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What are some guidelines for healthy eating during pregnancy?

When you are pregnant, it is important that both you and your developing baby get all the nutrition you need. Here are a few tips:

  1. Start taking pre-natal vitamins before you even try to get pregnant. They'll get your body in top nutrition condition for the big mission ahead, reducing risks of malformations and maybe autism.
  2. Focus on fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean protein. Aim for nine daily servings of produce, plus three servings each of 100 percent whole grains and lean protein (skinless poultry, low-mercury fish—trout, canned/fresh salmon, tilapia—eggs, nuts, beans, lentils, tofu).
  3. Don't think "I'm eating for two." You're not! You're only eating for 1.1. So you need only 10 percent more food during the first trimester—just 100 extra calories per day, or one glass of skim milk. Second trimester: 250 calories, or 10 walnuts and an apple. Third trimester: 300 calories, or three pieces of fruit.
  4. Go for five or six mini-meals. Eating small amounts helps curb nausea and fends off blood sugar drops that can spark crazy cravings for pickles and ice cream.

Start your pregnancy off right—and give your baby the best possible chance for a healthy start—by eating well. Good nutrition is key to a healthy pregnancy.

Pregnant women should get close to the maximum number of suggested servings from each food group. You need to consume about 300 extra calories a day compared to your pre-pregnancy diet. This increase could be an extra tuna fish sandwich or two cups of low-fat milk.

Vitamins and minerals are an important part of your nutrition during pregnancy. With a healthy, well-balanced diet, you can obtain most vitamins and nutrients through food. It is a good idea, however, to take a folic acid supplement. This vitamin has been shown to prevent a certain type of birth defect called a neural tube defect. Your healthcare provider will probably prescribe a prenatal vitamin specifically for your needs that contains the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid. Calcium and iron are minerals that are important for pregnant women as well. You should be getting 1,200 mg to 1,500 mg of calcium and 30 mg of iron a day.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Sarah Krieger
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There are so many great-tasting, nutritious foods to eat during pregnancy. I often recommend going to Choose My Plate and clicking on the Pregnancy section. You can easily keep track of what you eat on the Supertracker, but instead of being on a "diet", every food you eat should fall under the following:

  • Fruits: fresh, frozen or canned without added sugar
  • Any vegetables: the more the better: low calorie and loaded with vitamins, minerals, water and fiber. Just skip the frying. (Bake those potatoes!)
  • Lean protein foods: chicken breast, 90 percent lean ground beef, round steak, lean pork tenderloin, shellfish, salmon, small whitefish—all cooked thoroughly—plus whole eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu or other soy products, low-fat cheese, cottage cheese
  • Calcium sources for bones and baby growth: nonfat milk or soy milk, non-fat yogurt, cooked leaf greens (mustard, collard, kale), almonds.
  • Whole grains (as much as possible): oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, pasta, cereals (shredded wheat, oat rings, bran flakes, etc.).
  • Healthy fats: During gestation, fats are required in the brain development process. Consuming an average of 30 percent of calories from plant-based fats and fish oil is desirable.

Balance most snacks and all meals with a protein, lots of vegetables and fruits and whole grain and you will grow a healthy baby.

Early in pregnancy, your baby's central nervous system and organs are forming. Later in pregnancy, the baby is growing longer and heavier. Your body needs increased nutrients and protein to keep your baby healthy during pregnancy.

As a basic guideline, nutrition experts who specialize in prenatal care recommend you plan your meals and snacks to include foods from the following:

  • bread, cereal, rice and pasta; particularly whole-grains
  • fruit and vegetables
  • low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese
  • meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts
  • fats, oils and sweets (Foods in this category lack nutrients and provide mostly calories. They should be consumed in small amounts.)

Here are some additional considerations:

  • Don't eat raw or undercooked seafood or meats.
  • Reduce your risk for for listeriosis by avoiding unpasteurized milk, soft cheese, raw vegetables and shellfish. Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating and thoroughly cook meats. Make sure your milk is pasteurized and stick with hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan.
  • Avoid canned white or albacore tuna, mackerel, shark, swordfish, tuna steaks and tilefish. These fish contain high levels of mercury that could affect a fetus's developing brain.
  • Get valuable omega-3 fatty acids by taking at least 400 mg of mercury-free DHA supplements, available in most health food stores.
  • Take your prenatal vitamin daily for the extra iron and folic acid you need throughout your pregnancy (and before).
  • Skip the alcohol.
  • Limit caffeine.

Pregnancy increases your appetite. This has happened for a reason. A balanced diet provides your body and unborn baby with the wide range of benefits to satisfy your hunger. Your diet should include dishes consisting of grains (breads and cereals), fruits and vegetables, meat and fish and dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt.

If you have diabetes during pregnancy you and your dietitian or doctor may need to change your meal plan to avoid problems with low and high blood glucose levels. For most women, the focus of a good meal plan during pregnancy is improving the quality of foods you eat rather than merely increasing the amount of food eaten. A good meal plan is designed to help you avoid high and low blood glucose levels while providing the nutrients your baby need to grow.

