Healthy nutrition during pregnancy can help assure that your baby gets the healthiest start possible. The meal plan is a balanced one that provides lots of:

  • complex carbohydrates
  • fiber and fluids
  • healthy types of fat
  • protein
  • vitamins and minerals

A healthy pregnancy eating pattern contains much of the same balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients as healthy eating patterns in general.

The difference is that you need higher amounts to compensate for all the work your body is doing and the baby’s additional needs.

However, there are lots of healthy and yummy options.

Balance and variety

If you’re pregnant, you only need to eat about 300 calories more per day.

Complex carbs

Whenever possible, eat complex carbohydrates, such as:

  • vegetables
  • beans
  • whole-grain bread and pasta
  • legumes

Limiting their tempting but lower fiber, nutritionally deficient cousins, the simple carbs:

  • cookies
  • pretzels
  • white bread
  • excess added sugar
  • chips

Protein

The protein intake needs to increase considerably during pregnancy and peak during your third trimester.

To guarantee you’re getting adequate protein throughout your pregnancy, be sure to add a protein-rich food source to every meal and snack.

However, examples of good, protein-rich foods include:

  • nuts and nut butter
  • seeds
  • fish
  • eggs
  • chicken or turkey
  • lean beef or pork
  • beans
  • Greek yogurt and cheese
  • tofu

Try fixing some easy, protein-rich portable snacks for when you’re on the go. And talk to your doctor if you have questions regarding your specific protein needs.

Vegetables and fruits

Vegetables contain loads of nutrients you and your growing baby need, such as:

  • vitamins A and C
  • beta-carotene
  • fiber
  • vitamin E
  • riboflavin
  • folic acid
  • B vitamins
  • calcium
  • trace minerals

Additionally, some tips for getting more veggies into your meals without going full-on rabbit. Try making veggie-based sauces and adding vegetables to smoothies, soups, casseroles, lasagnas, and guacamole.

Grains and legumes

Whole grains and legumes, such as dried peas and beans, and other healthy carbs like fruit and starchy vegetables should make regular appearances on your plate.

They provide B vitamins and trace minerals, such as zinc, selenium, and magnesium. Grains and legumes are full of nutrients, including iron and the various B vitamins: thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (vitamin B-2), folate, and niacin.

Your little one needs these for the development of just about every part of their body. For instance, folate intake significantly reduces the risk of having a baby with spina bifida.

These foods supply energy for your baby’s development and help build the placenta and other tissues in your body. It’s all about teamwork when it comes to fuel both you and baby.

Fiber

Think of fiber as your body’s plumber, keeping constipation and hemorrhoids at bay. Try to eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day from whole grains, veggies, legumes, and fruit. Be sure to increase your intake of fluids along with fiber for the best results.

Some fun options to toss into recipes include:

Remember to check the nutrition panel and choose products made with whole grains that contain the most fiber per serving.

Fat

Recognize those trendy low-fat diets from the ’90s? Long gone are the days of avoiding fat. While you don’t want to eat excessive amounts of fats, it’s also dangerous to eliminate all fat from your meals. A healthy balance is recommended.

High-fat foods to limit include fried foods and packaged products containing trans fats. Greasy meals tend to make any nausea or heartburn worse.

Essential fatty acids are necessary, including omega-3 fatty acids. Once considered fat to avoid, even saturated fats are now known to be important for fetal development.

Include more plant-based fat sources like canola, olive, and soybean oil, and limit trans fats.

Some sources of healthy fats include:

  • avocado
  • pumpkin and sunflower seeds
  • walnuts
  • chia seeds
  • flaxseed
  • olive oil
  • fatty fish

These foods provide the right types of fats to fuel your baby’s brain development.

Salt

Salt intake is essential during pregnancy, and limiting it usually isn’t essential, even if you already have high blood pressure. Pregnant people often need more salt in their food to compensate for the growing baby, and reducing your intake could be harmful.

However, you don’t need to limit salt while pregnant; it’s important to limit unhealthy, processed salty foods such as fast food and processed meats.

