Throughout your entire life, you hear about the importance of a healthy diet. And there’s a good reason, what we eat to fuel our bodies can have a huge impact on our health and wellness.
If you were actively trying to get pregnant, you were probably given advice to adopt healthier eating habits. Once you’re pregnant, proper nutrition is just as important, if not more so because you are responsible for your own health as well as the health of your baby.
You’ve probably heard about certain foods to avoid from friends, family, coworkers, or media, as well as foods that are important to eat while pregnant. But getting information from a second (or even third) hand sources can cause confusion. Your doctor will talk to you about the proper diet during pregnancy, and will probably give you a list of things to eat and avoid that looks similar to the one below.
You can use this as a quick reference and speak to your doctor or a recommended dietician if you have specific questions.
What to Eat During Pregnancy
It’s important to have a balanced diet full of whole foods while pregnant. Your body will need more nutrients for the baby to develop. Make sure to hit each of the food groups and, when possible, get a variety of nutrients through what you eat instead of relying solely on vitamins because they are absorbed better that way.
- Fortified cereals: Many breakfast cereals have been fortified with vitamins and minerals that are important for pregnant women to consume. This includes folate or vitamin B.
- Whole grain bread: Swap out white for whole-grain varieties of bread to increase fiber intake and get more zinc and iron.
- Oatmeal: A complex carbohydrate will keep you full longer. Can also lower cholesterol levels. Just avoid pre-packaged varieties with flavors and sugars. Make it plain and add a little bit of jelly or maple syrup.
- Lean meats: Rich in iron and protein. Avoid fatty varieties and make sure all meat is well cooked.
- Soy alternatives: If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you are probably already very familiar with ways to get protein and other nutrients outside of animal products. It’s safe to continue with these diets as long as you remain vigilant about your nutrition. Talk to your doctor about a plan.
- Beans and lentils: Along with the protein levels (about 15 grams per cup), lentils and beans are good sources of fiber and folate.
- Eggs: Good source of protein and amino acids, especially if you are put off by meat during your pregnancy.
- Nuts and nut butters: A good protein source without saturated fat. Stick to small servings though, because even heart-healthy fat should be limited. One ounce of nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter are healthy servings. Obviously, avoid if you have nut allergies.
- Herring: You have to be careful about the seafood you consume during pregnancy, but herring is a safe bet. Good for protein, DHA, and EPA.
- Pumpkin seeds: These seeds are a great way to get in extra protein and also contain potassium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. Magnesium helps your body break down and use carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for energy. Also a good source of iron outside of animal protein.
Fruits & Veggies
- Broccoli: Full of fiber, antioxidants, calcium, folate, and vitamin C.
- Leafy Greens: Spinach is a good source of iron and folate. Kale and turnip greens have a lot of calcium. Make sure you opt for these greens and darker varieties rather than just iceberg lettuce in salads or on sandwiches.
- Leeks: Rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Particularly good as a non-dairy source of calcium.
- Oranges: Full of fiber, folate, and vitamin C. Also have high water content to help you hydrate.
- Sweet potatoes: Technically a tuber, sweet potatoes are rich in fiber and vitamin A. They are good sources of energy because they’re complex carbohydrates and relatively low in calories compared to others. They can also be prepared in a variety of ways.
- Bananas: Rich in potassium, provide energy and are easy on the stomach.
- Unsweetened dried fruit: Portable and a good option when craving something sweet. Good options are dried apricots, cranberries, and cherries. Just keep away from dried bananas, which are processed in oil.
- Nonfat milk: Calcium needs increase during pregnancy. You need about twice as much as normal. Nonfat milk is a good source of calcium, with about 30% of the daily recommended amount in each 8 oz serving.
- Certain cheeses: You’ve probably heard that some cheeses should be avoided, but some are safe and a good source of calcium and protein. Look for varieties like mozzarella and calcium.
- Yogurt: Good source of calcium, protein, and probiotics. Go for plain varieties and add your own small amounts of fruit, cinnamon, or ginger to avoid too much sugar.
- Basil: Basil contains so many good nutrients it’s practically a superfood for pregnant women. It is rich in vitamin E, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc, iron, and dietary fiber. Choose fresh basil over dried basil when possible.
- Tahini: Because it is made of sesame seeds, tahini is full of healthy omega-6 fatty acid.
