What foods should I eat during pregnancy?

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics
It is important to eat a balanced, varied diet when pregnant. You want to get the widest range of nutrients possible to ensure the health of your growing child. If you eat a plant based diet with plenty of whole grains, lean protein, healthy oils, and legumes, you will provide your growing child with adequate nutrients for optimal development. Ask for whole grain breads, snack foods, tortillas, and bagels. Avoid fried foods and refined snacks and baked goods.
When you are pregnant, it's smart to be aware of what your basic nutritional goals should be (though not to feel guilty if you don't hit them every day). You should strive for the following:
  1. Nine or more servings (fistfuls) of fruits and vegetable
Good choices:
  • - Leafy green vegetables
  • - Cruciferous vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli, arugula, cabbage, and brussels sprouts (They help detoxify your liver so it can metabolize chemicals from the outside world.)
  • - Foods that contain flavonols, like broccoli, radishes, onions, tomatoes

2. Three or more servings of whole-grain products

Good choices:

  • - Cereal grains
  • - Oats (Make easy overnight oatmeal.)
  • - Whole-grain wheat products
Bad choices:
  • - Refined bleached flour or non-100% whole grains

3. Three or more servings of lean protein

Good choices:

  • - Fish (especially salmon and trout)
  • - Lean poultry (skinned and nonfried)
  • - Lean meat (Meat that has less than 4 grams of saturated fat per serving; anything with loin in the name usually works.)
  • - Legumes/Beans (with Beano, to reduce accompanying gas cramps)
  • - Nuts (especially walnuts, which have more omega-3s than other nuts)
  • - Soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame)
Bad choices:
  • - Bottom-feeding fish, such as shark, swordfish, tuna (higher risk of mercury)
  • - Saturated fats (from four-legged animals; palm and coconut oils)

4. Three or four servings of calcium-rich foods

Good choices:

  • - Low-fat yogurt and pasteurized cheese
  • - Organic skim milk (Watch calorie counts on alternative milks such as rice milk; you may choose to limit soymilk to one to two glasses daily because of phytoestrogens; there's concern about the feminization of the brain and other organs, including sex organs.)

5. Five or more grams of fat in the form of omega-3s (like walnuts, flax, or avocados), 5 grams of omega-9s (olive oil), and 5 grams of omega-6s (corn and nut oils)

Bad choices:

  • - Saturated fat (palm and coconut oils) and trans fat (anything "partially hydrogenated")

While it is your job to provide a good nutritional environment for your growing baby, you don't have to feel bad if you occasionally stray from our recommendations. Forty weeks is a mighty long time, and if on some days you stray from the ideal, that's perfectly normal -- and perfectly okay. The important thing is to eat well most of the time.

Take the RealAge Test!

Healthy eating is one of the most important things you can do for your baby. Proper nutrition will nourish you and help your baby grow strong and healthy. Most pregnant women need to eat 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day. As a guide to healthy eating for everyone, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends avoiding foods high in fat and sugar and getting the following number of servings from the following types of food:
  • 6 to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and/or pasta (1 serving = 1 slice bread, 1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal, 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta)
  • 3 to 5 servings of vegetables (1 serving = 1 cup raw, 1/2 cup cooked, 3/4 cup vegetable juice)
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruit (1 serving = 1 medium size, 1/2 cup chopped, cooked or canned, 3/4 cup fruit juice)
  • 2 to 4 servings of milk, yogurt and/or cheese (1 serving = 1 cup milk or yogurt, 2 ounces cheese)
  • 3 to 4 servings of protein from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and/or nuts (1 serving = 2 to 3 ounces cooked meat, poultry or fish, 1 egg, 1/2 cup cooked dry beans, 2 tablespoons peanut butter)
In addition, pregnant women should include an extra helping of a protein-rich food, as well as an extra serving of a calcium-rich food every day.

