Knowing the best foods to eat during pregnancy can help a mother maintain a well-balanced diet and find healthy alternatives to tackle pregnancy cravings.
Pregnant women may feel overwhelmed by the food advice they receive from many sources. Hence, follow what is recommended by your healthcare provider and suitable for you. Also, include various nutritious foods to meet the increasing energy and nutrient requirements in pregnancy.
Read on to know about the foods to be eaten during pregnancy to ensure the baby develops well.
What Kind Of Food Should A Pregnant Woman Eat?
A pregnant woman should follow a balanced and nutritious diet that includes foods from the basic food groups. According to the USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture) and the US dietary guidelines, you should have items from the following foods groups every day (1) (2):
|Food groups||What they provide||Servings||Food examples|
|Grains||Complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fiber||6 – 11 (1 serving = 1 slice of bread or small tortilla or ½ cup rice/ pasta)||Whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, oatmeal and rice|
|Vegetables||Vitamins, minerals and fiber||3 – 5 (1 serving = 1 cup salad greens, or ½ cup vegetables or ¾ cup vegetable juice)||Dark-green vegetables (spinach, broccoli), starchy vegetables (peas, corn, potatoes), orange or deep yellow vegetables (sweet potatoes, squash, carrots) and legumes (chickpeas, beans)|
|Fruits||Vitamins, minerals, and natural sugars||2 – 4 (1 serving = 1 apple, banana or orange)||Apple, banana, melons, berries, citrus fruits|
|Dairy||Calcium, protein and phosphorus||3 – 4 (1 serving = 1 cup milk or yogurt or cottage cheese)||Low-fat, skimmed or partly-skimmed milk, cheeses, and yogurt|
|Lean meats and nuts||Protein, iron and zinc||2 – 3 (1 serving = 2 eggs or 2-3oz meat/ fish or 1 cup tofu)||Poultry, lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu, and nuts|
Limit the intake of solid fats (such as butter, shortening, lard), salts, sugars, and sweets.
Eating the foods from the above food groups will help you have a balanced diet. Within these groups, there are certain superfoods that you might want to include during pregnancy.
20 Best Foods To Eat For A Healthy Pregnancy
Here are the 20 foods that you may add to your pregnancy diet to have balanced meals, to stay healthy and also to ensure your baby’s growth.
1. Dairy products
They are an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, protein, phosphorus, and other essential vitamins and minerals. All these nutrients play a significant role in the baby’s growth and birth weight when included as part of a healthy diet (3).
How much to take: 2 to 3 servings a day
Ways to consume: A glass of milk; a bowl of cereal with milk; a bowl of yogurt; soups and casseroles with shredded cheese.
Beans, peas, peanuts, lentils, chia seeds and soybeans are nutritional powerhouses. They contain protein, iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, and essential fatty acids, and help prevent heart ailments, diabetes, and overweight (4).
How much to take: 5 servings (or 3 cups) a week (5)
Ways to consume: Add legumes to stews, soups and stir-fries; puree to make dips and spreads; munch on peanuts or soy nuts. You may use canned or dried legumes.
They are rich in fiber, vitamins B, K, C and E, potassium, and copper. They also contain healthy fats (monounsaturated fats) that help in fetal skin, brain, and tissue development (6).
How much to take: Half of a medium sized avocado every day (7)
Ways to consume: Guacamole (avocado-based) could be used as a dip or spread for chips, wraps, crackers, and sandwiches; avocado with baked egg; roasted avocado; avocado salad.
4. Sweet potatoes
They are a good source of beta-carotene that your body converts into vitamin A (8). This vitamin is essential for the growth and differentiation of cells and tissues in the fetus. But make sure your total intake of vitamin A does not exceed the recommended daily allowance (RDA) as it could lead to complications. Sweet potatoes are also rich in fiber that reduces blood sugars, makes you feel full and aids in digestion.
How much to take: 1 cup a day meets the RDA of vitamin A
Ways to consume: Bake them in the oven and drizzle with olive oil; boil them and have with any dip or sauce.
They are a great source of amino acids and protein (9). The essential vitamin choline helps promote brain health and prevents neural tube defectsiXCongenital disabilities of the brain, spine, or spinal cord caused when the neural tube doesn’t close completely. in the baby (10). The omega-3 fats support vision and brain development.
How much to take: 1 egg a day (11)
Ways to consume: Omelet, frittata, well cooked hard-boiled eggs with salad.
