Every Mama-to-be wonders about the best food to eat while pregnant. Truth is, you just need to type this phrase into Google, and millions of different answers will pop up! No, you aren’t the first pregnant woman to feel overwhelmed by the question, what to eat while pregnant?!
We are all eager to give our baby everything they need to ensure their health and optimal growth, and we all know that it starts with food. Rest assured, though nutrition during pregnancy deserves special attention, it shouldn’t stress you out. Knowing what to eat when pregnant shouldn’t be a cause for undue stress.
Let’s dig into it!
Pregnancy Diet Misconception
Have you heard of the old myth “Now that you are pregnant, you should be eating for two”? Well, while there are days when you feel so hungry could eat a horse, the idea that you should "eat for two" is, alas... false!
In fact, your daily calorie intake should only increase by 340 calories during the 2ndtrimester and by 450 during the 3rd trimester. To give you a better idea, 300 calories corresponds to the equivalent of a slice of whole grain bread and two tablespoons of peanut butter OR a big avocado.
You can see that we are far from the mythic double portion. So, let’s eat twice as well, but not twice as much!
Let’s fine-tune your pregnancy diet plan
What to eat during pregnancy?
A healthy pregnancy diet not only covers your nutritional needs but also your baby's, and promotes its harmonious growth. Your body has additional and diverse nutritional needs during pregnancy. Eating a variety of foods can optimize the nutritional intake for both you and your baby.
Overall, you need to aim for a balanced diet, with an appropriate blend of all the 5 food groups. We’ll take a look at them and I’ll recommend daily servings from each food group and suggest sources for creating a healthy diet during pregnancy.
You’ll see, eating well is essential, but nutrition during pregnancy it's not as complicated as you think!
A pregnancy diet guide
Best foods to eat while pregnant + Daily servings
(Click on each title bellow to reveal the drop-down content)
+ 1. Grains (6 - 11 servings per day)
This group of food provides you carbs and energy. Grains are also a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, facilitating digestion and helping prevent constipation. Try to avoid foods that are loaded with fat and sugar. Biscuits and pastries are sources of cereals, but they have the defect of containing a large amount of “bad” fat, sugars and are generally made of white flour: they are far from being the best foods for pregnancy and need to be consumed in moderation. Try to prioritize whole grains products such as whole-grain bread, cereals, oatmeal, whole wheat pastas, and rice.
One serving equals:
- 1 slice of whole-grain bread
- 1/2 English muffin
- 1/2 of a large pita or flatbread
- 1 small tortilla
- 3/4 cup of cold cereal
- 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
+ 2. Vegetables (at least 4 servings per day)
Eat a rainbow! Colorful fresh vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals and should be an essential part of your healthy pregnancy diet. They are low in fat and high in fiber. A good way to vary your veggies and get a broad variety of nutrients is to play with colors! The darker the color the better! It’s best to eat them raw, lightly steamed, baked, or sauté them in a little olive oil to better preserve the nutritional value. The more they are cooked, the more the nutrients are broken down or simply rendered useless to your body. Don’t even bother with canned veggies, all the vitamins are long gone.
Some of my favorites are...
- Dark-green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas)
- Deep yellow or orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, squash)
- Legumes (chick peas, lentils, and all types of beans)
One serving equals:
- 1 cup of salad greens
- 1/2 cup of other cooked or raw vegetables
- 3/4 cup home made soup
- 1/2 cup split peas
- 1/2 cup chick peas
+ 3. Fruits (2 - 4 servings per day)
Another group providing many vitamins and minerals in your pregnancy diet is fruit. Once again, play with colors and types of fruit, fresh, frozen or dried fruit will bring you many essential nutrients. Focus on whole fruit rather than commercial fruit juices, which often contain far too much sugar.
One serving equals:
- 1 apple, banana, orange
- 1/2 cup chopped, cooked fruit
- 1/2 cup fresh fruit juice (non industrialized)
- 1/4 cup dried fruit such as raisins
+ 4. Dairy or alternatives (3 - 4 servings per day)
Dairy products or substitutes are a significant source of calcium and protein. Try to choose pasteurized low-fat, skim, or part-skim varieties of cheeses, milk, and yogurt. Calcium helps build your baby’s bones and tooth buds. The daily requirement of calcium is around 1000 milligrams during pregnancy. Note that pregnant women who do not consume sufficient amounts of calcium are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis later in life, so make sure good sources of calcium are part of your healthy pregnancy diet.
