13 Foods to Eat While You’re Pregnant
You've probably heard the phrase ‘eating for two’ as it relates to a pregnant woman. Expectant mothers may wonder how much they need to eat during pregnancy and which foods are the best.
Pregnant women should eat more calories to support the extra energy that is used to help the baby develop (1).
When women are expecting, they also need a different micronutrient intake than women who are not pregnant (2).
Studies show that even in developed countries, pregnant women may not get enough folate, iron and vitamin D (2).
Consuming the right foods when you’re pregnant will help ensure the health of you and the baby. Below are some of the most nutritious foods that you can eat when you’re pregnant.
Before we move onto the 13 best foods for pregnant women, let's talk about how much you should eat and the essential nutrients needed.
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How Much Should You Eat When You’re Pregnant?
Pregnant mothers need to eat more to support the growing fetus. Gaining weight during pregnancy is normal.
Most pregnant women will gain weight due to the extra weight of the fetus, placenta and additional fluids.
Certain maternal tissues also expand or increase in volume, causing weight gain. Pregnant women also gain fat stores while pregnant (5).
When you’re pregnant, the body becomes better at absorbing nutrients from the foods that you eat. You probably don’t need to eat more calories in the first trimester (6).
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes, or the inability of your body to properly use insulin to regulate blood sugar, which develops during pregnancy and goes away after the birth of the child.
Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can also make it harder for the mother to lose the weight after the baby is born (11).
How Many Calories Does a Pregnant Woman Need?
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women add about 350 calories to their daily intake in the second trimester and 500 calories in the third trimester (5, 6).
The baby’s brain grows rapidly in the third trimester, making it especially important for mothers to get adequate nutrients during this stage (12).
Eating more when pregnant doesn't mean just adding empty calories to your diet. It is important to eat nutrient-rich foods to support your health and the health of your baby.
What Are the Nutrients Needed During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women should consume a variety of minimally processed foods to ensure adequate nutrient and calorie intake.
Some nutrients are more important than others during pregnancy, including the following:
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, and pregnant women are at a higher risk of iron deficiency.
Iron helps the blood carry oxygen throughout the body and supports healthy immunity, growth, and development (13).
Zinc is essential for immunity and development.
Some studies have found that supplementing zinc in pregnant women and young children can help with motor development and cognitive functioning. However, the evidence is still largely inconclusive (13).
This vitamin is only found naturally in animal products.
Although there aren't many studies that look into B-12 deficiency in pregnant women or infants, a few observational studies have found a link between B-12 deficiency and poor cognitive performance (13).
A deficiency in this vitamin can cause slower infant growth and increased fussiness in babies. Mothers who are deficient in vitamin B-6 may not respond to their babies' crying as readily (12).
This nutrient is important for preventing neural tube defects (12).
13 Foods To Eat When Pregnant
Here are 13 healthy foods to eat while you're pregnant:
1. Dairy Products Provide Calcium and Friendly Bacteria
Many people associate dairy products with calcium. However, they are also a convenient source of other nutrients.
It is recommended that pregnant women eat more calcium to support the growing baby (15) . Vitamin D, which is often found in dairy products, can also support bone health for the baby and the mother (16).
Women who are sensitive to lactose may find it easier to digest yogurt because it contains active probiotics that consume most of the lactose in the product (17, 18). Eating Greek yogurt is an ideal way to get calcium and protein from a dairy product.
In fact, supplementing with probiotics during pregnancy can protect against gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, infections and allergic diseases. It can even prevent excessive weight gain during pregnancy (22).
2. Eggs Contain Almost Every Nutrient
Pregnant women who are looking to add calories by consuming more nutrient-dense foods can achieve this goal by eating eggs.
One large hard-boiled egg contains (23):
- Calories: 77
- Protein: 6 g
- Vitamin A: 6% DV
- Calcium: 2% DV
- Iron: 3% DV
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 39 mg
Eggs are an excellent source of choline. Although different people need different amounts of choline, most pregnant women don’t get enough (24). More than 90% of Americans don’t consume enough choline (25).
It is suggested that pregnant women consume about 450 mg of choline a day. One whole egg contains about 113 mg of choline or 25% DV of choline (28).
3. Sweet Potatoes Provides Vitamin A
One cup of baked sweet potato contains 769% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A. It also contains 8% DV of calcium and 8% DV of iron (29).
However, consuming excess vitamin A from animal products can be toxic. Therefore, eating more plant-based sources of vitamin A (beta-carotene) may be preferable (34). This is because beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A on an as-needed basis.
The fiber in sweet potatoes can help support digestive health and regularity. It can also improve satiety and keep blood sugar from spiking, which can help with pregnancy cravings and manage gestational diabetes (35, 36, 37).
4. Legumes Provides Folate and Calcium
Legumes are dry fruits that grow inside of a shell or a pod. Beans are the most commonly recognize type of legume. However, peas, alfalfa, and peanuts are also legumes.
Adding legumes to their diet can boost their folate levels and prevent problems like low birth weight and neural tube defects in the baby.
Let’s look at the nutrients in some common types of legumes.
One cup of dry roasted unsalted peanuts contains the following nutrients (42):
- Calories: 160
- Protein: 7 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Calcium: 15 mg (2% DV)
- Iron: .6 mg (4% DV)
- Folate: 40 mcg (10% DV)
One cup of black beans contains the following nutrients (43):
- Calories: 230
- Protein: 15g
- Fiber: 15g
- Calcium: 46 mg (5% DV)
- Iron: 3.6 mg (20% DV)
- Folate: 256 mcg (64% DV)
Pregnant women are more likely to suffer from constipation. The fiber in legumes can help keep bowel movements regular and comfortable.
