Prenatal Diet

pregnancy vitamins

Exciting times – you are thinking of adding to your family. Planning for your pregnancy includes looking after your health, your nutrition and your prenatal diet.

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. It is well known that healthy food consumption can be linked to fertility health in both women and men. There are also actually some foods that have been shown to hinder good fertility. It can be seen that the time before you conceive can be a positive time to make some adjustments in your diet to set your body up well to become pregnant, and then support a healthy growing baby.

Making healthy food choices and eating a balanced prenatal diet before pregnancy will prepare your body for pregnancy and can be the start of healthy life for you and your baby. Read on to discover more and start preparing for this next life adventure.

Nutritional Prenatal Guidelines

Prenatal guidelines are normal adult healthy guidelines with a few added bonuses thrown in. Eating healthy choices from the five food groups should provide a good basis for launching into the next stage of your life. Many countries have Dietary Guidelines for adults which discuss the serving sizes of certain foods to consume for a healthy life. Examples of these include the Australian Dietary Guidelines or the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This is a great place to start.

Furthermore, it is a good idea to begin making some healthy prenatal nutrition choices at least 3 months before you conceive. Adequate nutrient intake before pregnancy is important for a future healthy pregnancy. Women who eat healthily before getting pregnant can meet most of their nutrient needs, however, a study indicated that most pregnant women in the United States do not have adequate dietary intakes. This is a great thing to change if you are thinking about conceiving.

A dietitian can assess the status of some nutrients which are important before and during pregnancy and recommend the right nutrient supplementation where necessary, but following the below guide is a general place to begin.

Vegetables and legumes

Add this food group wherever you can. Add vegetables and legumes to your lunches, dinners, and smoothies – anywhere. Aim for different types of vegetables and different vegetable colours and this will help to prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy. Vegetables can be frozen, fresh or canned (with no added salt). Legumes can also be tinned or fresh.

prenatal diet


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 this target 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

What a wonderful food group – grains and cereals. They are filling and are a good source of energy and fibre. Fibre is great to keep your bowels healthy and helps you to feel full. 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).

Meats, poultry and legumes, nuts/seeds

Foods in this group are mainly protein-rich foods. 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 proteins 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, cheeses and yoghurt are great dairy options or look for some calcium-enriched non-dairy alternatives such as canned sardines, fortified soy, salmon and rice milk for example.

Nutrients of Note For a Prenatal Diet

Following are some of the nutrients that should be included in a prenatal diet plan;

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. Click here for more information folate. 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 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.  Some nutrients are harder to obtain just through food consumption alone.

Prenatal Diet Vitamins

How much water in pregnancy

Apart from the nutrients listed above, you need other nutrients to keep you healthy during your preconception period and that will make up a healthy prenatal diet. Taking a regular multivitamin can be supportive but consult your healthcare provider about which particular prenatal vitamins are good for you.


Water has a role in keeping many systems in your body functioning well. Some of the roles that water fulfils in your body are;

  • Moving nutrients and oxygen around your body
  • Aids with digestion
  • Helping to avoid constipation
  • Helps to normalise blood pressure
  • Assists to cushion joints and protects organs
  • Aiding your heart
  • Regulates your body temperature
  • Maintains electrolyte balances in your body

As a goal you should always aim for 8 glasses a day!

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 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, 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.

Is It Good to Try to Lose Weight Before Falling Pregnant?

Sometimes the hope of a new little life can make you take stock of your own life and make some positive healthy changes. One of these can be in the area of your weight if it is of concern to you. It is known that obesity in pregnancy can lead to complications, we also know during pregnancy is not the time to try to lose weight. Maybe the time is right now for you to focus on your weight.

Further, if you have time, and your doctor or healthcare professional has deemed it safe, then preconception time can actually be a good time to focus on losing a few kilograms (or pounds) if needed or desired. If you follow the guidelines above, this may result in the weight loss needed. If you have more kilograms (or pounds) to lose, seek the help of a professional dietitian.

What Weight Is Good For Me?

There are some tools that can be used to determine what a healthy weight could be for your height. These are not always accurate but can be used as a guide. Here is an example on the BUPA website that can help you determine a good weight for your height. 

Conclusion on a Prenatal Diet

Ensure that your prenatal diet is balanced and nutritious. Add nourishing, whole foods to your pre-conception 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 results. All the best in your next adventure. Make sure you read on to discover what to eat when you have conceived.

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