Pregnancy is one of the most unique and important times in a woman’s life. Regardless of whether you are currently pregnant or hope to become so in the future, being aware of the many ways in which nutrition during pregnancy impacts both your body and the baby growing inside of you is super important.
You may have already started, or at least considered starting to make some changes to your diet, lifestyle and supplement routines. Even if you haven’t started, it’s not too late. The quality of nutrients you consume plays a large and important role in your baby’s health and development, which is exciting since it means that you have a lot of control over his or her health. This also can be understandably a bit nerve wrecking, though, since understanding exactly what your body needs can be confusing. With all the pregnancy symptoms and changes, too, optimizing your nutrition can have its challenges.
Keep reading to learn more about what foods and nutrients will help support your body and baby during pregnancy, along with tips to managing your health when you aren’t feeling as well.
What are the best foods for pregnancy?
While prenatal supplements are great at helping to provide you and your growing baby the nutrients you both need to thrive, they never replace or outweigh the importance of also getting the right nutrients from food. Food should always be thought of as the best source of nutrition that should ideally be prioritized first in anyone’s diet.
Here are some of the best foods for you and a growing baby:
Fruits & vegetables. Produce is important for every lifestyle, with pregnancy being no exception. They are an excellent source of antioxidants as well as nutrients like vitamin C, B vitamins and other trace minerals which are all super important for both your health and that of a growing baby’s. Leafy green veggies in particular are also a great source of folate, which is essential for baby’s brain and nervous system development and helps protect against certain types of anemia.
Whole eggs. While it’s common to use only egg whites, the yolks are perhaps the most important part, especially for a pregnant body. Egg yolks are rich in essential B vitamins as well as choline, which is important for DNA production and the developing baby’s brain. The egg whites contain protein, so eating the whole egg provides the most complete nutrition.
Legumes. Beans, lentils, soybeans and peanuts are all types of legumes and contain nutrients like fiber, iron, folate, and are also a good source of plant-based protein. The pregnant body needs more of each of these nutrients, so legumes are a great way to help reach the recommended amounts.
Whole grains. Foods like oats, brown rice, quinoa and products made from whole wheat flour are also a rich source of fiber as well as B vitamins and magnesium. These all play a role in nourishing your body while also helping to keep your bowels regular.
Bone broth and slow cooked meats. These are an excellent source of high quality protein, zinc and iron. Iron is essential for both mother and baby to help prevent anemia and to deliver enough oxygen to the blood. Zinc and protein are also essential for normal growth and development. These foods also provide a natural source of collagen and the amino acid glycine. Glycine plays a role in DNA development of a growing baby and also helps produce a powerful antioxidant called glutathione, which protects cells from damage and also helps the body detoxify.
Low-mercury seafood. Not all seafood is off limits while pregnant. Fish is a great source of essential nutrients like omega-3 essential fatty acids, iodine and selenium which are all essential and many are needed in higher amounts during pregnancy for optimal development. Some seafood also contains natural small amounts of vitamin D, which isn’t found in most foods. It’s still important to limit your intake of fish highest in mercury, but it’s completely safe and recommended to eat others like salmon, chunk light/skipjack tuna, shrimp, tilapia, and cod. The FDA recommends eating between 8-12 ounces per week of low-mercury seafood during pregnancy.
Low or full-fat and fermented dairy products. Most people know dairy as being rich in calcium, but it’s also a good source of protein, B vitamins, iodine and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fermented dairy products like some yogurts and kefir also provide probiotics to help support digestion and immunity. Recent studies have even linked the consumption of fermented foods with a reduced risk of preterm birth. Just avoid fat-free dairy since fat is essential for the absorption of many of these nutrients (and it tastes better, too!).
Pregnancy meal plan ideas
You now know some of the best foods to be eating during pregnancy, but may not know exactly what incorporating them into your diet may look like.
Here’s some examples for balanced, simple and nourishing meal ideas that are also delicious:
- Yogurt parfait made with Greek or Icelandic yogurt and topped with your choice of berries, walnuts and/or chia seeds
- Smoothie made with a handful of leafy greens, frozen berries, nut butter, almond milk and either Greek yogurt or your favorite protein powder. Blend in some ground flaxseeds for even more fiber and nutrition
- Oatmeal made with your choice of milk, nut butter and chia seeds. Enjoy alongside a hardboiled egg for added protein and a more filling, balanced meal
- Whole eggs scrambled with chopped veggies of choice and seasoned as desired. Enjoy alongside a piece of whole grain toast or oatmeal
Lunch & Dinner:
- Roasted salmon or other low mercury fish with a side of brown rice and veggies like broccoli or asparagus
- Vegetable soup made with bone broth, variety of diced veggies, lentils and plenty of herbs & spices. Option to mix in a whole grain such as quinoa for added protein and fiber
- Entree salad made with mixed leafy greens, variety of colorful veggies and/or fruits, a protein source like pre-cooked chicken, your favorite crumbly cheese, optional nuts or seeds, and drizzled with your favorite dressing such as a vinaigrette
- Whole grain bowl made with cooked quinoa, hard boiled eggs, roasted veggies like sweet potatoes and zucchini, crumbly cheese, and topped with your favorite sauce or dressing like hummus or pesto. Feel free to mix and match your favorite ingredients for flavor variety
- Banana or apple topped with nut butters
- Hard boiled egg with a piece of fruit
- Trail mix made with roasted nuts and dried fruit
Tips for managing nutrition when you aren’t feeling well
Sometimes unwanted symptoms come along with the many changes going on in your body during pregnancy, which can make eating well more challenging.
Here are some tips to help you manage some of the most common symptoms:
Nausea/vomiting– Pay attention to and try to avoid any triggers to your nausea. In addition, try eating small, light meals more frequently throughout the day rather than larger meals (even if it’s only a few bites at a time). Sometimes liquids are better tolerated than solid food, so don’t be afraid to stick to those when needed. Consuming ginger and peppermint teas and taking extra vitamin B6 supplements are also worth a try and may provide extra help.
Smell & taste aversions– Avoid strong-smelling foods which often includes things like spicy dishes, seafood and fried foods. As with nausea, pay attention to your unique triggers. Also try eating foods of different temperatures, since you may find you tolerate cold foods more than hot ones, or vice versa. Seasoning foods in new ways can also help bring out different flavors and may be better tolerated or desired.
Fatigue– Choose simple meals that don’t require a lot of preparation or cooking (it’s a good idea to keep frozen veggies, whole grains, etc on hand for these times). On days when you do have more energy, consider doing some basic meal prepping to help with having foods available when you need them. Don’t forget or be afraid to also ask for help and support from your significant other or other loved ones.
What you eat during pregnancy makes a huge difference both in how you feel as well as in yours and your growing baby’s health. The good news is that there are endless combinations of nourishing foods to enjoy that can help ensure you are meeting both of your needs while also satisfying your taste buds. Eating a balanced diet will help promote proper growth and development of your baby and reduce the chances of birth complications and/or developmental delays later in life.