It is a low-mercury fish, packed with essential omega-3s namely EPA and DHA (12), both of which are necessary for fetal vision and brain development. You can also include other pregnancy-safe seafood sources such as crab, shrimp, Spanish mackerel, sardines, herring, and trout in your diet (13).
How much to take: 2 servings (8 to 12 ounces) a week
Ways to consume: Eat it grilled, boiled or smoked
7. Lean meat
Lean proteins are an excellent source of protein needed to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Also rich in iron (14), the lean proteins in meat support blood and oxygen supply to the baby.Iron also helps in strengthening the fetal brain.
If you are not a meat-eater, you may replace it with dark leafy greens, quinoa, dried beans, tofu, and lentils.
How much to take: 1 serving (2 to 3 ounces) a day (5)
Ways to consume: Grilled chicken salad, turkey sandwich or quinoa and veggies. Avoid processed and cold cuts.
8. Fortified breakfast cereals
They are multi-grain cereals enriched with additional essential prenatal vitamins and minerals. Whole grain fortified cereals contain dietary fibers that satisfy hunger pangs (15).
How much to take: Depends on the type of fortified cereal
Ways to consume: Choose cereals containing high fiber, iron and folic acid. Add milk to a bowl of cereals and top with nuts, fruits, and berries.
They are rich in potassium and provide a quick dose of energy to fight fatigue and prevent muscle cramps (16). They are also easy on the stomach when you feel nauseous.
How much to take: It is safe to eat bananas everyday (5).
Ways to consume: Add them in a cereal; make a smoothie along with yogurt and berries.
10. Cod liver oil
It is obtained from oily fish liver, especially cod. The oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA that are necessary for brain and eye development of the baby (17). It is also an excellent source of vitamin D that works against preeclampsiaiXA pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure, water retention, and protein content in urine. (18).
How much to take: 1 to 2 softgels a day (19)
Ways to consume: Available in the form of capsules; you should have them upon your doctor’s recommendation.
It contains significant amounts of fiber, iron, B vitamins, and other minerals. The complex carbs and dietary fiber can help in keeping you full. Oatmeal is also a source of energy and helps reduce cholesterol levels (1).
How much to take: ½ cup every day (11)
Ways to consume: Boil it with some milk; cook plain and add maple syrup or jelly; add to muffins, pancakes, cookies, or cakes.
12. Nut butters
Not just peanut butter, but also almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts are made into healthy butters. These butters provide protein, amino acids and unsaturated fats that are essential for fetal heart, brain, eye and immune system. They also help you feel full (20).
How much to take: One tablespoon every day (21)
Ways to consume: Spread on a toast or sandwich; add to any salads; dip for apples; add to a smoothie.
13. Leafy vegetables
Dark green leaves such as spinach and kale are iron-rich foods and contain many nutrients such as vitamins A, C, K, calcium, potassium, folate, fiber, zinc and niacin. They are also rich in antioxidantsiXOrganic or synthetic compounds that protect cells from free radical-induced cell damage. , and plant components that aid in digestion and the immune system. The fibers help address constipation, and folic acid prevents birth defects in babies.
How much to take: 3 to 5 servings a day (1)
Ways to consume: Sauté with other vegetables; add to sandwich; mix with pasta or soups.
They are packed with healthy carbs, water, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamin C. All these help pregnant women increase their nutrient and water intake. They have a low glycemic indexiXThe measuring system used to assess the rate at which carbohydrate-containing foods raise the blood sugar levels. value and are not known to cause any elevation in blood sugar levels.
How much to take: 1 to 2 cups a day (11)
Ways to consume: Include them as toppings to cereal or oatmeal; make a smoothie; add to yogurt.
15. Whole grains
Packed with vitamins, fiber, and plant compounds, whole grains help you meet the calorie needs with the progressing pregnancy. They are also rich in vitamins, fiber and magnesium (1).
How much to take: 6 to 9 servings every day (7)
Ways to consume: Whole grain bread; cooked whole grain pasta; cooked brown rice; whole wheat crackers; popped popcorn.
16. Dried fruits
They are high in fiber, calories, vitamins and minerals including folate, potassium and iron. They supply glucose, nutrients and calories to the body (22) and are the best alternative to junk snacks.
How much to take: 1 cup a day (7)
Ways to consume: Choose dried apricots, raisins, cranberries, cherries, prunes and dates. Avoid candied varieties.
17. Greek yogurt
It is a better source of protein than regular yogurt (23). The healthy bacteria in it help combat unhealthy bacteria and may lower the risk of infections, allergies, and preterm labor. It also contains calcium necessary for the baby’s bone and teeth development.
