Pregnancy Diet

pregnancy diet

Finally, your dreams are coming true – Congratulations you are pregnant. You maybe asking what is a healthy pregnancy diet?

What Should I Eat When Pregnant?

Deciding to eat well for your own health, and your baby’s health is actually the first parental decision you will make. It is normal to wonder “what should I be eating”, “what does the baby need”, “how do I eat if I have morning sickness” or “why I am so hungry”. When it comes to your pregnancy diet, there’s absolutely no magic formula, as everybody is different. For a healthy pregnancy, the right amount of healthy foods from the five food groups should provide the vitamins and minerals for your body and your developing baby’s need. Some women will also need some dietary supplementation or pregnancy vitamins (particularly vitamin D and folate).

Read on to discover more about healthy eating for you and your baby.

Healthy Pregnancy Diet

To enumerate, your pregnancy diet will have a direct impact on a growing fetus, but evidence demonstrates that a healthy diet for your baby now, will also have a profound long-term effect on your child’s health later in their adult life. So, getting this right now is so important. Eating from the five food groups should provide a good basis for your pregnancy diet and no, you do not need to eat for two, maybe just make a few adjustments.

Typically, many countries have Dietary Guidelines for pregnancy which discuss the serving sizes of certain foods to consume for a healthy pregnancy. Examples of these include the Australian Dietary Guidelines or the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Generally, healthcare experts recommend that a healthy pregnancy diet should aim to prioritise the following food groups to receive adequate nutrition for your pregnancy.

Vegetables and Legumes

Shockingly over 90% of the US population does not consume the daily recommended intake of vegetables. Aiming for different types of vegetables and different vegetable colours will help to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Vegetables can be frozen, fresh or canned (with no added salt). A quick tip when serving food is to fill up half of your plate with vegetables before you plate the rest of your food and enjoy.

  • Fruits

Fruit is a wonderful source of energy and nutrients. Generally speaking, 2 serves of fruit per day is enough for most adults. You can meet these targets by eating a variety of frozen, canned or fresh produce. However, you should limit fruit canned in sweetened juices – these can be full of excess calories/kilojoules due to their high sugar content.

  • Grains and Cereals

Grains and cereals are wonderful. They are filling and are a good source of energy and fibre, which is important for a healthy pregnancy. We all know how important it is to choose healthy wholegrain carbohydrate options (like brown rice, bread and legumes) instead of refined carbohydrates (such as white rice, bread and pasta).

what to eat when pregnant
  • Meats, Poultry and Legumes Nuts/Seeds

Accordingly, massive growth and development take place during pregnancy – as you are making a human! As such, it is important that you consume the optimal amount of protein. During pregnancy aim for around 60 grams per day (roughly 20% of your total calories). To ensure a healthy pregnancy, you should incorporate lean protein-rich foods into your diet each day. Try and choose high iron-containing foods (such as lean red meat or tofu).

Good sources of plant-based protein include beans, nuts, legumes, lentils, nut butter, seeds, soy products, tofu and plant-based protein powders (e.g, pea protein powder). Animal-based protein, such as beef, fish, chicken, or eggs can also enrich a pregnancy diet, as they are loaded with essential amino acids.

  • Milk, Yoghurt, Cheese and alternatives

Calcium, protein, iodine and vitamin A and D are just some of the nutrients that this food group can provide. Milk, hard cheese and yoghurt are great dairy options or look for some calcium-enriched non-dairy alternatives. Unpasteurized milk and some soft cheeses that are made from unpasteurized milk should be avoided in pregnancy.

Nutrients of Note


Folic acid helps protect unborn babies from developing neural tube defects. For the first three months of pregnancy, a daily folic acid supplementation is recommended containing at least 400mcg of folic acid. It is also a good idea to try to increase your intake of dietary folate. Click here for more information on folate. Food sources include;

  • Legumes
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Citrus fruits
  • Fortified folate enriched foods such as some cereals, pasta and breads.


Calcium is needed to help build strong teeth and bones in your baby and for the development of your baby’s heart, nerves and muscles. If a pregnant mother does not consume enough calcium the extra calcium needed will be taken from the mother’s bones. Pregnant mothers need around 2-3 serves of calcium-containing foods, such as dairy products or calcium-fortified non-dairy products, each day.


Iodine is needed during pregnancy to help your baby’s brain to develop and function well. We know a low iodine intake can increase your baby’s risk of mental impairment. It is recommended in most countries to incorporate an iodine supplement in pregnancy if needed and to consume iodine-containing foods such as iodized table salt.


Surprisingly anaemia in pregnancy is a worldwide health issue. Pregnant women need to eat iron-rich foods every day as the iron requirements increase in pregnancy. A baby will rely on its iron stores gathered from its mother whilst in utero for 5-6 months after birth. Iron-containing foods include;

  • Red meat
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Fortified cereals
  • Leafy greens and beans.

Consuming some vitamin C containing foods with these foods can also help iron absorption in your body. Some women require supplemental iron upon recommendation from their doctor.