Although you may try hard to be "good" about your eating, it's often difficult to give up all foods high in fat and/or sugar, such as ice cream, candy, potato chips, etc. If your weight gain is not excessive, and you are eating a well-balanced diet as described above, an occasional "treat" will not harm you or your baby.
Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

I would suggest eating a healthy diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables (2-3 handfuls per day) low fat dairy products (2-3 cups per day) and lean protein (5-7 ounces per day). Whole grains are also important. There are a few foods to avoid when pregnant, such as unpasteurized cheeses, such as brie or feta, and limiting the amount of tuna or salmon to 6 ounces per week.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing

Growing a healthy baby and being a healthy mom should be your goal when choosing what to eat during your pregnancy. The same foods that help you be healthy for the most part will also help you grow a healthy baby. When your are pregnant you need about 300 extra calories a day just to feed your baby. Contrary to the old saying you are eating for two, you are eating for 1.1 as the YOUdocs say in their book "YOU HAVING A BABY". It is important to maximize the quality of your nutritional intake while avoiding any potential harmful substance.

While you are pregnant you will need more iron. Studies show that iron deficiency can contribute to an increased risk of preterm delivery. You will also need more folic acid to help prevent the risk of neural tube birth defects. Pregnancy is also a time when your calcium needs go way up to preserve your bones yet grow healthy bones for your baby too. Eating a well balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean meats, legumes, some low fat dairy and healthy fats will help you to get most of the things you and your baby need. Taking your prenatal vitamin supplements every day will ensure that you don't miss out on any of the special vitamins and minerals both of you need.

There are certain foods/substances you should avoid during your pregnancy. It goes without saying you should avoid caffeine, nicotine and drugs and alcohol. You should also avoid and unpasteurized milk and cheeses as well as some lunchmeats and hotdogs unless reheated as they may carry listeria. Also use caution with ready to eat foods like chicken and egg salad, meat spreads, and smoked seafood, which may also carry listeria. Limit high mercury fish like tuna, tilefish, shark and mackerel to once a week. Avoid fish that come from polluted waters. Make sure to wash raw fruit and veggies well as they may have contaminants form the growing process. Beware of undercooked meats and foods high in sodium especially in processed foods.

Moms-to-be should eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods from all of the recommended foods groups. If you are expecting, stock up on the following healthy choices. They contain the vitamins and minerals you need.
  • Fortified cereals are a source of folic acid, which helps reduce the risk of birth defects.
  • Vegetables and fruits provide vitamins, nutrients and fiber. And getting adequate fiber can help alleviate constipation, a common pregnancy complaint.
  • Low-fat dairy products contain calcium and milk products are often fortified with vitamin D. Take care to avoid raw milk products and unpasteurized cheese as they can cause food poisoning, which can be especially dangerous during pregnancy.
  • Beans are loaded with protein, fiber, iron and other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Enjoy them in salads, soups, blended as a spread or as part of a casserole.
  • Lean meats such as beef, pork or lamb are a source of iron and protein.
  • Fish such as halibut, cod, trout, salmon or sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids. Eat up to 12 ounces (typically two meal portions) a week, but avoid fish high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Since albacore tuna has higher mercury content than other canned options, it should be limited to six ounces per week.
Nutrition is a key factor for the health of both you and your baby.

Continue Learning about Food Safety & Pregnancy

What foods should I avoid if I am trying to get pregnant?
Swedish Medical CenterSwedish Medical Center
If you are trying to get pregnant you should avoid raw foods such as raw meat, raw fish and soft unp...
More Answers
What foods should I avoid while pregnant?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
Mercury in fish is a concern for pregnant women. Watch this video to learn the safest kinds of fish ...
More Answers
What specific foods should I avoid if I am pregnant?
Melissa Joy DobbinsMelissa Joy Dobbins
Certain foods should be avoided during pregnancy: Fish that contains high levels of mercury such ...
More Answers
Can I have caffeine while pregnant?
Brigham and Women's HospitalBrigham and Women's Hospital
It’s a good idea to limit caffeine during pregnancy. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant to your centra...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.