Including a variety of different foods and watching portion sizes is key to a healthy diet. Healthy eating is important before, during and after pregnancy, as well as throughout your life. Healthy eating includes eating a wide variety of foods, including:

  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • nonfat dairy products
  • fruits
  • beans
  • lean meats
  • poultry
  • fish

Many people think eating for two means eating a lot more than you did before. This isn't true. You only need to increase your calorie intake by about 300 more calories each day. If you start pregnancy weighing too much, you should not try to lose weight. Instead, work with your dietitian or doctor to curb how much weight you gain during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is a time when nutrition is exceedingly important. And the old idea that you can make up for deficiencies during pregnancy by providing the child with better nutrition later in life isn’t accurate. Folic acid, choline and betaine are three of the nutrients that mothers have to make sure they get in their diet during pregnancy.

Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Eating organic whole foods (all of them) as they are found in nature are great for mom and baby. The better quality of mom's diet means the better quality foundation that's being built in the baby.

Dr. Pina LoGiudice, LAc, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Watch as naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist Dr. Pina LoGiudice shares the most important nutrients women should get during pregnancy.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A primary fat in the developing and infant brain is docosahexaenoic acid or DHA, which must come from the pregnant or nursing mother’s diet. Watch the animation to learn more about DHA and brain development.

A pregnant woman needs more of many important vitamins, minerals and nutrients than she did before pregnancy. Making healthy food choices every day will help you give your baby what he or she needs to develop. The MyPyramid for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women can show you what to eat as well as how much you need to eat from each food group based on your pre-pregnancy BMI and activity level. Use your personal MyPyramid plan to guide your daily food choices. Here are some foods to choose often:

  • Grains – fortified, cooked or ready-to-eat cereals; wheat germ
  • Vegetables – carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, cooked greens, winter squash, tomatoes, red pepper
  • Fruits – cantaloupe, honeydew melon, mangoes, prunes/prune juice, bananas, apricots, oranges/orange juice, grapefruit, avocado
  • Dairy – nonfat or low-fat yogurt, skim milk, low-fat milk (1% milk)
  • Meat and beans – cooked dried beans and peas, nuts and seeds, lean beef, lamb and pork; shrimp, clams, oysters and crab; cod, salmon, polluck and catfish

Talk to your doctor if you have special diet needs for these reasons:

  • Diabetes – Make sure you review your meal plan and insulin needs with your doctor. High blood glucose levels can be harmful to your baby.
  • Lactose intolerance – Find out about low-lactose or reduced-lactose products and calcium supplements to ensure you are getting the calcium you need.
  • Vegetarian – Ensure that you are eating enough protein, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
  • PKU – Keep good control of phenylalanine levels in your diet.

This answer is based on source from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

We have some special nutritional needs while we are pregnant, but the basic principles for healthy eating remain the same throughout our lives:

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. Choose vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors to ensure that you get adequate fiber and a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
  • Choose healthy fats. Different kinds of fat affect our bodies in differing ways. Unsaturated fats—the kind found in olives, nuts, avocados, fish and vegetable oils—are "good" fats that help our bodies absorb the nutrients in our foods. Saturated fats—found in foods like whole milk, butter, cheese, red meats and coconut—are considered less healthy and may contribute to health problems.
  • Choose healthy protein sources. Choose nuts, beans, tofu and other soy-based products, as well as eggs, fish, chicken and lean cuts of red meat to meet your body's need for protein. These foods are high in protein and other nutrients but low in saturated fats.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and cool.
  • Cut down on highly processed food and "empty calories." Avoid eating highly processed foods (especially those that contain trans fats) and drinking sodas and sugary sports drinks. These foods and drinks contain lots of calories but few, if any, nutrients; they also contribute to a variety of health problems.
  • Balance your food intake and activity levels to meet your body's needs. During pregnancy, you may need to take in a slightly different amount of calories and your usual portion sizes may change. At some times, especially during the first trimester, you may be able to eat only small amounts throughout the day, while at other times you may want to eat more than you would when not pregnant.
Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth

More About this Book

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth

ALL THE INFORMATION YOU NEED TO MAKE WISE DECISIONS ABOUT YOUR PREGNANCY AND THE BIRTH OF YOUR CHILD -- FROM THE EDITORS OF THE CLASSIC "BIBLE OF WOMEN'S HEALTH" Pregnancy and birth are as ordinary...
Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Healthy eating during pregnancy is really the same as healthy eating at any time, with the addition of a few extra calories and a little more attention to calcium, protein, folic acid and iron.

Your calorie consumption only needs to go up about 10 percent during pregnancy. This is broken down even further by trimester.

  • First trimester: Only need about 100 extra calories a day. That's easily acheived by an extra glass of skim milk, which can give you some extra calcium as well.
  • Second trimester: You will need about 250 extra calories a day. This can be acheieved by eating a handful of nuts and an apple as an afternood snack—also great for nurtrion and fiber.
  • Third trimester: By the end of your pregnancy you only need about 300 extra calories a day. This is the same as adding three pieces of fresh fruit to your diet every day.

Avoid foods with empty calories and no nutritional value like fries and chips to avoid excessive weight gain and make sure your calories are coming packed with the nutrients that you and the baby need.

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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.