When you’re pregnant, it can be a very exciting time. But it also brings with it many challenges and natural worries. It also brings with it, many unsolicited advice from both close family members and strangers alike.
However, one very important bit of advice that we can all agree on is that during pregnancy it is very important to maintain a healthy diet.
While you are growing a human being, your body needs plenty of additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals. In fact, it’s not uncommon for women to need an extra 350–500 calories per day during the second and third trimesters. If your diet is lacking in key nutrients, it may negatively affect the development of the fetus. Furthermore, poor eating habits plus excessive weight gain can increase your risk for gestational diabetes, as well as pregnancy and/or birth complications. To put it lightly, choosing healthy and nutritious food not only helps to ensure the health of you and your child, but it also will make it easier to lose the pregnancy weight after birth.
Below are 12 highly nutritious foods you should be eating while pregnant:
Some Dairy Products
Throughout pregnancy, it’s important to consume extra protein and calcium in order to meet the demands of the growing fetus. Dairy products are great because contain two types of high-quality protein: casein and whey. Dairy products are also the best dietary source for calcium, high amounts of phosphorus, various B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Yogurt, particularly Greek yogurt, has benefits for pregnant women. For a start, it contains more calcium than most other dairy products, and some varieties also contain probiotic bacteria which helps support digestive health 1. For those who are lactose intolerant, they may be able to tolerate yogurt, especially probiotic yogurt. Regardless, taking probiotic supplements throughout pregnancy can help reduce your risk of complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, vaginal infections and allergies. You can also get calcium from things like Algae Oil.
This food group includes lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans and peanuts. Legumes are great plant-based sources of fiber, protein, iron, folate (B9) and calcium – all of which are needed by your body throughout pregnancy 2. Folate is a B vitamin – the B9. It is very important for maintaining the health of mother and fetus during the first trimester. However, most pregnant women aren’t getting enough folate as they should. An insufficient amount of folate has been linked with an increased risk of neural tube defects and low birth weight, as well as making your child more prone to infections and disease later in life. Luckily, legumes contain high amounts of folate. Plus they are generally high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and potassium.
Sweet potatoes are very rich in beta-carotene, a plant compound which our body then converts into vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for healthy fetal development, therefore a lot of pregnant women are advised to increase their vitamin A intake by 10-40% 3. However, they’re advised to avoid animal-based sources of vitamin A, which may cause toxicity when eaten in excessive amounts. That is why beta-carotene is a very important source of vitamin A for pregnant women. Plus, they contain fiber, which may increase fullness, reduce blood sugar spikes and improve digestive health and mobility.
Salmon is a great source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. Most people, pregnant women included, aren’t getting enough omega-3 in their diets. These Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial during pregnancy, particularly the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which are found in seafood. They help to build the fetus’s brain and eyes. However, pregnant women are generally advised to limit their seafood intake to twice a week due to the mercury levels and other contaminants. This has caused some women to avoid seafood altogether, which ends up limiting their intake of essential omega-3 fatty acids. But studies have shown that pregnant women who eat 2–3 meals of fatty fish per week achieve the recommended intake of omega-3. Plus, salmon is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which is often lacking in a diet, but is needed for many processes in your body, including bone health and immune function.
Eggs are a great health food since they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient needed. One large egg contains 77 calories, as well as high-quality protein and fat but also has many vitamins and minerals. Eggs are also a great source of choline, which is essential for many processes in your body, including brain development and health 4. Low choline intake during pregnancy can increase the risk of neural tube defects or possibly lead to decreased fetus brain function in the fetus. One single egg contains about 113 mg of choline, which is about 25% of the RDI for pregnant women (450 mg).
Broccoli and Dark, Leafy Greens
Broccoli and dark, green vegetables, like kale and spinach, contain many of the nutrients pregnant women need such as fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, folate and potassium. In addition, broccoli and leafy greens are rich in antioxidants. They also benefit the immune system and digestion. They have a high fiber content, so they can help prevent constipation 5, which can be a common problem for pregnant women. Not just that, but consuming green, leafy vegetables can help reduce the risk of low birth weight.
Fish Liver Oil
Fish liver oil is made from the oily liver of fish – usually cod. It is very rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are essential for fetal brain and eye development. It is also a great source of vitamin D. Fish liver oil is great for those who don’t regularly eat seafood or supplement with omega-3 or vitamin D. Consuming cod liver oil during early pregnancy has been linked to higher birth weight and a lower risk of disease later in life. A single serving of fish liver oil provides more than the recommended daily intake of omega-3, vitamin D and vitamin A. However, it’s not recommended to consume more than one serving per day, because too much preformed vitamin A can be dangerous and high levels of omega-3 can also have blood-thinning effects.
Not only are they great to satisfy a sweet tooth, but berries are rich with water, healthy carbs, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants. Not only does the vitamin C aid your body in absorbing iron, but it is also important for skin health and immune function. Berries also have a pretty low glycemic index value, meaning they shouldn’t cause a major blood sugar spike. They also make a great snack since they contain both water and fiber. Not only do they provide flavor and nutrition, but have relatively few calories.
Whole grains can help pregnant women meet the increased caloric requirements during the second and third trimesters. But as opposed to refined grains, whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins and plant compounds. A great source of protein in whole grains are oats and quinoa. Besides this, whole grains also are B vitamin, fiber, and magnesium rich.
Avocados are packed with lots of monounsaturated fatty acids. They also are high in fiber, B vitamins – especially folate, vitamin K, potassium, copper, vitamin E and vitamin C. Because of this, they’re a great food choice. Not only do the healthy fats help build the skin, brain and tissues of your fetus, but the folate may help prevent neural tube defects. Also, the potassium can help relieve leg cramps 6 which is often a side effect of pregnancy. And avocados contain more potassium than bananas.
Dried fruit is generally high in calories, but it also contains high amounts of fiber and various vitamins and minerals. Once piece of dried fruit has the same amount of nutrients as fresh fruit, just without all the water, and comes in a smaller form. One serving of dried fruit can provide a large percentage of the recommended intake of many vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron and potassium. Prunes are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin K and sorbitol. They’re also natural laxatives. Dates are also high in fiber, potassium, iron and plant compounds. Regularly consuming dates throughout the third trimester may help facilitate cervical dilation and reduce the need for labor induction. The downside is that dried fruit also contains high levels of natural sugar, therefore you should try to avoid the candied varieties.
During pregnancy, blood volume increases by up to 1.5 liters or about 50 ounces, meaning you need to make sure you stay properly hydrated. If you don’t watch your water intake, you can become dehydrated. Symptoms of mild dehydration include headaches, anxiety, tiredness, bad mood and reduced memory. Besides watching out for dehydration, consuming lots of water can help relieve constipation and reduce risk of urinary tract infections. Generally, you should be drinking about 2 liters of water per day. As a rule of thumb, you should always drink when you’re feeling thirsty, then keep going until that thirst is quenched.
1. Expert consensus document. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic., 2014 Aug;11(8):506-14.
2. Dietary folate intake during pregnancy and birth weight in Japan, 2008 Sep;47(6):341-7. doi: 10.1007/s00394-008-0733-8. Epub 2008 Aug 16.
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5. A review on the dietary flavonoid kaempferol, 2011 Apr;11(4):298-344.
6. Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects, 2013 May 2.