Vitamin D

Specifically this vitamin is both very important for your health, but also for your baby’s growth and development. It is hard for some people to obtain enough vitamin D from the sun (which is our main source of vitamin D) so in these situations, a supplement will be needed.

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Pregnancy Diet and Vitamins

Interestingly, pregnancy vitamins and multivitamins are often taken during pregnancy but they are especially important for teenage pregnancies, vegan/vegetarians, people who misuse substances and pregnant women with a need to monitor their weight and hence their intake. It is best to talk to your healthcare professional about the best pregnancy vitamins that you may require.


Water is incredibly important for pregnant women to drink – take a bottle with you and slowly consume sips throughout the day. Aim to increase your fluid content to around 9 glasses a day. Try and spend this time increasing your water consumption, so when your baby arrives you can continue this healthy habit.

Foods to Reduce during Pregnancy

  • Aim to reduce packaged foods as these foods can be often high in salt/sodium, calories/kilojoules and fat or sugar
  • Discretionary foods (you know the ones we mean) – chips, chocolates and cakes.
  • Soda/soft drinks, sports drinks, flavoured milks and high calorie drinks.
  • Try to consume good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and decrease your intake of saturated and trans fats. These add calories and may lead to increased weight and increased blood cholesterol levels. Plant based foods are the winner here.
  • If you are hungry try not to eat snacks that are high in fat or sugar such as candy/lollies, or cookies/biscuits or chocolate. Try and reach for a healthy snack.
  • Foods that contain added salt. Try not to add salt in cooking or at the table

Foods to Avoid in Pregnancy

  • An important substance you should avoid during pregnancy is alcohol. Alcohol is associated with intellectual disability, premature delivery, low birth weight, and birth defects.
  • Caffeine intake should be limited to 300mg daily (about 2-3 cups of coffee). The amount of caffeine present in various drinks depends on the leaves or beans used and the method of preparation.
  • Do not eat high-mercury seafood like farmed salmon, swordfish, shark, tilefish, or mackerel. Mercury, in excess, is not recommended for your baby’s central nervous system.
  • Soft cheeses like Brie, Feta, Blue-veined, Mexican-style, and Camembert cheese should be avoided. They are usually unpasteurized and may trigger a Listeria infection.
  • Rare, raw or undercooked meats, poultry, fish and shellfish. This includes rare cooked hamburgers, beef or steak tartare, sushi, sashimi, ceviche and carpaccio, and raw oysters.
  • Raw or undercooked eggs, including soft-cooked, runny or poached or food items that contain uncooked eggs.
  • Raw sprouts.
  • Premade meat or seafood salads from the deli counter, including ham, chicken or tuna salad.
  • Unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices.
  • Meat spreads or pate from the refrigerate section or deli counter.
  • Pre-packaged salads of fruits
  • Buffet, salad and sandwich bars

Practice Good Hygiene for a Safe Pregnancy Diet

In particular pregnant women are generally at a higher risk for foodborne illness/poisoning. It’s important to remember to;

  • Wash hands often
  • Make sure your refrigerator is in good working order.
  • Put perishable foods in the refrigerator as soon as able.
  • Keep raw foods and cooked food separate
  • Cook foods to the proper temperature to kill any harmful levels of bacteria in the food

Food Aversion or Pregnancy Complications

There are many food related issue in pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, morning sickness (also known as hyperemesis gravidarum), nausea, constipation, vomiting, food avoidance etc that may require dietary manipulations and a consultation with your Doctor, Dietitian or healthcare professional would be recommended.

Is it Safe to Try to Lose weight While Pregnant?

Aiming to diet to lose weight during pregnancy is not recommended. You and your baby need all the right nutrients to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Definitely being within your healthy weight range, or as close as possible, is incredibly important for your long-term health. However, there will be time to focus on this later in life after childbirth, breastfeeding and the demands of new motherhood.

How Much Weight Should I Put on in Pregnancy?

Clearly, every woman’s weight is different at the beginning of a pregnancy and their weight journey in pregnancy is also totally different. If we just speak broadly, research shows us that the risk of problems during pregnancy and childbirth is lowered when pregnancy weight gain is kept within a healthy range. We also know there are extra risks with obesity in pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes and hypertension just to name a couple. Weight gain recommendations can differ in each country and need to be individualised for each expectant mother.

How Many Extra Calories Do I Need in Each Stage of Pregnancy?

FInally, women certainly do not need to eat for two whilst pregnant – although sometimes appetites can be misleading. In general, in the first trimester women do not need to eat any extra calories, and then slowly as your baby gets bigger calories need to increase slowly. An increase of 340 calories can occur in the second trimester and around 450 calories in the final trimester.


Above all pregnancy is physically demanding – you are growing a small human- which is an amazing effort. You can tailor your diet to meet these demands, and also support the development of your baby. A healthy pregnancy diet includes adequate foods from a varied diet. Remember putting your health and the health of your baby first will actually improve both your adult life and your baby’s life – both as an infant and as an adult in later life.

All information found on simple nutritional advice is given as general advice only. Please consult your healthcare provider for individual advice.

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