Healthy Pregnancy Diet and Nutrition Plan: What to Eat and Not Eat

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
January 14, 2021

A pregnant woman needs to watch the foods she eats to ensure her baby's health - and her own well-being. Fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and whole grains are the basis of a healthy pregnancy diet. A pregnant also needs to avoid alcohol, junk food and cut down on caffeine to stay healthy.

A pregnancy diet plan ensures that you and your fetus will remain healthy during all three trimesters. You should already eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and organically-raised beef or chicken before pregnancy. Change your diet once you find out you’re pregnant if you eat a lot of processed, greasy, sugary or salty foods.

What You Should Eat During Pregnancy 

Most foods you find at a farmer’s market, or in the produce section of your supermarket, are excellent for a pregnancy diet. You can also eat lean red meat, fish, dairy products and other whole foods to stay healthy and keep the fetus healthy. 

Here's a list of what you should eat, and what you shouldn't eat, to ensure you have a healthy, happy baby. 

Dairy Products 

You’ll need to consume more dairy products to get the right amount of protein and calcium for your baby. Milk and other dairy products have whey and casein, two high-grade proteins. Babies who don’t receive enough high-quality protein as fetuses tend to be smaller than other infants and run the risk of premature birth.

Protein helps build your baby's heart, brain, and other organs. Most women will have no problem getting enough protein from food sources during pregnancy. 

Casein and whey are touted as essential ingredients in protein powder. It is acceptable for pregnant to drink a small shake made with protein powder daily, as long as it isn’t the only source of protein. You must consume protein from whole, natural foods for your health and the health of your baby. 

Dairy products also provide the most calcium of any food group, as well as generous amounts of phosphorus, magnesium, niacin, folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and zinc.

Plain or Greek yogurt are excellent choices for pregnant women. Even most lactose-intolerant women can eat probiotic yogurt. Yogurt has more calcium than most dairy products, and it supports your digestive system. Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for your health.

Probiotics help ease some of the gastrointestinal problems you may encounter during pregnancy, and it may prevent allergies, eczema and other conditions in babies. Studies show that taking probiotic supplements during pregnancy may prevent gestational diabetes or preeclampsia.  

Legumes

You should add extra servings of legumes to your pregnancy diet plan to increase your intake of fiber, iron, folate, and calcium. All legumes are high in fiber and contain moderate to high amounts of potassium, magnesium, and iron.

A cup of black beans or lentils will give you between 65 and 90 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance of folate. Eating legumes daily for folate and calcium is vital if you are a vegan or can’t consume many dairy products. 

Lack of folate may result in neural tube defects, and make your child at risk for diseases and infections as he or she gets older. 

Broccoli, Spinach and Leafy Greens 

Kale, spinach, broccoli and any green veggies contain lots of fiber and water to fill you up and prevent constipation. Leafy greens also have Vitamin K, calcium, folate and potassium.

Leafy greens and broccoli, like most vegetables, are loaded with antioxidants. Broccoli has several phytochemicals, including glucobrassicin, flavonoids, including kaempferol,  and carotenoids, including beta-carotene. 

The compound sulforaphane, also found in broccoli, has been shown to reduce a child's chance of developing breast cancer later in life when included in a pregnant Mom's diet.  

Green leafy vegetables also protect your baby from spina bifida and other birth defects. 

Eggs

Eggs contain high-quality fat and protein, as well as choline. Your baby needs choline for proper brain function, and a lack of choline may lead to neural tube defects. One large egg has 77 calories, and 113 mg of choline, one-quarter of the Recommended Daily Intake for pregnant women.

Seafood for Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in seafood and some plant-based sources, such as nuts. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) helps your inflammatory response and immune system, and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supports the eyes, central nervous system, and brain. You get EPA and DHA Omega 3's from salmon, tuna and other cold-water fish. 

Fish with EPA and DHA are an essential part of any pregnancy diet plan because they improve your baby’s cognitive abilities and reduce the chance of allergies as your child grows. 

Pregnant women should eat eight to 12 ounces of fresh-caught, low-mercury fish. Avoid cheap, factory-farmed fish, as they are lower in nutrients and may contain toxins. 

Eat eight to 12 ounces weekly of cold-water fish weekly. Choose from the following:

  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Bass
  • Mussels
  • Shrimp
  • Trout 
  • Crab
  • Salmon
  • Oysters 

You can also eat cod, Pollock, canned light tuna, whitefish, and sardines. Eat no more than six ounces a week of white or albacore tuna. 

Avocados

Avocados are high in folate, heart-healthy potassium, Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin K. (Avocados have more potassium than bananas.) This fruit contains plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids, which help build your baby's tissues, brain, and skin. Avocados also contain all B vitamins, except B12. 

The potassium in avocados helps relieve leg cramps, a common side effect of pregnancy. 

Water Intake 

Remember to drink enough water each day to prevent dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include anxiety, fatigue, and headaches. Drinking enough water reduces the chance of constipation and urinary tract infections. 

The amount of water needed is different for every woman. Generally speaking, you should drink between one and two liters or between 34 and 68 ounces of water a day. 

Drink when you’re thirsty and stop drinking water (or other healthy liquids) when your thirst is quenched. Don’t worry about drinking two liters when you are only thirsty enough to drink one liter. 