One serving equals:
- 1 cup milk or yogurt
- 1 1/2 - 2 oz. of pasteurized cheese
- 1 cup of cottage cheese
+ 5. Protein (2 - 3 servings per day)
This group includes meat and meat alternatives. Protein is critical for ensuring the proper growth of your baby as well as uterine tissue growth during pregnancy. Roughly 20% to 25% of your daily calories should come from protein. Choose lean meats and remember to cut off fat and skin before cooking.
One serving equals:
- 2-3 oz. cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup tofu
- 1 cup cooked legumes
- 4 tablespoons nut butter or 1/4 cup nuts
+ 6. Others
- Fats are an essential part of a healthy pregnancy diet, but some fats are better for you than others. Make sure you choose adequate "good" fats in your diet while minimizing the "bad" fats. I recommend choosing a limited amount of good fat such as olive, canola, or peanut oils, as well as avocados, nuts, and nut butters.
Sweets, high calorie desserts, margarine or gravies
- Often highly processed, packed with calories and poor in nutrients, these items should be only eaten sparingly.
- It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you're pregnant you need to take a folic acid supplement as well, to make sure you get everything you need. Folates play a very important role in the development of the nervous system of the embryo. Some foods are very high in folates (spinach, cabbage, lettuce) but we do not eat much of them, that’s why it’s recommended to take some prenatal vitamins with folate supplements. If possible, it’s best if you can start the prenatal vitamins up to three months before conception. A daily prenatal vitamin can also help fill in small gaps in your diet and ensure proper intake for the baby’s health. Your health care provider can help you choose the right supplements to answer your individual needs.
- You’re pregnant so you must drink accordingly: your daily water consumption should approach 2.5 – 3 liters of water per day! If it sounds like a lot, note that this intake also includes water contained in your food. Keep in mind that pregnant women can also drink water while taking a bath! So aim to drink 1.5 - 2 liters (eight 8-ounce glasses) of fluid per day. Water, herbal teas, infused water... are all great options, but stay away from alcohol and limit caffeinated beverages and other processed drinks. The last liter is provided by food (fruits and vegetables contain between 80 and 90% water). The most water-rich fruit and veggies are: citrus, tomato, cucumber, watermelon, zucchini, greens...
Nutrition during Pregnancy: 10 Don’ts
During your pregnancy there are a few things that might stress you out, but eating shouldn't be one of them! It’s important to eat a variety of the different food groups but also avoid a few things like:
Unpasteurized milk and soft cheese
Fish with mercury
Deli meat, paté
6 meals full of the best foods to eat during pregnancy
A day in your plate!
Fuel your pregnancy diet with whole foods as close to their natural form as possible. Free your inner cook and express yourself! It’s fun to play with colors and flavor combinations. There are endless possibilities so try to be creative. The more colorful the better!
Three small balanced meals and three light snacks throughout the day are a good rule of thumb to provide for you and your baby’s nutritional needs. If you are still wondering what to eat when pregnant, here’s some ideas to kick start your pregnancy diet!
- 1/2 cup oatmeal cereal,
- 1 banana,
- 1 slice of whole wheat bread and 2 tsp of jam
- 1 drink: green tea / herbal tea / water and squeezed lemon
+ Snack 1
1/2 apple, sliced, with peanut or almond butter
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa
- 1 egg, hard boiled
- 2 oz. cooked chicken
- 1 tomato or a few cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cucumber, diced
- 1/2 apple, diced
- 1/2 avocado, diced
- 1/4 shallot, finely chopped
- 1/4 green bell pepper, diced
- a few raisins
- a few pecan nuts
- a few basil leaves, roughly chopped
- a few fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Dressing: combine apple cider vinegar, mustard and olive oil
+ Snack 2
Raw veggies (baby carrots, celery) and hummus
2-3 cups of homemade Sweet Potato Soup: (I usually make a whole batch - recipe bellow)
- 6 sweet potatoes
- 3 carrots
- 6-8 cups of water (enough to cover the veggies)
- 1 cup coconut milk
- Cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- Dash of Sea Salt
- Ground black pepper
- For a more sophisticated taste, add some chopped fresh parsley to the soup!
1 cup of cooked brown rice
Some greens (like spinach) with 2 oz. of pasteurized feta and dressing (Combine apple cider vinegar, mustard and canola oil)
+ Snack 3
1 cup yogurt
Once the morning sickness is gone, eating can return to being one of the pleasures of life and help you feel whole and full of energy. Have fun fueling yourself with a delicious and healthy pregnancy diet!