A medical expert, Ada Bjarnadotti, advises that when building their healthy eating plan, pregnant women should focus on whole foods that give them higher amounts of protein; vitamins and minerals; healthy types of fat; complex; carbohydrates; fibre; and fluids.
Below are some of the nutritious foods for pregnant women to help them achieve the right nutrient goals.
During pregnancy, you need to consume extra protein and calcium to meet the needs of your growing little one. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt should be on the docket.
Dairy products contain two types of high-quality protein: casein and whey. Dairy is the best dietary source of calcium, and provides high amounts of phosphorus, B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc.
Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, contains more calcium than most other dairy products and is especially beneficial. Some varieties also contain probiotic bacteria, which support digestive health.
“If you’re lactose intolerant, you may also be able to tolerate yo probiotic yogurt. Check with your doctor to see if you can test it out. A whole world of yogurt smoothies, parfaits, and lassi could be waiting,”
Bjarnadotti writes on healthline.com.
This group of food includes lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts (aka all kinds of fabulous recipe ingredients!).
Legumes are great plant-based sources of fiber, protein, iron, folate, and calcium — all of which your body needs more of during pregnancy.
Folate is one of the most essential B vitamins (B9). It’s important for you and your baby, especially during the first trimester, and even before. You’ll need at least 600 micrograms (mcg) of folate every day, which can be a challenge to achieve with foods alone. But adding in legumes can help get you there along with supplementation based on your doctor’s recommendation.
Legumes are generally high in fibre, too. Some varieties are also high in iron, magnesium, and potassium. Consider adding legumes to your diet with meals like hummus on whole grain toast, black beans in a taco salad, or a lentil curry.
Sweet potatoes are not only delicious cooked about a thousand ways, they’re also rich in beta carotene, a plant compound converted into vitamin A in your body.
Vitamin A is essential for baby’s development. Just watch out for excessive amounts of animal-based sources of vitamin A, such as organ meats, which can cause toxicity in high amounts.
Thankfully, sweet potatoes are an ample plant-based source of beta carotene and fiber. Fiber keeps you full longer, reduces blood sugar spikes, and improves digestive health (which can really help if that pregnancy constipation hits). For a fabulous breakfast, try sweet potatoes as a base for your morning avocado toast.
Smoked on a whole wheat bagel, teriyaki grilled, or slathered in pesto, salmon is a welcome addition to this list. Salmon is rich in essential Omega-3 fatty acids that have a host of benefits.
These are found in high amounts in seafood, and help build the brain and eyes of your baby and can even help increase gestational length.
But wait: Have you been told to limit your seafood intake due to the mercury and other contaminants found in high mercury fish? You can still eat fatty fish like salmon. High-mercury fish to avoid include swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, bigeye tuna, and tilefish.
Those incredible, edible eggs are the ultimate health food, as they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need. A large egg contains about 80 calories, high-quality protein, fat, and many vitamins and minerals. Eggs are a great source of choline, a vital nutrient during pregnancy. It’s important in baby’s brain development and helps prevent developmental abnormalities of the brain and spine.
A single whole egg contains roughly 147 milligrams (mg) of choline, which will get you closer to the current recommended choline intake of 450 mg per day while pregnant (though more studies are being done to determine if that is enough).
Broccoli and dark, leafy greens
No surprise here: Broccoli and dark, green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, pack in many of the nutrients you’ll need. Even if you don’t love eating them, they can often be squirreled into all kinds of dishes.
Benefits include fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, folate, and potassium. They’re a bonanza of green goodness.
Adding in servings of green veggies is an efficient way to pack in vitamins and fend off constipation due to all that fibre. Vegetables have also been linked to a reduced risk of low birth weight.
Lean meat and proteins
Lean beef, pork, and chicken are excellent sources of high-quality protein. Beef and pork are also rich in iron, choline, and other B vitamins — all of which you’ll need in higher amounts during pregnancy.
