What Foods to Eat and What to Avoid When Pregnant

By: Ally Gravina

October 11, 2021

Pregnant woman shopping for vegetables

Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet when pregnant is one of the more essential things you can do for your baby and yourself. The basic principles of what to eat when pregnant are quite similar to how we should be eating all the time. This includes focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Of course, there are a few areas that you should pay close attention to when you’re pregnant and a few foods you should avoid. We consulted Renown Health’s Caitlin Bus, RD, LD, CDE to learn more about pregnancy nutrition.

Foods to Eat Regularly:

Veggies

Vegetables of all kinds -- and in all forms -- are beneficial for you and your baby during pregnancy. Veggies ensure your body is getting the fiber, vitamins and minerals it needs. However, fresh or frozen veggies are considered best, but if you choose to eat canned veggies, make sure you choose a low sodium product. The more greens, the better! If you have an aversion to vegetables, especially in the first trimester, try sneaking them into smoothies.

Healthy Proteins

Protein-rich foods support your baby's growth while giving your body the nutrients to build and repair tissues, including your muscles, hair, skin and nails. Although protein requirements vary from person to person, a pregnant woman needs additional protein for her baby's growth, especially in the second and third trimesters. Regularly eating high protein foods -- like fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, peanut butter, nuts and beans –– promotes your baby's healthy brain and heart development. Grains Food like brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta and oatmeal are great to eat while pregnant. They are rich in fiber, iron, B vitamins and folic acid, which are all beneficial to physical development. Grains also help alleviate constipation and hemorrhoids.

Fruits

Fruit can help satisfy any sugar cravings you have when pregnant while also supplying your baby with nutrients – it's a win-win. Some people advise against fruit consumption while pregnant, but this is a myth. Like with all foods, moderation is key. Fruit can be high in sugar, so it is important to be aware of your intake. Also, make sure you are mindful of your preparation – thoroughly rinse produce under running water for 30 seconds to help avoid foodborne illness.

Pasteurized Dairy

Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt can be great sources of protein and calcium needed for the healthy development of a baby's bones, teeth and muscles. These foods also help with ensuring healthy heart function and nerve transmission. When buying these products, make sure to choose pasteurized products to avoid exposing your body to germs and bacteria. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 1,000mg of calcium per day for pregnant and lactating women. This equates to 4 servings of dairy or calcium-rich foods such as leafy greens, broccoli, tofu, almonds or dried figs.

DHA Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3s like DHA help support the health of a baby's brain and parts of their eyes. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should eat at least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces of seafood each week. Ideally, food sources that offer DHA omega-3 and that are lower in mercury should be emphasized in your diet, including fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies. If you do not eat fish or omega-3 fortified foods, a DHA omega-3 supplement is recommended.

Choline

Did you know that 92% of pregnant women fail to meet the daily choline recommendation? Choline is crucial for an infant's brain and central nervous system development. One egg supplies 33% of the recommended daily intake. Although choline is often absent or low in prenatal vitamins, the best food sources include eggs, meats, fish, dairy, navy beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and spinach.

Iron and Folic Acid

Iron is the most common nutrient deficiency during pregnancy. Foods with high and moderate amounts of iron include red meat, chicken, fish, fortified cereals, spinach and beans. Folic acid is used to make the extra blood your body needs during pregnancy. Consuming adequate folic acid early in pregnancy reduces the risk of birth defects that affect the spinal cord. It is recommended to consume 400 micrograms (mcg) per day for pregnant women. This amount is included in your prenatal vitamins.

Water

Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby when pregnant. In addition to just being good for you, hydration alleviates morning sickness and nausea, while dehydration can lead to contractions and even pre-term labor. Aim for 10 cups of fluids per day, on top of the water naturally occurring in foods.

Foods to Avoid:

Raw Fish and Fish with High Mercury Content

Sorry sushi fans, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get infected by Listeria, a bacteria found in raw or undercooked fish. Also, avoid fish often found to be high in mercury, including swordfish, king mackerel, tuna and marlin.

Processed or Raw Meat

Similar to eating raw fish, eating undercooked or raw meat increases your risk of infection while pregnant. Hot dogs and lunch meats should also be avoided, unless they have been reheated to be steaming hot (for example, in a microwave).

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol when pregnant can impact your baby’s brain development and increases your risk of premature birth, low birth weight or miscarriage. Just don’t do it!

Minimize Caffeine

High caffeine intake during pregnancy can restrict your baby’s growth; therefore, it is recommended that pregnant people limit their caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day – that’s roughly two cups (16 fl oz) of coffee per day.

Runny Eggs

Eating raw or runny eggs when pregnant increases your risk of Salmonella, which can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Always make sure your eggs are cooked through or use pasteurized eggs.

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