5. Salmon Contains Brain-Building Fatty Acids
Three ounces of wild Atlantic salmon contain more than 2,000 mcg of omega-3 fatty acids. This amount also contains 5% of the DV of iron (47).
However, it is recommended that pregnant women eat less than 340 grams a week of fish and seafood to limit the levels of mercury they consume. Therefore, many people don’t eat enough fish to consume the recommended amount of omega-3s (48).
Three ounces is equivalent to 85 grams. Researchers found that eating a serving of fatty fish two to three times per week can help pregnant women take in the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids while still falling below the suggested seafood consumption levels (49, 50).
Salmon is a rich source of vitamin D (51). Wild-caught salmon contains more vitamin D than farmed salmon. Just 3.5 ounces of wild salmon may contain 500 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D, whereas the same amount of farmed salmon may only contain up to 250 IU (52).
6. Lean Meat Delivers Iron and Other Nutrients
Lean cuts of beef, pork and chicken provide protein, iron, choline and vitamin B.
As a pregnant woman’s blood volume increases, so does her demand for dietary iron, especially in the last few months of pregnancy (55).
Getting insufficient iron during the early and middle stages of a pregnancy can cause iron deficiency anemia. This condition increases the risk of premature birth and low birth weight (56).
One cup, or 140 grams, of chicken breast contains 8% DV of iron (59). The same amount of top sirloin steak contains only slightly more iron than that (60). Therefore, pregnant women who have a meat aversion can still consume iron by eating milder chicken rather than red meat.
7. Dark, Leafy Green Vegetables Are Rich in Nutrients and Fiber
Dark, leafy, green vegetables, like spinach, collard greens and broccoli, contain many important nutrients.
For example, one cup of raw spinach contains the following (61):
- Calories: 7
- Fiber: 1 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Vitamin A: 56% DV
- Calcium: 3% DV
- Vitamin C: 14% DV
- Iron: 5% DV
- Vitamin K: 181% DV
- Folate: 15% DV
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 41 mg
If you cook the leafy greens, you’ll typically end up consuming more than if you eat them raw. This can help boost the amount of fiber you eat, preventing constipation, which plagues at least 25% of pregnant women (64).
Eating leafy greens can add important nutrients such as folate to your dietary intake without adding many calories.
8. Berries Are a Great Sweet Treat for Immunity
Berries are full of water, antioxidants and vitamin C.
Vitamin C helps you absorb iron. If you experience iron deficiency during pregnancy, eating meat along with some berries may help.
Berries also provide fiber and can satisfy a sweet tooth. However, they have relatively few calories, especially when compared with other sweet treats.
9. Fish Oil Provides Omega-3s
Fish oil is also a natural source of vitamin D. Women who don’t eat seafood or have an aversion to fish during pregnancy can still reap the benefits by taking fish oil supplements.
In fact, pregnant women who don’t consume enough vitamin D may be more likely to develop preeclampsia. This is a type of high blood pressure caused by the pregnancy. It can be dangerous for both mother and baby (75, 76).
One observational study found that women who supplemented with cod liver oil early in their pregnancies gave birth to heavier babies. Higher birth weight is associated with a reduce risk of disease later in life (77).
Too much vitamin A may lead to birth defects. Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women consume no more than 3,000 mcg of retinol, the type of vitamin A found in fish oil, per day (77).
Therefore, a pregnant woman could take a scant tablespoon or even a teaspoon a day to ensure adequate consumption of the vitamin.
10. Avocados Are Calorie Dense and Nutritious
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, fiber, folate, vitamin K and vitamin C. They are relatively high in calories, but they contain many vital nutrients.
The fatty acids in avocados help the fetus develop strong and healthy skin and brain cells. The folate in the avocados may lower the risk of certain birth defects (80).
One avocado contains 20% DV of potassium (81). This is actually more potassium than bananas have. Regulating potassium balance in the body may help prevent leg cramps, which are common in pregnancy (82).
11. Whole Grains Provide Higher Quality Calories
If you’re having trouble taking in enough calories while pregnant, you can take in more energy by eating whole grains. Whole grains have more fiber and nutrients than their refined counterparts.
When you think of whole grains, you don’t have to limit yourself to whole-wheat products. Oats and quinoa is high-protein grains. If you don’t eat meat or have an aversion to it during pregnancy, eating oats or quinoa can help you satisfy dietary protein requirements.
Also, whole-grain foods may be enriched with folate, which is important for pregnant women (83).
12. Water is Vital During Pregnancy
Mild dehydration may not affect the fetus, but it could leave you feeling less than ideal.
- Anxiety or restlessness
It is especially important to maintain adequate hydration if you are experiencing nausea during pregnancy. Drinking enough water can help with constipation too.
You can get water by drinking the beverage or by eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Drinking decaffeinated herbal tea can also help you stay hydrated.
13. Dried Fruit May Assist Labor
Dried fruit is high in calories and sugar, but it contains a great deal of fiber. It’s easy to eat several dried apricots, for example. However, one or two fresh apricots may fill you up.
Because you can typically eat more dried fruit in one sitting than fresh, you take in more fiber when eating dried fruit. However, you may need to watch your sugar intake.
When you eat well during pregnancy, you’ll feel better. You’ll also be more likely to stay healthy and encourage healthy development in your child.
You don’t have to increase your caloric intake by much, but you can gradually increase it by adding nutrient-rich foods to your diet as your pregnancy progresses.
Get the energy you need in the form of healthy foods to stay nourished during your pregnancy.
Is there any foods I have missed? Let me know what you think in the comments.
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