recommend that you follow any exclusion diets unless you have to because of a food allergy. Research shows that excluding whole categories of foods from your diet increases your risk of micronutrient deficiencies.
- Don’t overdo your calorie intake: Pregnancy only requires a slight increase in calorie intake, and consuming too many calories during pregnancy can be just as damaging as a calorie or nutrient deficiency, increasing your chances of miscarriage, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, and your baby’s risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity in adulthood. Most studies suggest consuming an additional 70 calories in your first trimester, 260 calories in your second trimester and about 300–400 additional calories in your third trimester. But if you aren’t very active, you’ll need even less calories throughout your pregnancy. These numbers are for women who are moderately active, doing exercise that’s equivalent to walking about 2–3 miles per day.
- Keep empty calories to a minimum: Of course, you are entitled to your occasional treat during pregnancy. After all, you certainly deserve to indulge a bit here and there. But keep foods containing empty calories to a minimum because not all calories are created equal. You want your calories, the energy that is fueling you and your baby, it be full of nutrients. So maybe choose to have that ice cream cone once a week, but don’t make it part of your everyday diet. Choose real foods, like fresh fruit, as a sweet treat instead.
- Eat every color: Skittles made a good point with the marketing phrase “taste the rainbow.” But instead of eating your colors with empty calories, eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables throughout the day. This will ensure that you are getting a range of important vitamins and minerals in your diet. Your plate should be colorful, so if you see a lot of whites and browns, you know that meal isn’t providing everything you need for a truly healthy pregnancy.
- Make it easy: I know it seems overwhelming to think about providing adequate nutrition for you and your baby, so making it as easy as possible is key. If you can’t muster the thought of eating a plate of greens (especially during the phase of morning sickness and food aversions), then prepare a sweet and creamy smoothie instead. Make a large pot of soup with organic chicken and vegetables and make that lunch or dinner for the week. Whatever you can do to make staying healthy easier will help you to keep it going for the long haul.
- Keep drinking water: Water is needed for building your baby’s body cells and for his developing circulatory system. You also need to drink plenty of water while pregnant in order to deliver nutrients to your baby and excrete wastes. Drink 1–2 glasses of water with every meal and snack, and carry around a refillable water bottle with you during the day.
Best Foods & Superfoods during pregnancy
1. Fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens)
Vegetables are an important part of a pregnancy diet because they are nutrient-dense, high in fiber, and lower in carbohydrates and calories. Green leafy vegetables are especially beneficial because they’re packed with iron, calcium and vitamin K — three important nutrients for pregnant women. Add leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, romaine, bok choy, collards, mustard greens and turnip greens to your meals.
Broccoli is another beneficial vegetable because it contains fiber, vitamin C, manganese and magnesium. And so are Brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, cabbage, squash and bell peppers.
2. Fresh fruit
Eating fresh fruit throughout your pregnancy will ensure that you’re getting nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and fiber. Eat an array of fruits like blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, mango, papaya, peaches, grapefruit, apples, pears, tangerines and pineapple. Fresh fruit can be added to yogurt or oats for breakfast, used to make a fruit and veggie smoothie, added to salads for lunch and dinner, or eaten as a snack between meals.
3. Organic Free-Range Eggs
Eggs, specifically egg yolk, are really an excellent source of choline, which is very important for fetal development. Research shows that women eating diets that are lower in choline content are at a significantly greater risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect than women eating diets higher in choline content.
Organic eggs also contain healthy fats, vitamin E, beta-carotene and iodine. Eating iodine-rich foodsduring pregnancy is also very important because iodine plays a major role in the healthy growth and brain development of infants.
4. Wild-caught salmon
The ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are vitally important for the proper neurological and physical development of a fetus. Salmon nutrition includes these vital omega-3s and many other important nutrients for pregnancy, including vitamin D, iodine, choline, B vitamins, selenium and protein.
5. Organic meat
Protein’s amino acids are essential for the development of your baby, so eating plenty of good quality, organic protein is very important. Aim to eat at least three servings, or 75 grams of protein per day. Some of the best options are organic chicken breast, organic turkey and grass-fed beef.
6. Nuts and seeds
Nuts, like almonds, contain protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium and iron. Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, folate and copper, and brazil nuts contain selenium, phosphorus and vitamin E. Eating an array of nuts during pregnancy can boost your overall nutrient intake.
Seeds are also great sources of protein and fiber, which will support your colon and digestive tract during pregnancy. Flax seeds and chia seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that aren’t present in fish. These omega-3 foods will benefit your skin, hair and nails during pregnancy.
7. Greek yogurt or kefir
Greek yogurt contains probiotics, protein, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and vitamin K2. Plus, it’s a great source of iodine, which is important during pregnancy in order to avoid birth defects and neurological disorders. Kefir is another form of cultured dairy that contains good bacteria that are essential for your digestion and overall health.
Lima beans are rich in iodine, garbanzo, kidney and pinto beans are high in folate, and fava beans contain iron, zinc, copper and vitamin K. Some other nutritious beans include cannellini beans, adzuki beans, black beans and anasazi beans. Eating an array of beans during pregnancy can be beneficial because they are filling and nutrient-dense.
Lentils are an excellent source of folate, which plays a crucial role in fetal development. Studies show that consuming high-folate foods during pregnancy reduces the risk of the fetus developing cardiovascular and urinary tract defects, neural tube defects and cleft lips.
Whole grains like gluten-free oats, quinoa, brown rice and barley provide complex carbohydrates that are needed during pregnancy. Grains also contain B vitamins that are vital for your baby’s development, and minerals like zinc, selenium and chromium.
What NOT to Eat When Pregnant
Right next to the list of foods you should eat on a pregnancy diet, there’s a smaller list of foods and drinks that you should avoid when expecting. Here’s a rundown of what to skip during your nine months of pregnancy:
- Deli meat — could contain listeria, which can cause miscarriage, infection or blood poisoning.
- Raw or smoked seafood and rare meat — could be contaminated with bacteria, salmonella or toxoplasmosis.
- High-mercury fish — consuming too much mercury during pregnancy can lead to developmental and brain issues, so avoid fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish.
- Raw eggs — may contain salmonella that puts your baby at risk of developmental issues.
- Caffeine — there’s mixed research about the risk of consuming caffeine during pregnancy, but studies indicate that caffeine should be avoided during the first trimester to reduce the risk of spontaneous miscarriage, and after that 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day is deemed safe. Keep in mind that caffeine is a diuretic that can lead to fluid loss.
- Alcohol — research shows that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to abnormal pregnancy outcomes like physical and neurodevelopmental problems in the child.