Prenatal Diet – A Quick Healthy Guide

What to Eat to Prepare for Pregnancy?

A prenatal diet is simply your diet before pregnancy. Another name for it is a pre-pregnancy diet or your preconception nutrition. Making healthy food choices and eating a balanced diet before pregnancy will prepare your body for pregnancy and can be the start of healthy life for you and your baby. Prenatal guidelines are normal adult healthy guidelines, with a few added bonuses thrown in.

Nutritional Prenatal Guidelines

Prenatal vitamins and multivitamins are often taken before pregnancy (especially folate). It is best to talk to your healthcare professional about the best prenatal vitamins that you may require, but following the below guide is a general place to begin.

  • Vegetables and legumes Add this food group wherever and whenever you can.
  • Fruits Fruit is a wonderful source of energy and nutrients. Generally speaking, 2 serves of fruit per day is enough for most adults.
  • Grains and Cereals These are filling and are a good source of energy and fibre. Choose healthy wholegrain carbohydrate options (like brown rice, bread and legumes).
  • Meats, poultry and legumes, nuts/seeds Foods in this group are mainly protein-rich foods – you need this group for good health
  • 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.

Nutrients of Note For a Prenatal Diet

Following are some of the nutrients that should be included in a prenatal diet plan and remember to drink plenty of water!

Folate: Folate is a very important nutrient that should be consumed in adequate amounts before pregnancy. It helps prevent neural tube defects, i.e. spina bifida. Prior to pregnancy, women should take 400 mcg of dietary folate equivalents (DFE) per day from folic acid supplements and try to consume foods that are fortified with folic acid or are from food sources. Sources of folic acid;

  • Dark, green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach)
  • Citrus fruits
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Breads and cereals fortified with folate

Iron: This is another essential component of a prenatal diet. It should be consumed in high amounts prior to pregnancy to prevent iron deficiency anaemia. If you have struggled in the past with iron deficiency it would be wise to see your healthcare professional to discuss this prior to conceiving. Some women require supplemental iron upon recommendation from their health professional. It is also helpful to have some vitamin C with your iron to help your body absorb the iron. Try to include iron-containing foods such as;

  • Red meat
  • Chicken and fish
  • Fortified cereals and breads
  • Leafy greens
  • Beans

Calcium: Another dietary area where we need to focus on is calcium. Calcium is essential for building up your bones and it helps to regulate how your body uses fluids. If you are considering getting pregnant then women need roughly three big glasses of skim milk every day or equivalent (approx. 1000 mg of calcium). You may also need extra calcium to supplement your prenatal vitamins. Healthy sources of calcium include;

  • Yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Dark green vegetables
  • Seafood like shrimp, salmon, canned light tuna, and catfish.

Protein: Protein plays a very important role in prenatal care.  A study in the Journal of Nutrition recommends women consume 70 to 100g of protein daily (12-20 % of your daily calories), depending on your weight. Discuss with your healthcare provider to see the specific amount you need. Healthy sources of protein for prenatal care include;

  • Peanut butter
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Lean pork and beef
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Cottage cheese
prenatal diet

Foods to Reduce or Avoid if Planning For a Pregnancy

  • Aim to reduce packaged foods, 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 milk 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, 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
  • Limit alcohol, both to contain calories, but also to start healthy habits. When you are pregnant alcohol is not recommended.
  • Reduce caffeine – once again begin healthy habits now. High caffeine intakes may also affect your fertility and it can hinder your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients that it needs, for example, iron and calcium.

Conclusion on a Prenatal Diet

Ensure that your prenatal diet is balanced and nutritious. Add nourishing, whole foods to your prenatal diet and reduce the intake of foods that do not provide nutritional value (like fast and processed foods) and consume the appropriate prenatal vitamins needed. By doing these small steps you will be positioning yourself for the best possible pregnancy diet.

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

Elango, R., & Ball, R. O. (2016). Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.)7(4), 839S–44S.
Stephens, T. V., Payne, M., Ball, R. O., Pencharz, P. B., & Elango, R. (2015). Protein requirements of healthy pregnant women during early and late gestation are higher than current recommendations. The Journal of nutrition145(1), 73–78.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025
Eat for health Australian Guidelines
Centre for Diseases and Control Prevention