- Chives: Most commonly used as a garnish, chives have a lot of folate, calcium, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, and magnesium.
What Foods to Avoid While Pregnant
Just as you need a lot of nutrients to support your own health and the development of your baby, you should avoid certain things while pregnant. The American Pregnancy Association has details on why certain things should be avoided. Many of the foods listed are unsafe because they could contain listeria, which can cause miscarriage. Listeria can cross the placenta and may lead to an infection in the baby or blood poisoning.
- Alcohol: There are differing opinions on whether any alcohol should be consumed during pregnancy. However, there is no data supporting that any amount of alcohol is actually safe during pregnancy, so it’s recommended to avoid it. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
- Caffeine: Caffeine should be limited during pregnancy and, if possible, avoided during the first trimester. The general recommendation is keeping consumption below 200 mg per day. The diuretic effect of caffeine means that too much caffeine can cause water and calcium loss. Rely on beverages like water, juice, or milk instead of caffeinated drinks like soda or coffee.
- Raw or undercooked meat: Uncooked or undercooked beef, pork, and poultry can be dangerous because of the risk of contamination with toxoplasmosis, salmonella, and coliform bacteria. So, put ordering anything rare on hold while pregnant.
- Deli meat/cold cuts: In some cases, deli meats have been found to be contaminated with listeria. If you want to eat deli meat, you should reheat it until it is steaming to kill any bacteria.
- Certain fish: It’s well known that some fish can have high levels of mercury. It’s especially important for pregnant women to avoid these varieties because mercury exposure has been linked to brain damage and developmental delays in some babies. These fish may include tuna, swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel. Some versions of canned or packaged chunk tuna you find on a grocery store shelf can be lower in mercury but should only be eaten in small amounts. Watching out for the type of fish used in sushi is also important when avoiding mercury exposure.
Also, be aware of where your fish comes from if you eat a lot of seafood. Don’t eat fish from lakes or rivers that are contaminated by industrial pollutants. This is a particular concern for people who get their own fish from local lakes, rivers or streams rather than fish sold in grocery stores or restaurants.
- Refrigerated, smoked seafood: Seafood that is smoked and refrigerated is often labeled as lox, kippered, jerky, or nova style in the deli section of the grocery store. It should be avoided due to the potential exposure to listeria. Shelf-stable varieties, such as those in cans, should be fine.
- Raw shellfish: Raw or undercooked oysters, clams, or mussels can cause illness in anyone but should be completely avoided during pregnancy. Some doctors also advise limiting consumption of cooked shellfish but talk to yours if it’s a big part of your diet to discuss how much is best.
- Raw eggs: Any foods that contain raw eggs should not be eaten because of the risk of salmonella exposure. So, heed the warning of not sampling cake batter or cookie dough before it’s cooked. Some homemade Hollandaise sauces, ice creams, custards, mayonnaise, or Caesar salad dressing might include raw eggs. These items should be made with pasteurized eggs if they are available in stores or at restaurants, so there is no increased risk.
- Unpasteurized milk: Milk that is unpasteurized can contain listeria. Most milk available at grocery stores will be pasteurized and unpasteurized milk is often a specialty product, but make sure all milk you buy has been pasteurized.
- Certain soft cheeses: Although cheese is on the list of foods you should eat as well, you need to pay attention to the type of cheese and where it comes from. Many imported soft cheeses are made with unpasteurized milk, which as you already know, can contain listeria. Unless they explicitly state that they were made with pasteurized milk, avoid imported cheeses like Brie, Camembert and Feta, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Queso Blanco, Queso Fresco. Non-imported soft cheese is usually made with pasteurized milk, so should be safe to eat.
- Pate: It’s unlikely that pate is on your everyday menu, but just in case you have it on occasion, you should give it up while you’re pregnant. Refrigerated varieties of liver pate and other spreads are the ones to avoid due to the possible exposure to listeria.
- Unwashed produce: While it’s important to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your pregnancy diet, you should make sure that fresh varieties are washed before you consume them. Toxoplasmosis is sometimes found in soil where produce is grown and the items can be exposed to other things during travel or distribution.
The physicians and staff at Kernodle OB/GYN can provide guidance for staying healthy in all stages of a woman’s life, including during pregnancy. If you have concerns about what nutritional choices to make during pregnancy and want to talk to a professional about your specific needs, call us at 336-538-2367 or schedule an appointment online.