14 Go-To Foods for Pregnant Women
The stick changed color, and now you’re “eating for two.” But, given all the information that’s out there, you might be a little confused about what a healthy pregnancy diet is. What foods are off-limits when you’re expecting — and which ones should be on your plate regularly? This roundup of 14 foods for pregnant women can help you fill up on meals and snacks that are good for you and good for your baby’s growth and development. But always remember to be sure to discuss your individual nutrition needs and which foods are right for you during pregnancy with your doctor.
While a prenatal vitamin is recommended before and during pregnancy, it’s “best to get nutrients through real food and then supplement as necessary,” says Krista King, MS, RDN, LDN, IFNCP, CLT, a functional dietitian and certified health coach. “Any additional supplements would be individualized based on need.”
When you’re expecting, nutrients like folate (and folic acid), vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, calcium, magnesium, iron, choline, and glycine are all important, says King, and they’re featured in our list of foods for pregnant women.
1. Lean protein
Whether you choose plant-based or animal sources of protein is a personal choice, but do make sure your meals and snacks aren’t lacking in this macronutrient. “Protein contains all of the building blocks for developing muscles, organs, and tissues,” explains King.
Sources of lean proteins include:
- white meat poultry
- lean beef
- protein powders
2. Bone broth and collagen
If you’re a fan of collagen in your smoothies or sip on bone broth regularly, you may be able to keep it up during pregnancy, but talk to your healthcare provider first. “Glycine is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that becomes essential during pregnancy,” says King. “The best food sources are collagen-containing foods like collagen powder, gelatin, bone broth, or meat on the bone,” she says. (For those who don’t eat meat, glycine is available in supplement form.)
Two whole eggs provide about half of a pregnant woman’s daily need for choline, says King. Similar to folate, this nutrient helps with healthy brain development, she adds. Plus, eggs from chickens or hens consuming feed that is supplemented with an omega-3 source like flaxseeds “contain DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that also helps support brain development.”
4. Oatmeal and other whole grains
Choose whole grains like oatmeal to meet your carbohydrate needs during pregnancy. “Whole grains contain fiber, which makes them digest slower and impact blood sugar slower,” explains King. This helps keep blood sugar stable. She recommends pairing whole grains with protein and healthy fat for even better results.
5. Broccoli and leafy greens
A good source of folate, King recommends broccoli and leafy greens for pregnant women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends getting 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help prevent neural tube defects.
She adds that they contain many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Leafy greens are rich with “vitamin B6 and magnesium, which can help ease the severity of morning sickness for some,” she says. They also provide fiber (kale, for example, has about a gram per cup), which may help alleviate constipation, a common yet unpleasant pregnancy symptom.
6. Sweet potatoes
In addition to being a delicious complex carb that’s packed with fiber (8 grams per cup, mashed!), sweet potatoes are a source of beta-carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A, says King. “Vitamin A is important for cellular function and development,” she explains.
Yes, that liver, says King. Your iron needs double during pregnancy as you make blood for you and your growing baby.
Iron requirements increase “to support the massive rise in red blood cell production and to support the growth of the baby and placenta,” she explains. “Animal-based sources provide heme iron, which is the best-absorbed form of iron.” Liver is full of iron, making it “a great pregnancy food.”
It also contains folate and B12, which King says are “both needed for healthy red blood cell development and brain development.”
Legumes like lentils, beans, and peanuts provide a plant-based source of protein and iron (for the liver-averse), says King. They’re also an affordable and filling way to load up on fiber and folate — a cup of cooked lentils contains more than half of the daily recommended amount of both for pregnancy.
9. Salmon and fatty fish
“Fish is the one best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids,” which are crucial to brain development, says King, especially fatty varieties like salmon. Seafood also contains iodine, zinc, and selenium — “all-important for thyroid function,” she adds. The ACOG recommends two servings of fish or shellfish (about 8 to 12 ounces) weekly, but since mercury is a concern during pregnancy, be sure to follow current FDA guidelines.
King loves avocados as a source of healthy fat. “Dietary fat is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K,” she says. And, it helps support steady blood sugar levels, which is always helpful during pregnancy.
Avocados also contain folate and potassium, which are essential nutrients during pregnancy.
11. Nuts and seeds
In addition to providing protein and fats, nuts and seeds are “a great source of magnesium, which is a common mineral deficiency” during pregnancy, says King. “Magnesium deficiency can put you at risk for vascular complications.”
The nuts with the highest levels of magnesium include almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts.
12. Wheat germ
Wheat germ has been a pregnancy health food staple for decades — for good reason. Each 2-tablespoon serving provides vitamin E, folate, and minerals like phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium, says King, along with over 4 grams of protein and nearly 2 grams of fiber. Sprinkle it on yogurt, and add to baked goods and oatmeal.
“Ginger can help support digestion and ease nausea and morning sickness,” says King. Sip on ginger tea or keep ginger chews on hand if these pregnancy symptoms flare up.
Every day, your body delivers between 50 and 330 mg of calcium to help build your growing baby’s bones and teeth, so getting enough is essential throughout pregnancy (to avoid depleting your own stores). Dairy products, including cheese and yogurt, “are the best sources of calcium,” according to the ACOG. Their guidelines recommend three servings daily, each equal to 1 cup of low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt, two slices of cheese, or ⅓ cup shredded cheese.
For those who don’t consume dairy, King suggests getting your calcium via sardines, canned salmon with the bones, broccoli, almonds, leafy green vegetables, bok choy, or calcium supplements.
What Should Be in Your Diet in the First Month of Pregnancy?
During the first month of pregnancy, you may not be aware you’re expecting, and your caloric needs begin to shift as you approach the second trimester. Throughout pregnancy, King encourages her clients to focus on nutrient needs more than calorie needs.
“You need approximately 300 additional calories toward the end of your first trimester (and this number can vary depending on the person),” she says. That’s equal to an additional snack or small meal per day.
Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Some foods can be downright dangerous when you’re expecting. The foods to avoid during pregnancy include, but are not limited to:
- Unpasteurized or raw milk and cheese (and foods made with them)
- Hot dogs, lunch meats, and cold cuts (unless heated until steaming)
- Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads
- Refrigerated smoked seafood (including smoked salmon)
- Raw and undercooked seafood, eggs, and meat (including runny egg yolks, sushi, and rare burgers)
Be sure to discuss your individual nutrition needs during pregnancy with your doctor.