Iron is an essential mineral used by red blood cells as a part of haemoglobin. You’ll need more iron since your blood volume is increasing. This is particularly important during your third trimester.
Low levels of iron during early and mid-pregnancy may cause iron deficiency anemia, which increases the risk of low birth weight and other complications.
It can be hard to cover your iron needs with meals alone, especially if you develop an aversion to meat or are a vegetarian or vegan. However, for those who can, eating lean red meat regularly may help increase the amount of iron you’re getting from food.
Pro tip: Pairing foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as oranges or bell peppers, along with iron-rich foods may also help increase absorption. Toss some vitamin C-rich tomato slices on that turkey burger or whip up this steak and mango salad.
Berries hold a lot of goodness in their tiny packages such as water, healthy carbs, vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. Berries have a relatively low glycemic index value, so they should not cause major spikes in blood sugar. Berries are also a great snack, as they contain both water and fiber. They provide a lot of flavour and nutrition, but with relatively few calories.
Some of the best berries to eat while pregnant are blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, strawberries, and acai berries.
Meanwhile, whole grains are also great for pregnant women. Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grains are packed with fibre, vitamins, and plant compounds. Think oats, quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries, and barley instead of white bread, pasta, and white rice.
Some whole grains, like oats and quinoa, also contain a fair amount of protein. They also hit a few buttons that are often lacking in pregnant people: B vitamins, fibre, and magnesium.
Avocados are an unusual fruit because they contain a lot of monounsaturated fatty acids. This makes them taste buttery and rich — perfect for adding depth and creaminess to a dish.
They’re also high in fibre, B vitamins (especially folate), vitamin K, potassium, copper, vitamin E, and vitamin C.
Because of their high content of healthy fats, folate, and potassium, avocados are a great choice during pregnancy (and always).
The healthy fats help build the skin, brain, and tissues of your little one, and folate may help prevent neural tube defects, developmental abnormalities of the brain and spine such as spina bifida.
Potassium may help relieve leg cramps, a side effect of pregnancy for some women. In fact, avocados contain more potassium than bananas.
Try them as guacamole, in salads, in smoothies, and on whole wheat toast, but also as a substitute for mayo or sour cream.
Dried fruit is generally high in calories, fibre, and various vitamins and minerals. One piece of dried fruit contains the same amount of nutrients as fresh fruit, just without all the water and in a much smaller form.
One serving of dried fruit can provide a large percentage of the recommended intake of many vitamins and minerals, including folate, iron, and potassium.
Prunes are rich in fibre, potassium, and vitamin K. They’re natural laxatives and may be helpful in relieving constipation. Dates are high in fibre, potassium, iron, and plant compounds.
However, dried fruit also contains high amounts of natural sugar. Make sure you avoid the candied varieties, which contain even more sugar. Although dried fruit may help increase calorie and nutrient intake, it’s generally not recommended to consume more than one serving at a time.
Try adding a small portion to a trail mix with nuts and seeds for an on-the-go protein- and fiber-filled snack.
Meanwhile, pregnant women, like everyone else, are advised to take enough water to stay hydrated.
Your body will channel hydration to your baby, but if you don’t watch your water intake, you may become dehydrated yourself.
Symptoms of mild dehydration include headaches, anxiety, tiredness, bad mood, and reduced memory.
Increasing your water intake may also help relieve constipation and reduce your risk of urinary tract infections, which are common during pregnancy.
General guidelines recommend that pregnant women drink about 80 ounces (2.3 litres) of water daily. But the amount you really need varies. Check with your doctor for a recommendation based on your specific needs. Keep in mind that you also get water from other foods and beverages, such as fruit, vegetables, and tea.
Try keeping a reusable water bottle on hand so that you can quench your thirst throughout the day.
Note that there is a whole world of delicious options that give you and your baby everything you’ll need. Keep your doctor informed of your eating choices and let them guide you on a plan with any necessary supplements.