When you’re pregnant, what you eat and drink matters more than ever. As well as supporting a growing new life, your own body’s needs change during this time.
Most people know what they should avoid, especially when it comes to foods that might pose a risk to a developing baby.
However, there’s conflicting advice about exactly what your diet should look like during pregnancy, and many guides focus on the same two or three foods – something that can be especially unsatisfying if you’re struggling with nausea or morning sickness.
In this introduction to healthy eating during pregnancy, we’ll explore 9 crucial foods that support the health of you and your baby during those all-important nine months.
For each food, we’ll explain the main benefits it offers and offer a few suggestions that will help you use these ingredients in everyday meals and snacks.
Finally, we’ll close with further suggestions that can help you stay healthy during pregnancy.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of healthy eating when pregnant.
Firstly, your baby has specific nutrients and vitamins that it needs in order to grow at the right place and develop a healthy set of organs.
Secondly, as noted above, you too need to stay strong and healthy to support the baby’s growth and take care of yourself as well.
As we’ll see below, there are lots of foods that can support both goals. However, regular checkups with your medical team will also help you keep an eye on your body’s level of key nutrients.
Before we get started on the most important foods to include in your meals and snacks, it’s vital to note that you must keep hydrated all throughout your pregnancy.
This means taking in more water than usual. Your body’s blood volume rockets up by almost 50% when you’re pregnant, and you can become dehydrated because your body prioritizes your baby’s need for hydration.
If you’re experiencing dehydration while pregnant, you may experience chronic headaches, feel anxious or low, suffer from low energy, or notice that your memory isn’t as good.
It can be tough to stay hydrated during pregnancy if you feel nauseated. However, you should aim to get at least 2.3 liters of liquid every day.
One way to meet that target is to mix water with other drinks, such as fruit juice and tea.
Plus, all fruits and vegetables are a valuable source of water as well.
Your developing baby thrives on nutrient-rich foods, and on you ensuring that you have a varied diet throughout pregnancy.
Your healthcare team will let you know if you need any extra supplements, but there’s plenty you can do at home to maximize the intake of crucial vitamins, minerals, and compounds.
At the very least, all pregnancy diets should be rich sources of the following:
The above is a useful shorthand for what you need from your diet.
Now, let’s focus in more depth on specific foods that help to meet these needs.
Vitamin A is one of the most important healthy vitamins for promoting the growth of your baby, and sweet potatoes are a great source.
They contain carotenoids, which your body will only convert directly into vitamin A if your levels need to be topped up. Other examples of foods that provide this benefit include tomatoes and carrots.
In contrast, foods that contain vitamin A itself – sometimes called “preformed vitamin A” – can be toxic during pregnancy.
In particular, if your levels of vitamin A increase too much, there’s an increased possibility of birth defects and liver damage.
Dried fruits are a handy snack, and they’re also easy to add to your breakfast to boost their nutrients.
Dried fruit boasts high fiber content, for one thing, which keeps your digestive system functioning during pregnancy (when some people can be prone to constipation).
In addition, dried fruit has just about every vitamin or mineral you could need.
Of course, fresh fruit is great for nutrients too, but if your baby is pressing on your bladder then the water in fresh fruit can just make you feel like you constantly have to go to the restroom.
No such problem with dried fruit.
One of the most versatile and perfect vegetarian foods, avocado has so many properties that can help you and your baby during pregnancy.
This unusual and healthy fruit is packed full of healthy fat – specifically, monounsaturated fatty acids that support heart health.
This gives them their creamy flavor and makes them an ideal ingredient for spreads.
Plus, they give you B vitamins that will boost the energy you’re currently sharing with your baby, vitamin K to keep your blood clotting properly, and folate to promote the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system.
Fresh berries – such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries – are small but powerful.
Firstly, they give you energy without causing unhealthy spikes in blood sugar, as they have a low glycemic index (GI) compared to other, more sugary foods.
If you regularly eat fresh berries, you also keep you and your baby constantly supplied with vitamin C.
You need this vitamin during pregnancy to help with any tissue healing, and your baby needs it so their tiny teeth and bones can develop properly.
Plus, there is strong evidence that consuming more vitamin C can help your resistance to infectious disease.
A consistent source of iron is vital because your body needs iron in order to produce more blood.
The importance of iron is increased during pregnancy because your blood volume increases dramatically when you’re carrying a baby.
However, when people hear iron being recommended, they mostly think of red meat.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you might worry you’re destined to end up with a deficiency.
Happily, while red meat is an undeniably good source of iron, it’s far from the only one – and plenty of other sources are vegetarian and vegan-friendly.
Excellent sources include soybeans, tofu, lentils, pumpkin seeds, nuts, potatoes, and leafy greens.
As with many nutrients, calcium becomes even more important during pregnancy.
You need more calcium during pregnancy so that your baby’s quickly developing bones and teeth form properly, and also so that proper nerve development takes place.
If you don’t have a consistent intake of calcium, your body will use up your own sources and reduce your bone density (which leaves you more vulnerable to fractures).
There are lots of great sources of calcium, but some of the best include legumes and probiotic yogurts (the latter of which also supports good digestive health).
Leafy green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and kale are nutritional powerhouses, giving you and your baby dozens of vitamins and minerals that keep you in great condition.
For example, these healthy superfoods provide you with potassium, which helps to keep your blood pressure within safe limits. If you’re deficient in potassium, you may also notice cramps in your muscles, as well as fatigue and generalized weakness.
In more serious cases, your heart’s rhythm can be pursued.
Meanwhile, leafy greens also give you vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, and calcium, the importance of all of which are mentioned above.
Your baby needs protein for growth, to make the right hormones, and to make the antibodies their immune system needs to fight disease.
Meanwhile, you need the extra and consistent energy provided by protein during pregnancy too. Eggs are one good example of protein-rich foods.
Containing fewer than 100 calories and giving you a great source of choline, eggs also promote healthy cell replication in your baby and keep your heart in good condition.
However, if you’re a vegan, there are lots of alternatives that are just as good. Some of the best include beans, pulses, seeds, and nuts (especially walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds).
You probably know that whole grains are good for you – but what are whole grains, exactly?
This group of foods includes brown bread, brown pasta, and brown rice.
The white versions of these foods are not healthy, giving you quick spikes of blood sugar that quickly lead to tiredness, and which may promote obesity.
In contrast, brown rice, pasta, and bread give you and your baby consistent energy. Further, whole grain foods are one of the best sources of folic acid, which reduces the risk of the most common birth defects.
And as a bonus, these brown foods give you selenium, which keeps blood pressure low.
You now have a sense of what you should eat to keep yourself and your baby healthy all throughout pregnancy.
And, as you can see, you can have a varied and exciting diet while promoting your baby’s growth and keeping your energy supplies stocked up.
However, if you want even more advice on what to eat when pregnant, we can offer you meal plans that specifically focus on healthy eating for pregnancy.
Taking all the guesswork and hard work out of the equation, our recipes and meals ensure that you get all the right nutrients you need to be in great health during this exciting time of your life.