A healthy, nutritious and well-balanced diet is always important for a person’s well-being, and it is even more so during pregnancy as the developing baby needs nutrients to grow and develop. The most important thing is to eat a variety of food groups during pregnancy, to make sure that all essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients are provided.
- How does eating a well-balanced diet help my pregnancy?
- How many extra calories will I need to eat during my pregnancy?
- What foods should I eat during pregnancy?
- Why are vitamins and minerals important in pregnancy?
- What foods should I avoid during my pregnancy?
- What can I drink during pregnancy?
- Food cravings during pregnancy
How does eating a well-balanced diet help my pregnancy?
A balanced and healthy diet can help reduce:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Risk of gestational diabetes
- Pregnancy complications, such as anemia
- Birth complications or the need for a cesarean section
- Excess weight gain during pregnancy
- Time and effort needed to lose the pregnancy weight after birth
How many extra calories will I need to eat during my pregnancy?
More calories are needed during the second and third trimester—typically about 300 more calories a day. The exact number needed depends on your height, current weight and body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy, activity levels, genetics, whether you are expecting twins or more, and your risk of having gestational diabetes. These extra calories should come from healthy food rather than sugar‑laden cakes, biscuits and sweets that do not provide essential nutrients and vitamins. Your healthcare provider or a dietitian will be able to let you know your individual requirements and what is best for you and your baby.
What foods should I eat during pregnancy?
You need to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and proteins to supply all the vitamins and minerals you and your growing baby need.
Fruits and vegetables
These provide essential vitamins, minerals and are rich in antioxidants. Fresh fruits provide vitamins A and C, potassium and fiber. Oranges and strawberries are good sources of vitamin C, which is important for the development of bones.
Vegetables provide vitamins A and C, iron, and magnesium. Leafy green vegetables in particular, such as kale, collard greens and spinach, are also a great natural source of folate (folic acid) which is important for first trimester development as it can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida. Red and green peppers, broccoli and brussel sprouts are good sources of vitamin C. Collard greens, turnip, spinach, cabbage and lettuce are good sources of iron which is instrumental during pregnancy and for general well-being.
Fruits and vegetables are also good for the immune system, digestion and can help prevent low birth weight. It’s important to wash them carefully before eating.
They are the main source of energy for the body and are rich in vitamins and fibers. Examples include bread, rice, pasta, cornmeal, and cereal. Whole grains like quinoa and oats are packed with fiber and vitamins and are rich in vitamin B, magnesium and fiber. Fortified bread and cereal also contains added folic acid and other B vitamins, vitamin D and sometimes minerals like iron, calcium or zinc, which can help women receive their daily recommended amount.
Meat, like chicken, pork and beef are rich in choline—which is good for brain development—vitamin B, iron and zinc. Iron helps reduce the likelihood of developing anemia, fatigue and weakness, and the risk of premature birth and low birth weight.
Fish that are eaten whole including the bones, such as sardines, are a good source of calcium, and fish like salmon that isn’t high in mercury is beneficial as it contains vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids which are helpful for fetal brain and eye development. Good vitamin D levels can also help reduce the risk of preeclampsia.
Eggs are also a great source of protein, and they contain many different vitamins and nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin D and choline.
Legumes, which are vegetables, are another source of protein and are also a great source of fiber and folate. Examples include lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts and soybeans. Tofu is another plant-based protein source that is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including calcium. Nuts (technically fruits) are a good source of iron, but some pregnant women may be advised to avoid peanuts or food containing peanuts.
Milk, hard cheeses that are made from pasteurized milk and yogurt contain calcium, protein and vitamins that are needed for the development of baby’s bones and teeth. Probiotics that are found naturally in dairy or taken as a supplement can help reduce the risk of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
Why are vitamins and minerals important in pregnancy?
Vitamins and minerals are important for normal cell function and good health and baby’s growth and development. Most people get all the vitamins and nutrients they need from their diet. Pregnant women need to ensure they obtain enough folic acid, as it can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida. Women trying to conceive and pregnant women in the early stages of pregnancy should take a folic acid supplement. Your healthcare provider can advise you.
You can read more about folic acid and pregnancy here.
Women on diets that restrict specific food groups, such as vegetarians or vegans, may need extra help from a dietitian to ensure all dietary requirements are met.
What foods should I avoid during my pregnancy?
- Liver and liver products, cured meats (such as salami, chorizo), raw or undercooked meat, pâté, and game such as goose or pheasant. There is a risk of contamination with bacteria, toxoplasmosis and salmonella. Liver contains high levels of vitamin A which can be harmful to an unborn baby.
- Unpasteurized milk as it may contain listeria, harmful bacteria that even though it is rare, can cause miscarriage. This includes milk from cows, goats or sheep, and cheese made from unpasteurized milk, such as goats cheese.
- Soft cheeses like brie, Camembert, blue cheese like Gorgonzola and Roquefort. Those with a rind on the outside contain more moisture than hard cheeses and can be an ideal environment for harmful bacteria. They can usually be eaten if thoroughly cooked.
- Raw or partially cooked eggs.
- Fish that is high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish or marlin. Tuna should also be limited.
- Smoked fish or raw fish and shellfish, like mussels, crab or clams.
Foods that are high in sugar and salt should ideally be limited, but they can still be part of a well-balanced diet when taken in moderation.
Pregnant women should also not smoke, use drugs, consume alcohol or take supplements containing vitamin A. Your healthcare provider can address any concerns you may have and advise you.
What can I drink during pregnancy?
It is important to drink plenty of water during pregnancy. Fruit juice, smoothies and decaffeinated tea and coffee are also suitable. Reducing caffeinated beverages is recommended as too much caffeine can cause low birth weight. Alcohol should also be avoided.
Food cravings during pregnancy
Some women have cravings for certain foods during pregnancy. In most cases, women can indulge these cravings as long as they are still eating a balanced diet. Cravings for usual non-food items, like clay, is called pica and should always be discussed with your healthcare provider.
A healthy, balanced and varied diet in pregnancy is important for the growth and development of your unborn child. Folic acid supplements in early pregnancy, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly are also important to make sure that the developing baby has the best building blocks for life. Prenatal appointments and recommended screening tests will help you have a healthy pregnancy and monitor your baby’s growth development.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical advice. Always discuss any worries or concerns you may have regarding diet and nutritional status with your healthcare provider or dietitian.
Compiled using information from:
A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Johns Creek (GA): Ebix, Inc., A.D.A.M.; c1997-2020. Eating right during pregnancy; [reviewed 2022 Nov 21]. Available from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000584.htm
“Pregnancy birth & baby.” Australian Government Department of Heath and Aged Care, https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/
“Pregnancy Nutrition”, American Pregnancy Association, https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-nutrition/
Marsh Lorna, “How many calories a day do I need while I’m pregnant?” Babycentre, https://www.babycentre.co.uk/x568598/how-many-calories-a-day-do-i-need-while-im-pregnant
“Foods to avoid in pregnancy.” National Health Service (NHS), https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/
Bjarnadottir, Adda. “13 Foods to eat when you’re pregnant.” Healthline, Updated on 2 June 2023, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/13-foods-to-eat-when-pregnant
“Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy.” National Health Service (NHS),
“Eating well in pregnancy.” NHS Inform, Updated 19 May 2023, https://www.nhsinform.scot/ready-steady-baby/pregnancy/looking-after-yourself-and-your-baby/eating-well-in-pregnancy