Eating a nutritious diet during pregnancy is linked to good brain development and a healthy birth weight, and can reduce the risk of many birth defects. A balanced diet will also reduce the risks of anemia, as well as other unpleasant pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue and morning sickness.
Here are 12 super nutritious foods to eat when you’re pregnant to help make sure you’re hitting those nutrient goals.
1. Dairy products
During pregnancy, you need to consume extra protein and calcium to meet the needs of your growing little one. Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt should be on the docket. Dairy products contain two types of high-quality protein: casein and whey. Dairy is the best dietary source of calcium, and provides high amounts of Phosphorus, B complex vitamins, magnesium, and zinc.
Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, contains more calcium than most other dairy products and is especially beneficial. Some varieties also contain probiotic bacteria which support digestive health.
If you’re lactose intolerant, you may also be able to tolerate yogurt, especially probiotic yogurt. Check with your doctor to see if you can test it out. A whole world of yogurt smoothies, parfaits, and lassi could be waiting.
This group of food includes lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts.
Legumes are great plant-based sources of fiber, protein, iron, folate, and calcium — all of which your body needs more of during pregnancy. Folate is one of the most essential B vitamins (B9) which is very important for you and baby, especially during the first trimester, and even before.
You’ll need at least 600 micrograms (mcg) of folate every day, which can be a challenge to achieve with foods alone. But adding in legumes can help get you there along with supplementation based on your doctor’s recommendation.
Legumes are generally very high in fiber, too. Some varieties are also high in iron, magnesium, and potassium. Consider adding legumes to your diet with meals like hummus on whole grain toast, black beans in a taco salad, or a lentil curry.
3. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are not only delicious cooked about a thousand ways, they’re also rich in beta carotene, a plant compound that is converted into vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A is essential for a baby's development. Just watch out for excessive amounts of animal-based sources of vitamin A, such as organ meats, which can cause toxicity in high amounts. Thankfully, sweet potatoes are an ample plant-based source of beta carotene and fiber. Fiber keeps you full longer, reduces blood sugar spikes, and improves digestive health (which can really help if that pregnancy constipation hits).
Smoked on a whole wheat bagel, teriyaki grilled, or slathered in pesto, salmon is a welcome addition to this list. Salmon is rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids that have a host of benefits. These are found in high amounts in seafood, and help build the brain and eyes of your baby and can even help increase gestational length. But wait: Have you been told to limit your seafood intake due to the mercury and other contaminants found in high mercury fish? You can still eat fatty fish like salmon.
Here are the high mercury fish to avoid:
· King mackerel.
· Bigeye tuna.
· Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.
Plus, salmon is one of the very few natural sources of vitamin D, which is lacking for most of us. It’s important for bone health and immune function.
Those incredible, edible eggs are the ultimate health food, as they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need. A large egg contains about 80 calories, high-quality protein, fat, and many vitamins and minerals. Eggs are a great source of choline, a vital nutrient during pregnancy. It’s important in baby’s brain development and helps prevent developmental abnormalities of the brain and spine.
A single whole egg contains roughly 147 milligrams (mg)of choline, which will get you closer to the current recommended choline intake of 450 mg per day while pregnant (though more studies are being done to determine if that is enough).
6. Broccoli and dark, leafy greens
No surprise here: Broccoli and dark, green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, pack in so many of the nutrients you'll need. Even if you don't love eating them, they can often be squirreled into all kinds of dishes. Benefits include fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, folate, and potassium.
They're a bonanza of green goodness. Adding in servings of green veggies is an efficient way to pack in vitamins and fend off constipation due to all that fiber. Vegetables have also been linked to a reduced risk of low birth weight.
7. Lean meat and proteins
Lean beef and chicken are excellent sources of high-quality protein. Beef is also rich in iron, choline, and other B vitamins — all of which you'll need in higher amounts during pregnancy.
Iron is an essential mineral that is used by red blood cells as a part of hemoglobin. You'll need more iron since your blood volume is increasing. This is particularly important during your third trimester.
Low levels of iron during early and mid-pregnancy may cause iron deficiency anemia, which increases the risk of low birth weight and other complications. It can be hard to cover your iron needs with meals alone, especially if you develop an aversion to meat or are vegetarian or vegan. However, for those who can, eating lean red meat regularly may help increase the amount of iron you're getting from food.