Speak to your healthcare provider if you have questions about your salt intake during pregnancy.

Fluids

Fluids are an essential part of any healthy consuming plan. You should eat at least 80 ounces (2.4 liters) per day, and more is better to avoid dehydration. Pregnant people need extra fluid to support the extra blood and amniotic fluid produced.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), if you’re a coffee fan, you should limit caffeinated drinks while pregnant to not exceed 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day.

Water also reduces your chance of constipation and the subsequent hemorrhoids that can develop from straining while you go.

The increased flow of urine also reduces your risk of developing a urinary tract infection, which can be dangerous for you and your baby.

If you choose to take supplements during your pregnancy, make sure you read the labels of every bottle and work with your healthcare providers. It’s necessary to stay within the daily quantity.

Keep in mind that a complete prenatal vitamin should balance the nutrients you need, and taking additional supplements may give you more than the suggested daily dosing in total.

Always discuss any supplements or over-the-counter medications you wish to take with your doctor for individual advice.

Choline

It is a vital nutrient during pregnancy and plays an essential role in a baby’s brain development? Choline helps to limit developmental abnormalities of the brain and spine.

Some research recommends that the current choline recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for pregnancy (450 mg per day) is inadequate and that a choline intake closer to 930 mg per day is optimal while you’re pregnant.

Keep in mind that most prenatal vitamins don’t contain choline, so look for one that does or take a separate choline supplement. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure the amount is right for you.

Here are some foods high in choline:

  • eggs ⁠— just two egg yolks provide nearly 300 mg of choline
  • mushrooms
  • beef liver provides 356 mg per 3-ounce serving.
  • soybeans
  • kidney beans

Folic acid

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in supplements. It’s a vital vitamin that stimulates red blood cell formation and the production of important chemical signals in the nervous system. It’s likewise important in the process of making DNA.

Perhaps more importantly, folic acid, like folate, has been identified as a critical vitamin to prevent neural tube defects in your baby, such as spina bifida.

ACOG suggests taking 400 micrograms (mcg) a day before you conceive, and receiving at least 600 mcg a day from all sources, including meals, during pregnancy.

Good sources of folic acid include:

  • beef liver, cooked
  • great northern beans
  • citrus fruits and juices
  • fortified cereal
  • cooked green leafy vegetables
  • avocado
  • asparagus

Pantothenic acid (B-5)

This vitamin (B-5) is involved in many of the body’s regulatory and metabolic activities. The RDA for the average person is 4 to 7 mg.

Pantothenic acid is present in:

  • meats, including chicken and beef
  • potatoes
  • whole grains
  • broccoli
  • egg yolks

Riboflavin (B-2)

Riboflavin is essential for a baby’s development and growth. The RDA for pregnant people is 1.4 mg and 1.6 mg for those who are breastfeeding.

A prenatal vitamin may be your most consistent source, but B-2 can be seen in milk and dairy products, with smaller amounts present in soybeans, grains, and pork.

Thiamine (B-1)

Thiamine is important for the metabolism and development of the brain, nervous system, and heart. When you’re pregnant, you need increased amounts of many vitamins, including B-1.

The RDA for pregnant people is about 1.4 mg.

Vitamin A

This vitamin is critical for proper cell growth and the development of the eyes, skin, blood, immunity, and resistance to infection.

Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine)

Vitamin B-6 is important for your body’s metabolism and the development of the fetal brain and nervous systems. The RDA for pregnant people is 1.9 mg.

Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is discovered mainly in meats and dairy products. So it can be a problem for vegans or strict vegetarians. If you have dietary limitations, make sure that your vitamin supplement has adequate B-12.

Nutritional yeast fortified with B-12 is a great staple for vegetarians. It has a salty and savory flavor and tastes similar to Parmesan cheese. Here’s why “the nooch” is so popular for its health benefits.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

The body does not stockpile vitamin C, so you need regular sources to fulfill your daily requirement. The RDA for pregnant people is 85 mg.