How much to take: 1 serving (1 cup) every day (24)
Ways to consume: Top plain Greek yogurt with honey and sliced nuts; mix into a fruit smoothie; use as a dip for vegetables.
18. Carrots and peppers
Both are rich in beta-carotene that converts into vitamin A and is essential for your baby’s skin, eyes, bones and organ development. They are also a great source of vitamins C, B6 and fiber necessary for pregnancy (5). However, make sure your overall intake of vitamin A is not more than the RDA.
How much to take: 3 servings (1 ½ cups) a day (1)
Ways to consume: Perfect to munch with or without dip; add to salads, meat or cakes; good in stir-fries, pasta dishes, and salsa.
They are calcium-rich foods that provide you with vitamin C, folic acid, potassium, and fiber (25), folic acid, potassium, and fiber. The 90% water content in the fruit helps you keep hydrated during pregnancy.
How much to take: 1 medium fruit every day (5)
Ways to consume: Eat in its natural form; plain orange juice; mix with banana or any other fruit smoothie; popsicles.
20. Pumpkin seeds
This nutritional powerhouse contains magnesium, copper, manganese, zinc and many other minerals that promote muscle health. They also boost your protein and iron intake (26).
How much to take: 1 ounce of seeds every day
Ways to consume: Eat them roasted or salted; as topping on salads and soups.
Nuts and seeds are superfoods that are generally considered safe, but it is good to consult your doctor before having them in your daily diet.
What you eat and how much you eat affect not only your health but also your baby’s growth and development. Though you do not need any extra calories during the first trimester, it increases by an additional 300 calories during the second and third trimester. Your doctor may ask you to eat more if you are underweight or carrying multiples, and eat less if you are overweight.
What does your daily food-plate contain? Let us know in the comments section below.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can spicy food harm the baby during pregnancy?
The consumption of spicy food during pregnancy does not harm the baby,; however it may be uncomfortable for the mother as it puts her at risk for acid reflux (29) .
2. How much protein should I include in my pregnancy diet?
A pregnant woman needs up to 60 grams of protein a day, which can be obtained from dairy, meats, and beans or pulses (30).
3. Is it safe to consume caffeine during pregnancy?
A pregnant woman can safely consume up to 200mg of caffeine, which can be obtained through either one 12-ounce cup or two six-ounce cups of coffee in a day. However, it is best to consult a doctor regarding complications and suitability for your health (31).
4. Can I eat raw or undercooked food in pregnancy?
Raw and undercooked foods may cause discomfort and pose risks of infections from bacteria such as Listeria, Toxoplasma gondii, Salmonella, and Campylobacter jejuni, which can be found in raw dairy, raw meat, including beef and pork, raw poultry, undercooked seafood, undercooked eggs, raw sprouts, and unpasteurized foods (32).
Infographic: Nutritious Foods To Have During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is when you must be careful of what you consume as it will affect you and your baby. While being pregnant may make you crave unhealthy foods, you must ensure a healthy diet. The infographic below lists several nutritious foods that provide vital nutrients for a safe and healthy pregnancy.
- Eating a well-balanced diet is essential for pregnant women as it helps the baby’s growth and development.
- A pregnant woman should eat foods from all the basic food groups daily, which includes grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, lean meats, and nuts.
- Foods such as dairy products, legumes, avocados, sweet potatoes, salmon, nuts, eggs, and lean meat are highly nutritious.
- Other beneficial foods include fortified breakfast cereals, bananas, leafy greens, berries, whole grains, dried fruits, oranges, carrots, and peppers.
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17. James A Greenberg et al.; Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation During Pregnancy; Rev Obstet Gynecol (2008)
18. Manila Kaushal and Navneet Magon; Vitamin D in pregnancy: A metabolic outlook; Indian J Endocrinol Metab (2013)
19. L. Bellows et al.; What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids; Colorado State University
20. Protein in diet; NIH (2012)
21. MyPlate for Moms; ChooseMyPlate (2013)
22. Anthony Komaroff; Is eating dried fruit healthy; Harvard Health Publications
23. Karin Palmer; Nutrition Blog; John Carroll University
24. Protein Alternatives to Meat; University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine (2011)
25. Geoffrey Meru et al.; Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seed and Nutrition Profile of 35 Pumpkin Accessions; The University of Florida
26. Pregnancy & Breastfeeding; Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service (2019)