The Best and Worst Foods to Eat When You're Pregnant

Want to know what foods to eat and what foods to avoid when you’re pregnant? You should always follow your doctor’s advice, but there are some basic nutritional guidelines you need to know about. After all, what you eat (or don’t eat) can have a pretty serious impact on your developing baby.

How much you eat is another important factor in your overall state of health, as well as your baby’s. You may have heard the phrase “eating for two,” but there is much more to prenatal nutrition than simply eating more than you normally would.

 Pregnant woman diet infographic. A Food guide for pregnant woman.

Pregnant woman diet infographic. A Food guide for pregnant woman.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

There are some foods to avoid during your pregnancy because they could harm your unborn baby. Here is a rundown of some foods pregnant women should stay away from, organized by category:

  • Seafood: This is one you are probably aware of, but you don’t have to avoid all types of seafood during pregnancy. Do steer clear of fish with high levels of mercury (like king mackerel, swordfish, shark and tilefish) and all types of raw seafood, as well as fish “jerky.”
  • Dairy products: Avoid unpasteurized dairy products because they may contain listeria or other harmful bacteria. Look out for raw milk products, and if you eat any soft cheeses, be sure they are labeled as pasteurized.
  • Meat: When you choose your meats, remember to avoid lunch meats and hot dogs unless they are heated at least until steaming. These types of prepared meats may also contain listeria. You should also not eat any type of raw meat while pregnant.
  • Eggs: Undercooked or raw eggs should not be eaten during pregnancy. If you want to use a recipe that calls for raw eggs, see if you can find pasteurized eggs at the grocery store. Otherwise, just skip it.
  • Vegetable sprouts: Again, it’s just the raw ones you should avoid, because harmful bacteria that may be present can be destroyed by cooking.
  • Fruits: Just stay away from unpasteurized fruit juices, and be sure to wash your produce before you eat it. That’s a good practice even when you aren’t pregnant.

The Word on Alcohol and Caffeine

According to the March of Dimes, drinking alcohol any time during your pregnancy can increase the likelihood of your baby developing fetal alcohol syndrome or other birth defects, or being born prematurely. Any amount of alcohol can be dangerous for your unborn child, even if you drink before you realize you are pregnant.

The March of Dimes also advises that pregnant women who enjoy caffeinated beverages limit themselves to no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. If you’re not sure how much caffeine you typically consume in a day, remember this:

  • drip coffee can have between 95 and 200 milligrams per cup
  • black tea can have up to 70 milligrams per cup
  • soda can have around 45 milligrams per 12-ounce serving
  • Energy drinks can have anywhere from 70 to 200 milligrams per serving.

Watch out for other sources of caffeine, too, including decaffeinated coffee, chocolate and some medications. That’s right! Decaf does contain some caffeine, although it’s more like 12 to 15 milligrams, which is much lower than the amount in regular coffee.

Related: Don't Want To Forgo Coffee Or Wine During Your Pregnancy? 

Foods to Load Up On During Pregnancy

When you’re pregnant, you’re growing a new human. That’s a big job, and your body uses a lot of energy and nutrients in the process. Here are some foods you will definitely want to include in your pregnancy diet:

  • Seafood: Adding fish to your diet when you’re pregnant can help you get more omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your little one’s developing brain cells. Try to eat around 12 ounces of fish per week, but choose varieties that tend to have low levels of mercury, like salmon, canned light tuna, catfish, cod, tilapia and shrimp.
  • Dairy products: Calcium is very important for your baby’s growing bones, as well as its overall development. The standard recommendation in the United States is that pregnant and breastfeeding women get 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. Aiming for four servings of dairy per day can help you meet this goal. Just remember to avoid unpasteurized dairy while you’re pregnant.
  • High quality proteins: You can get protein from meat, eggs and dairy products, but also from vegetarian sources like beans and nuts. Eat at least three servings per day.
  • Vegetables: Try to eat at least four servings of vegetables per day. You’ll be grateful for the fiber they provide because constipation is a common complaint during pregnancy, and fiber helps to alleviate it.
  • Fruits: Although fruits contain lots of fiber and nutrients, they tend to also have a lot of sugar, so eat them every day but limit yourself to four or fewer servings.
  • Iron-rich foods: Red meat is an obvious source of dietary iron, but did you know that dried fruits are also full of iron? Beans and dark, leafy greens are another good choice for pumping up your iron stores, of which you’ll need about 27 milligrams per day for the duration of your pregnancy.

A good rule of thumb is to eat a wide variety of foods and include every color of the rainbow in your fruit and vegetable choices. That way, you have a good chance of getting all the nutrients you need. However, you don’t want to leave your nutrition up to chance, so if your doctor recommends a prenatal multi-vitamin, be sure and take it.

What’s the Deal With Folic Acid?

Folic acid, or folate, is an essential B vitamin. Your cells need it in order to function properly, and your baby needs it from day one. Simply adding folic acid to your diet, either by taking a supplement or by eating beans, leafy green vegetables and oranges, can help prevent neural tube defects in your baby.

It’s important to start taking folic acid before you get pregnant because your baby needs it during the very early weeks of pregnancy, before you even realize you’ve conceived. To get the recommended 400 micrograms per day, you should take a supplement in addition to eating folate-rich foods.

 Healthy food, sources of folic acid (vitamin B9)

Healthy food, sources of folic acid (vitamin B9)

Other Things Worth Thinking About

When you’re pregnant, you are eating for two, but one of those two is very, very small. You only need to add about 300 calories per day. How much weight you should gain is determined by how many babies you are carrying and your pre-pregnancy weight. Talk to your doctor about your ideal weekly weight gain.

In addition to remembering which foods to eat and which foods to avoid during pregnancy, focus on other ways to have a healthy pregnancy. Regular exercise, according to your doctor’s recommendations, is a good idea. Another thing you should do throughout your pregnancy is drink water. It can help with digestion and swelling as well as warding off dehydration and lowering the risk of urinary tract infections.

Here’s to your (and your baby’s) health! For more pregnancy and baby tips, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

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