Pro tip: Pairing foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as oranges or bell peppers, along with iron-rich foods may also help increase absorption. Toss some vitamin C-rich tomato slices on that chicken burger or whip up this steak and mango salad.
Berries hold a lot of goodness in their tiny packages like water, healthy carbs, vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants. Berries have a relatively low glycemic index value, so they should not cause major spikes in blood sugar. Berries are also a great snack, as they contain both water and fiber. They provide a lot of flavor and nutrition, but with relatively few calories. Some of the best berries to eat while pregnant are blueberries, raspberries, goji berries, strawberries, and acai berries.
9. Whole grains
Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins, and plant compounds. Think oats, quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries, and barley instead of white bread, pasta, and white rice. Some whole grains, like oats and quinoa, also contain a fair amount of protein. They also hit a few buttons that are often lacking in pregnant people: B vitamins, fiber, and magnesium. There are so many ways to add whole grains to any meal, but we're especially liking this quinoa and roasted sweet potato bowl.
Avocados are an unusual fruit because they contain a lot of monounsaturated fatty acids. This makes them taste buttery and rich — perfect for adding depth and creaminess to a dish. They're also high in fiber, B vitamins (especially folate), vitamin K, potassium, copper, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Because of their high content of healthy fats, folate, and potassium, avocados are a great choice during pregnancy. The healthy fats help build the skin, brain, and tissues of your little one, and folate may help prevent neural tube defects, developmental abnormalities of the brain and spine such as spina bifida.
Potassium may help relieve leg cramps, a side effect of pregnancy for some women. In fact, avocados contain more potassium than bananas. Try them as guacamole, in salads, in smoothies, and on whole wheat toast, but also as a substitute for mayo or sour cream.
11. Dried fruit
Dried fruit is generally high in calories, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. One piece of dried fruit contains the same amount of nutrients as fresh fruit, just without all the water and in a much smaller form. One serving of dried fruit can provide a large percentage of the recommended intake of many vitamins and minerals, including folate, iron, and potassium. Prunes are rich in fiber, potassium, and vitamin K. They’re natural laxatives and may be very helpful in relieving constipation. Dates are high in fiber, potassium, iron, and plant compounds.
However, dried fruit also contains high amounts of natural sugar. Make sure to avoid the candied varieties, which contain even more sugar. Although dried fruit may help increase calorie and nutrient intake, it’s generally not recommended to consume more than one serving at a time.
Try adding a small portion to a trail mix with nuts and seeds for an on-the-go protein- and fiber-filled snack.
12. Fish liver oil
Fish liver oil is made from the oily liver of fish, most often cod. It’s rich in the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which are essential for fetal brain and eye development. Supplementing with fish oil may help protect against preterm delivery and may benefit fetal eye development.
Fish liver oil is also very high in vitamin D, of which many people don’t get enough. It may be highly beneficial for those who don’t regularly eat seafood or supplement with omega-3 or vitamin D. A single serving (1 tablespoon or 15 milliliters) 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, as too much preformed vitamin A can be dangerous for your baby. High levels of omega-3 may also have blood-thinning effects. Low mercury fish like salmon, sardines, canned light tuna, or pollock can also help get you to your omega-3 goals.
Besides these foods, adequate Water intake is always very important especially in pregnancy to stay hydrated. During pregnancy, blood volume increases by about 45 percent. Your body will channel hydration to your baby, but if you don’t watch your water intake, you may become dehydrated yourself.
Symptoms of mild dehydration include headaches, anxiety, tiredness, bad mood, and reduced memory. Increasing your water intake may also help relieve constipation and reduce your risk of urinary tract infections, which are common during pregnancy.
General guidelines recommend that pregnant women drink about 80 ounces (2.3 liters) of water daily. But the amount you really need varies. Check with your doctor for a recommendation based on your specific needs. Keep in mind that you also get water from other foods and beverages, such as fruit, vegetables, coffee, and tea.
Your growing baby is just waiting to slurp up all those nutrient-dense foods from a well-rounded eating plan of whole grains, fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats. There’s a whole world of delicious options that give you and your baby everything you’ll need. Keep your healthcare team informed of your eating choices and let them guide you on a plan with any necessary supplements. This list should be a good start towards a healthy, well-nourished pregnancy.