It’s important to remember that your body needs a variety of foods, especially during pregnancy. This list doesn’t mean that these are the only foods you need during pregnancy, and it certainly doesn’t mean that a food is bad if it’s not on this list. Nourish your body with foods you love, but also with foods that will love you (and your baby) back.
If you need some help getting started, here are ten nutritious foods to eat when pregnant:
1. Leafy greens
While it’s important to eat the rainbow when it comes to fruits and vegetables, leafy greens are especially vital during early pregnancy because of their high folate content. The neural tube, which eventually becomes the brain and spinal cord, forms within the first few weeks of pregnancy – often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. Healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman’s risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord birth defect.
If you’re pregnant or have thoughts of starting a family soon, make sure you include a variety of leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, or collard greens to support healthy neural tube development. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate for pregnant women is 600 micrograms DFE (dietary folate equivalents).
And remember, this doesn’t mean you have to eat salads all the time. Salads are a great way to get in a ton of veggies but don’t underestimate the versatility of greens.
Here are a few tips:
- Add hearty greens like kale or Swiss chard to bean and veggie soups
- Blend baby spinach with colorful fruits for a refreshing smoothie
- Top flatbreads or sandwiches with a handful of arugula or spring mix
2. Egg yolks
Whole eggs are a great source of protein to help support your baby’s growth and development during pregnancy. However, many skip the yolk and opt for egg whites because of their low-calorie, high-protein nutrient profile.
Stuck in the shadow of their other (but not necessarily better) half, egg yolks are ready for their moment to shine. Egg yolks are one of the few food sources of vitamin D and also a source of vitamin A, vitamin B12, and iron. Perhaps most important, yolks are rich in choline, which is a nutrient that helps support your baby’s brain and neural tube development.
Remember that raw eggs may contain salmonella bacteria that may make you sick, so always practice proper food safety.
- Store eggs in the refrigerator
- Wash your hands frequently
- Clean any surfaces that come into contact with raw eggs
- Cook eggs thoroughly (no runny eggs)
Bonus fun fact: Chicken eggs are all very similar in nutrition, no matter what color they are. The color of a chicken’s earlobes determines what color eggs she will lay. We know what you’re thinking: “Chickens have earlobes?” Yes. Some even have pale blue-green earlobes and lay blue-green eggs.
3. Fatty fish
You probably hear about the omega-3 fatty acid content of salmon and its health benefits all the time, but it’s not the only fish in the sea! Mackerel, tuna, and herring are also excellent sources of omega-3s, which are considered essentialfatty acids because your body can’t make them on its own.
Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA and EPA are important for your baby’s brain and eye development and may help support healthy gestational length.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 8-12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week. Mercury is a common contaminant of seafood. Mercury levels of fish rise as you climb the food chain, so large, predatory fish contain the highest amounts. The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (also called EPA, but not to be confused with the fatty acid) have developed an advice chart to help you make safe choices with seafood.
4. Dairy products
Pregnant women over 19 years old need at least 1000 mg of calcium each day to support healthy bones and teeth. If you don’t get enough calcium through your diet, your body will steal calcium from your own bones to give to your baby.
You’re probably going to make a lot of sacrifices as a mother, but your calcium stores don’t have to be one of them. Choose three to four servings of calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt each day to protect your bone health and support your growing baby. Bonus: dairy foods are also a great source of protein.
For those who don’t include dairy, milk alternatives like almond or soy milk are often fortified with calcium to help you reach your calcium goal. If you’re still having trouble getting enough calcium, discuss with your healthcare provider to find out if you need a calcium supplement to support healthy bones.
5. Lean meat
While most of your plate should be plants (at least half), lean meats are a great source of protein and iron. Iron needs increase significantly during pregnancy because your body makes extra blood to support your baby and transport oxygen throughout your body. If you eat meat, choose lean cuts of beef or pork, skinless chicken or turkey, or fish.
There are two different kinds of dietary iron: heme and non-heme. Animal-based foods like the ones mentioned above contain heme iron, which is better absorbed by the body. But if you’re vegetarian, don’t worry. Plant-based sources of iron exist, which brings us to the next food in our series: legumes.