You can reach your goal through daily intake of these foods:

  • citrus fruits (add fresh lemon or lime juice to your water!)
  • berries
  • bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • lots of other fruits and veggies

Vitamin D

Humans produce vitamin D in response to sunlight. Vitamin D itself is found naturally only in some fish liver oils.

Since exposure to sunlight is variable and this vitamin is so important for pregnant people and growing children, all milk is now fortified with vitamin D per quart as regulated by the U.S. government.

Vitamin D supplements are essential if you don’t drink milk. Your doctor can check vitamin D levels to guide supplementation if you are taking a supplement.

And if you are deficient in vitamin D? You’re not alone: About 40 percent of people in the United States are too.

Minerals you need during pregnancy?

Calcium

Calcium, vitamin D’s life partner, is important for strong bones and teeth, of course. But it’s also critical for the proper development and function of the heart and other muscles, as well as for the blood clotting system.

Your baby demands a huge supply of calcium during development. Pregnant people need 1,000 mg of calcium, preferably in two doses of 500 mg, per day.

Calcium-rich foods include:

  • milk and dairy products
  • calcium-fortified orange juice and bread
  • canned fish with bones
  • calcium-set tofu
  • cooked beans
  • cooked dark leafy greens

Prenatal supplements usually contain only 150 to 200 mg of calcium. So, prenatal vitamins alone won’t provide sufficient calcium for you.

Iodine

Iodine is important for the development and functioning of the thyroid gland and the regulation of metabolism. The RDA for pregnant people is 220 mcg per day.

You can get iodine from:

  • fluoridated drinking water
  • brewer’s yeast
  • iodized (table) salt
  • eggs
  • milk

Iron

Make sure to eat iron-rich foods daily. Since many people, especially women, don’t get enough iron in their meals, iron is an important part of prenatal supplements.

Iron is often poorly absorbed from plant foods, so it’s difficult to reach the proper requirement. Talk to your doctor if you are prone to iron deficiency anemia. They may recommend a supplement.

Iron-rich foods include:

  • spinach
  • lentils
  • fortified cereals
  • red meats such as beef and lamb
  • kidney, lima, and navy beans

To increase the absorption of the plant (or non-heme) iron, pair iron-rich food with a vitamin-C-rich source. For example, add fresh sliced bell peppers or strawberries to your spinach salad.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential element for teeth and bones, blood-sugar levels, and the proper functioning of body proteins. It’s also important for tissue growth and repair and may play a role in reducing preterm delivery.

The prescribed upper limit for magnesium for pregnant people is around 300 mg. A healthy eating plan provides enough magnesium, so it’s not present in most prenatal vitamins.

The best food sources of magnesium are:

  • seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin
  • yogurt
  • wheat germ
  • tofu
  • almonds

Chromium

Chromium is important for your baby’s development. You should get about 30 mcg per day. Foods that contain significant amounts of chromium include:

  • peanut butter
  • wheat germ
  • asparagus
  • whole wheat bread
  • spinach

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is a significant part of the development of the muscular, circulatory, and skeletal systems. The RDA is 700 mg for pregnant and breastfeeding people.

Sources include:

  • milk
  • nuts
  • yogurt
  • beans
  • seafood

Zinc

It’s prescribed pregnant people take in 11 mg of zinc while breastfeeding women need a bit more: 12 mg. You can buy prenatal vitamins that contain zinc.

Zinc sources include:

  • red meat
  • seeds
  • nuts
  • beans

Potassium

Potassium is a mineral that affects cellular function, fluid balance, blood pressure regulation, and proper nerve and muscle function.

Research from 2017 revised potassium intake recommendations to 4,000 mg daily for adults and pregnant people (slightly higher for breastfeeding).

Prenatal vitamins can provide potassium, but potassium is present at high levels in foods such as:

  • avocados
  • cantaloupes
  • squash
  • oranges
  • watermelons
  • bananas
  • dark leafy greens
  • meats
  • milk
  • grains
  • legumes