3 February, 2021

Nutrition in pregnancy: best foods for you and your baby

Pregnancy is one of the most important times in the lives of both mother and child when it comes to nutrition. Good nutrition practices during this stage can make a difference in a child’s lifelong health. However, many women tend to forget this and think that they should start providing good nutrition for their baby only at 6 months of age. Let’s find out in this blog post which foods to eat during pregnancy for a healthy mama and growing baby.

Why eating well during pregnancy matters

During pregnancy you are creating another human being from scratch inside your body! This means that you need to make sure you have all the building blocks for the healthy growth and development of your new baby and at the same time sustain your own health.

Pregnancy is part of the first 1000 days of a baby's life, a time of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability, where nutrition has a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive. The mother’s nutrition status before and during pregnancy can dramatically impact your baby’s brain development, as well as future risk of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

The focus shouldn’t be on the old cliché you have to eat for two. YOU DON’T! Your body doesn’t need extra calories until the third trimester when 200 kcals extra is enough. What you need is to get the right balance of nutrients through a healthy diet.

The human body is naturally made to support this process; it increases the uptake of vitamins and minerals to compensate for the growing baby’s needs. So how do you make sure that you have an increased intake of the right nutrients to sustain your health too?

The most important foods during pregnancy

Eat the rainbow everyday would be my main advice to have a balanced diet during pregnancy. This means eating a variety of foods from all the food groups such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein-rich foods, fish and legumes, and some dairy foods. Most of the increased intake of nutrients required during pregnancy can be achieved through a varied and balanced diet.

Sounds easy, but it doesn’t always go as planned... Especially in the first trimester, nausea, fatigue and food aversion can have an impact on your food intake. However, as soon as you feel better, it’s good to try to increase your intake of the following nutrients.

5 servings of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are a fundamental food group for your nutrition during pregnancy. Besides being rich in vitamins and minerals, they also contain fibre, which can help prevent or ease constipation during pregnancy. Especially leafy green vegetables should be part of your everyday diet since they are rich in folate, iron, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K and fiber.

Try to get 1-2 servings of fruit and vegetables with every meal or include them as a snack, choosing different varieties during the week. Remember that 1 serving corresponds to 80g of fresh or frozen fruit or vegetables.

Getting your 5-A-Day doesn’t have to be hard – nutrient rich produce can be prepared in hundreds of ways alone or in recipes, both fresh and cooked.

Plenty of whole grains

If you didn’t worry about whole grains before, this is the time to start including them in your everyday meals and snacks. You should favor whole grains because these contain more fiber and micronutrients than processed grains, such as white bread, white rice, and white flour. Whole grains should be your source of energy throughout pregnancy and are helpful to fight nausea during the early stages of pregnancy when you need to keep your stomach full and snacking on dry crackers seems a life saver.

Choose foods like oatmeal for breakfast, whole-grain bread and crackers and cereals like quinoa, barley, spelt, whole-grain pasta, brown or wild rice.

Lentils, pulses, fish, eggs, lean meat

These foods all have a good amount of protein, which makes up the building blocks of cells in both your body and your baby's. They also contain B vitamins and iron, which are needed during pregnancy. Remember that each high-protein foods contain different types of fats and amounts of fiber. For this reason, it is good to alternate between animal sources and plant-based sources of protein.

Lean meat is one of the best foods to eat during pregnancy because besides being protein-rich, it’s also high in iron, which is fundamental for your baby to develop his or her red blood cell supply, and for you to support your increased blood volume. Lentils, on the other hand, also fiber and folate. Fiber counteracts pregnancy-related constipation, while folate is vital to form your baby’s nervous system and to protect against neural-tube defects.

At least 3 servings of dairy

To support your baby’s growing bones and teeth, to keep yours strong and to help your nerves and muscles function you need a considerable amount of calcium. You need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day if you are between 19 and 50 years old and three to four servings of dairy foods can help you meet these needs. The healthiest dairy food is plain yogurt which contains as much calcium as milk but has more protein, folate and cultures good for your stomach.

Remember to avoid pairing calcium rich food with iron rich food in the same meal.

Oily fish every week

Already recommended for the general population, but even more important during pregnancy, two portions of fish should be included in your weekly meals. One of these should be oily to ensure you’re providing your baby with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) critical for brain development. Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel, sardines, fresh tuna, trout and herring. But because some oily fish can contain high levels of mercury, which can be poisonous, try to not have more than two portions in one week.

And what about supplements?

Even though during pregnancy, a woman’s body becomes much more efficient at absorbing and utilizing the nutrients needed to support the growth of mum and baby, we still need to ensure that we give our bodies the right nutrients in the first place. So, if you are vegan or intolerant to some foods, you can opt for a pregnancy multivitamin to make sure your growing baby gets enough nutrients.

Make sure you supplement with:

  • Folic acid. 400 micrograms per day from the beginning of your pregnancy until week 12.
  • Iron. 27-40 milligrams daily from week 10 of your pregnancy. Do not take the iron with calcium rich foods or calcium supplements since this inhibits iron absorption.
  • Calcium. At least 500 milligrams daily and not more than 1500 mg throughout the whole pregnancy. Divide the dose over the course of the day to improve absorption.
  • Vitamin D. 10 micrograms daily throughout the whole pregnancy to help your body absorb calcium.
  • DHA. At least 200 milligrams per day of omega-3 DHA before and throughout the whole pregnancy. DHA dietary supplements are usually made of fish oil, krill oil or cod liver oil, but plant-based sources of omega-3s from algal oil are also available and provide around 100–300 mg DHA.
  • Iodine and vitamin B12. If you don’t consume animal products, you should talk to your doctor to learn what are the right amounts of Vitamin B12 and iodine for you.

Let’s not forget the two last but not least important recommendations for your pregnancy: staying active and hydrated. Aim for at least 30 minutes of walking and 8-10 glasses of water everyday. If you forget, observe your urine and if it’s dark, you need more water!

Considering that we are all busy and probably working all the way through pregnancy, sometimes it might be difficult to pay attention to our diet. Something that helps me make sure that I am getting everything the baby and I need is a Pregnancy Food Checklist with all the most important food groups, fluids and exercise. Here is an example:


  1. Starling P, Charlton K, McMahon A.T. and Lucas C. Fish Intake during Pregnancy and Foetal Neurodevelopment—A Systematic Review of the Evidence. Nutrients 2015, 7(3), 2001-2014.
  2. Carol J. Lammi-Keefe, Sarah C. Couch, John P. Kirwan. Handbook of Nutrition and Pregnancy. Second edition, Humana Press.
  3. Oladapo A Ladipo. Nutrition in pregnancy: mineral and vitamin supplements.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 72, Issue 1, July 2000, Pages 280S–290S

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