Legumes are the total package: healthy carbohydrates to keep you fueled, fiber to keep you full, protein to keep you satisfied, and iron, an essential mineral during pregnancy. Some popular iron-rich legumes include lentils, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, chickpeas, and tofu (soybeans).
Unlike meats, plant-based sources of iron contain non-heme iron, which isn’t absorbed as well by the body. If you’re vegetarian, you actually need 1.8 times more iron than the RDA to make sure your body absorbs enough. That means during pregnancy, if you’re trying to get your iron solely from food, you’d need around 49 mg of iron from plant-based food sources. If that number seems daunting, a high-quality prenatal vitamin can help you fill in the gaps.
7. Orange fruits and vegetables
Orange fruits and vegetables add a bright, vibrant pop of color to your plate and provide some key nutrients and vitamins during pregnancy.
Let’s start with vitamin C. You’ve probably already heard all about vitamin C and its immune-boosting powers, but it also helps the body absorb iron. You’ll find this nutrient in foods like oranges, bell peppers, and cantaloupe (remember food safety when preparing melons). Make a mental note to combine your vitamin C and iron foods (feel free to review 5 and 6) to get the most out of your meals.
Orange fruits and vegetables are also high in vitamin A. Like vitamin C, vitamin A is also important for immune health, but it also helps support healthy fetal vision development and tissue growth. Good sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, mangoes, and carrots.
Remember, there are tons of fruits and vegetables outside of the orange color family that provide vitamin C, vitamin A, and tons of other nutrients. Make your plate as colorful as possible and enjoy the rainbow of benefits you’ve created for your body.
Avocados are a great source of healthy fats – they help satisfy you at meals and snacks. They also help you absorb other important nutrients, like fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Avocados are also packed with fiber to help you stay fuller for longer and keep your digestive system happy (and who doesn’t want that during pregnancy?).
Kitchen tip: Avocados turn brown when exposed to oxygen. Try squeezing a little bit of lemon juice on the surface to prevent browning. The oxygen will react with the lemon juice before it has the chance to get to the avocado.
9. Whole grains
Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat bread or pasta, and quinoa are a great swap for refined grains like white bread or pasta. They’re a good source of:
- Fiber: This type of carbohydrate helps you feel full and supports digestive health.
- Magnesium: This mineral is essential for bone health, muscle and nerve function, and healthy blood sugar levels.
- Vitamin B6: This nutrient may help ease stomach upset that some women experience during pregnancy.
It can be a struggle to drink enough water – we’ve all been there. But water is even more important during pregnancy to help nutrients circulate in the body, produce more blood, and form the amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby.
The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians recommends drinking at least 8–12 cups (64–96 ounces) of water each day. If that sounds like a daunting task, try a few of these tips:
- Start slow. Habits don’t form overnight. Set small goals for yourself and gradually work up to 64 ounces each day (maybe even eventually to 96 ounces).
- Add flavor. We get it – water can be boring. Try infusing your water with berries and mint, cucumber, citrus, or apples and cinnamon sticks. Keeping a pitcher of fruit-infused water in the fridge can help you stay hydrated.
- Keep water handy. Make your water bottle your new favorite accessory. Treat yourself to a new bottle that matches your personality (or color-coordinates with your outfit) and carry it with you so you can stay hydrated around the clock.
Your body has ways of telling you if you’re not getting enough water. Look out for symptoms of dehydration like extreme thirst, dizziness, dark-colored urine, and fatigue.
The foods you eat are like a team. They each have different vitamins, nutrients, and roles, but they come together to carry out all the functions in your own body AND help grow another human being. It’s amazing. So, pull the foods from this list off the bench and onto your team to support a healthy pregnancy.
It can be hard to get all the necessary vitamins and nutrients into your diet on a daily basis. That’s where prenatal vitamins can come in and help. Check out a list of our prenatal vitamins here.
If you’re a fan of lists, check out this blog from Theralogix next: “Pregnancy Tips: The 10 Best Ways To Have a Healthy Pregnancy.”