If you’re reading this while pregnant, congratulations! Pregnancy is one of the most unique and important times in a woman’s life.
Being aware of the ways in which nutrition impacts both your body and the growing child inside of you is crucial information to have, even if you aren’t pregnant yet but hope to be soon!
If you’ve been planning a pregnancy for any length of time, you may have already started making some changes to your diet and may have a headstart on taking your prenatal vitamins as well. These are great things to get you started, but there is much more to focus on to help ensure the best health both for you and baby during your pregnancy. Your baby’s health and development is greatly dependent upon the quality of nutrients you consume.
Read on to learn more about what foods and nutrients will help support your pregnancy, what “eating for two” really means, and tips to manage nutrition when you aren’t feeling well.
Pregnancy nutrition: Which foods are best?
You’ve likely heard the importance of taking a prenatal vitamin, which provides you and your growing baby with the nutrients you each need to thrive. While this is super important, it does not replace or outweigh the importance of also getting the right nutrients from food as well. Food should always come first!
Here are some of the best foods for you and baby during these 9 months (and beyond!):
- Whole eggs. Don’t skip the yolks! Egg yolks are rich in essential B vitamins as well as the nutrient choline, which is a B vitamin relative and is important for DNA development and the developing baby’s brain. The whites contain protein, so eating the whole egg provides the most complete nutrition. We recommend choosing organic eggs from pasture-raised chickens to help ensure the highest nutritional quality & value.
- Slow cooked meats and bone broth. These are an excellent source of iron, which is essential for both mother and baby to prevent anemia and deliver enough oxygen to the blood. Meats are also rich in zinc and protein, which are also essential for normal growth and development. Bone broth, and meat cooked on the bone, also provides a natural source of collagen and the amino acid glycine, which is needed for fetal DNA development and also helps produce a powerful antioxidant called glutathione which helps the body detoxify.
- Fruits & vegetables, especially leafy greens. These are a source of antioxidants, B vitamins, fiber, vitamin C, and other trace minerals which are all essential for both yours and a growing baby’s health. Leafy green veggies are particularly one of the best sources of folate, which plays a crucial role in the baby’s brain and nerve health and protects against certain types of anemia.
- Low-mercury seafood. Yes, you should still eat seafood while pregnant! Fish is a great source of nutrients like omega-3 essential fatty acids, selenium, protein, and iodine. Some sources also contain some vitamin D, which isn’t found in most foods. Just be sure to limit your intake of fish highest in mercury like shark, swordfish, and king mackerel and instead stick to things like salmon, chunk light/skipjack tuna, shrimp, tilapia, and cod. The FDA suggests eating between 8-12 ounces of low mercury seafood per week during pregnancy.
- Low or full-fat and fermented dairy products. Dairy is rich in calcium as well as protein, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, some B vitamins, and iodine. Fermented dairy like some yogurts and kefir also provide probiotics which support digestion, immunity, and may also reduce the risk of preterm birth. Just avoid fat-free dairy since fat is essential for the absorption of many of these nutrients (and tastes better, too!)
- Whole grains. These are also a rich source of B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber. Examples include foods like oats, quinoa, brown rice, and products made from whole wheat flours.
- Legumes. This includes beans, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts, which all contain fiber, plant-based protein, iron, and folate. The pregnant body needs more of each of these nutrients!
If you’re wondering what putting together these foods into an actual meal may look like, here’s some simple yet nourishing and delicious meal ideas:
- Roasted salmon or other low mercury fish with a side of broccoli or asparagus and brown rice
- An entree salad made with mixed leafy greens, variety of colorful veggies, cooked chicken or other meat, your favorite crumbly cheese, optional nuts or legumes, and drizzled with your favorite dressing
- Whole grain bowl made with cooked quinoa, hard boiled eggs, roasted veggies like zucchini and sweet potatoes, crumbly cheese, and topped with your favorite hummus, sauce, or dressing
- Yogurt parfait made with greek or icelandic yogurt, berries, and topped with walnuts or chia seeds Vegetable soup made with bone broth, variety of diced veggies, lentils or other legume, plenty of herbs & spices, and an optional whole grain like quinoa mixed in
Am I really “eating for two?”
We’ve all heard this advice, and it can be easy to take it out of context to mean we can eat as much as we want during pregnancy. While it IS true that a pregnant body requires more energy and nutrients, it may not be as many calories as you think. According to the American Pregnancy Association, women need about 300 extra calories per day during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters on average, with no extra calories being needed during the first trimester. This is the equivalent of a small to medium sized snack. Ideally, these extra calories should be coming from nutrient dense foods such as those outlined above (but of course indulging in the occasional ice cream or other treat is expected and okay as well!). So while you are technically “eating for two”, it’s not the equivalent of two adults.
Managing your nutrition when you aren’t feeling well
Pregnancy causes a LOT of changes in your body, and some of them come with unwanted symptoms that may make eating well more challenging. We’re all familiar with the notorious “morning sickness” that is so common especially in the first trimester, but aside from nausea and vomiting, symptoms like fatigue, taste and smell aversions can make your eating habits a bit different.
Here are some basic tips to help you navigate each of these symptoms:
- Nausea/vomiting– Pay attention to any triggers, such as strong smelling foods, and try to avoid those when possible. Focus on eating small, light meals more frequently throughout the day (even if it’s only a few bites every 30 mins) rather than larger meals. You also may find that liquids are better tolerated than solid food, so don’t be afraid to stick to things like smoothies, yogurt, and nutritional drinks when needed. In addition, try consuming ginger and peppermint teas and taking extra vitamin B6, which can all help.
- Fatigue– Try prepping foods and meals ahead of time when you have more energy so that meal or snack time requires less effort. Choose simple meals that don’t require a lot of preparation or cooking and which sound appetizing to you. Also, don’t forget to ask for help and support from your significant other or another loved one.
- Smell & taste aversions-Avoid strong-smelling foods which often involves fatty and spicy dishes as well as seafood. Experiment with eating foods of different temperatures as some people find that they tolerate cold foods over hot ones, or vice versa. Lastly, try seasoning foods in new ways to bring out different flavors.
What you eat during pregnancy makes a HUGE difference in both yours and your baby’s health. Thankfully, there are ways to ensure you are meeting both of your needs while enjoying delicious foods you love! The combination of the right diet + supplementation will help ensure proper growth & development of your baby and minimize birth complications and developmental delays later in life.