The total amount includes all the water you drink each day, like the water you use to make tea and coffee, and the water in fruits, vegetables, and fruit juice. 

Berries

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and other berries are full of water, fiber, Vitamin C and contain few calories. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, to guard your baby against anemia and low birth weight. Foods with Vitamin C improve your immune function, partly due to their high antioxidant content. 

Berries also taste great naturally, without sugar, whipped cream or other toppings. Use them in a fruit salad or eat them as a snack instead of sugary treats. Berries have a low glycemic index (GI) value so that they won't cause a spike in your blood sugar.  

Increase your water intake by eating berries. You’ll also help your baby develop healthy skin and better immunity. Since berries contain Vitamin C, eating them after consuming red meat will help you absorb iron better.

Lean Meat

Beef and pork contain iron and all the B vitamins (including choline) that you'll need more off during pregnancy. Pork, chicken, and beef also contain high-quality protein. 

Lean meat provides the iron that's essential to deliver oxygen to your cells. Iron is a component of hemoglobin and used by your red blood cells. You'll need more iron, especially, during the third trimester, because your blood volume increases during pregnancy. 

Your baby may develop anemia or be premature if you don't eat enough iron-rich food during pregnancy. Eat foods with Vitamin C, such as oranges or kiwis, to help your body absorb iron more efficiently.   

Some pregnant women find red meat unappetizing. Eat legumes, whole grains, collard greens, nuts, seeds, and tomato sauce to boost your iron level if you are a vegetarian or stop eating meat when you're pregnant.

Whole Grains  

Whole grains, unlike white bread and other refined grains, have lots of fiber and vitamins. You can add much-needed calories to your pregnancy diet by adding whole grains to your meals. Quinoa and oats are a good source of protein, which is essential for all women, especially vegetarians, during pregnancy.

Whole grain bread and crackers usually contain fiber, B vitamins, and magnesium. Whole grains help prevent constipation, and they'll help the placenta grow and provide energy for the fetus to grow.

Some good whole grain choices include cornbread, a whole wheat raisin bagel, cooked wild rice or brown rice, popcorn, whole-wheat bread or ready-to-eat whole grain cereal. 

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Avoid processed foods, such as frozen dinners, potato chips, pretzels, candy, sugary baked goods made with refined flour and any packaged product with a long list of chemical ingredients.

Avoid drinking alcohol, including wine, during pregnancy. Alcohol consumption may lead to low birth weight or a premature baby. Talk with your physician if you have a drinking problem. A health care provider can help you ensure your health and the health of the fetus.

Don't consume more than 300 mg of caffeine daily. Black tea, green tea and a cup or two of coffee are acceptable. Avoid caffeinated soda (or any soda) during pregnancy. Studies have shown drinking any type of soda, including non-caffeinated or sugar-free soda, may negatively impact your baby's memory and learning skills. 

Three five ounce cups of black tea or two five-ounce cups of coffee equal 300 mg of caffeine. Chocolate contains caffeine, so limit servings to  

Don’t eat sushi, sashimi or any other raw fish because of the potential for food poisoning. Tilefish, swordfish, shark, King mackerel, and refrigerated smoked seafood are also off-limits for pregnant women. 

You may find raw or unpasteurized juice and milk at the health food store, but these products are unhealthy for pregnant women and should be avoided. Raw cheese or milk may contain E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. Unpasteurized juice may also be contaminated by bacteria. 

Bacteria from unpasteurized food products can harm your fetus. Avoid all unpasteurized food products during your pregnancy. 

Some deli meats may cause a miscarriage due to listeria. Avoid deli meat or reheat it until it is steaming before consuming it. Fancy, imported soft cheeses like brie, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and Mexican cheeses should be avoided unless they are made from pasteurized milk. 

Other Diet Tips for Pregnant Women

We get most of our Vitamin D from exposure to the sun. You should go outside and sit or walk in direct sunlight (without sunscreen) for 15 minutes each day or three times a week minimum. You can also get Vitamin D from eggs, fish and fortified milk. Vitamin D is necessary to help your body process calcium.  

You won’t need to consume extra calories until the fourth month of pregnancy. Add 300 calories per day during the second and third trimester if you’re a woman of normal weight. 

Eat 27 mg of iron-rich foods per day. Your three daily sources of iron should include eggs, dried beans, raisins, prunes, peanuts, red meat, sweet potatoes or leafy green vegetables.

Consume Vitamin A every other day. Spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apricots and carrots are a few of the foods containing Vitamin A.

Eat or drink four servings of food with calcium – you’ll need 1200 mg of calcium daily if you’re pregnant. Choose from milk, yogurt, cheese or other dairy products, leafy green vegetables, tofu, dried beans, or peas. 

You'll need to eat animal-sourced Vitamin B12 once a day. Shellfish, eggs, dairy products, and fish are the only significant sources of Vitamin B12. Plant sources won't give you enough of this vitamin. Vegans can get Vitamin B12 from fortified breakfast cereals or nutritional yeast and a daily supplement. 

Always make sure to wash fruits and vegetables before eating. This rule is even more important for pregnant women than for the general populous. Unwashed vegetables are a source of toxoplasmosis from the soil where the veggies were grown. 

Take a daily prenatal vitamin as a supplement to a balanced, healthy pregnancy diet. You should take prenatal vitamins before conception if you are planning to become pregnant.

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