You may be feeling overwhelmed by all the pregnancy diet myths and rules that you hear about on the internet - just what can you eat during pregnancy?!
Since it's National Nutrition Month right now, we’ve decided to cut through the chaos with some simple information.
National Nutrition Month
National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign inviting everyone to learn more about their food choices and to develop healthier eating and exercise habits.
The food you eat, and the exercise you untertake, are both really important during pregnancy - the healthier you are, the healthier your baby is too. On the National Nutrition month website there are loads of tips about the ways you can boost your diet. They suggest weekly steps;
Week one: focuses on keeping yourself hydrated, how to eat healthy foods from all food groups, how to read nutritional facts labels and the importance of taking time to enjoy your food without distractions.
Week two: concentrates on meal planning, with suggestions to use grocery lists when shopping, choosing healthy recipes, fuel for the day with energy boosting breakfasts and enjoyable healthy snacks.
Week three: is all about developing your skills in the kitchen, making sure you have a constant supply of good ingredients on hand, practicing good food safety, reducing food waste, trying new foods and sharing meals with your household when possible.
Week four: suggests consulting a dietician for personalised advice if you’re at all worried that you’re not meeting your daily needs.
This is a great way to start thinking about how you cook, consume and enjoy your food - something we so often overlook in our rush each day - but there are a few specific tweaks you will need to make to ensure you have the best diet during pregnancy.
Pregnancy Weight Loss Diets
You shouldn't worry about a pregnancy diet right now - at least not in the typical calorie restricted sense.
Women should have 2,000 calories a day, and in pregnancy this is more important than ever, so you have enough fuel and nutrients for your baby’s development.
In the third trimester you may even need an extra 200 calories a day, to compensate for all that extra work your body is doing!
What you should do though is maintain a healthy diet, a healthy weight, and a healthy level of activity. That means plenty of fibre, plenty of fruit and vegetables, protein, and complex carbohydrates.
Think of it as any other non-pregnancy healthy lifestyle really - making sure you are in your best possible health will do the same for your baby.
What can you eat during pregnancy?
So what can you eat during pregnancy? Well, the truth is you can still eat most of your favourite foods! For instance, caffeine can be consumed in small amounts – you just need to make sure you know where to look, so you can stick to your daily allowance (see our blog for more info on this). And guess what? Chocolate in moderation is actually good for you and baby. We've even put together some of the best chocolate dessert recipes you can enjoy during the next few months.
However, you’ll probably be worrying about some of the myths surrounding what you can and can’t eat during pregnancy - we’ve covered them off in a previous blog, to make sure you won't miss out on your favourites if you don't have to!
Worst foods in pregnancy
There are some foods you definitely do need to avoid:
- Rare or undercooked meat– meat should be hot and well cooked through because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis. Find out more about eating meat during pregnancy.
- Raw shellfish such as oysters – Find out more about eating shellfish during pregnancy.
- Cured meat - like salami, chorizo, pepperoni or Parma ham, unless they’ve been cooked. Find out more about eating cured meat during pregnancy.
- Unpasteurised milk, yoghurt or cheese – including Brie, Camembert or veined blue cheeses. Find out more about eating dairy and cheese during pregnancy.
- Swordfish, marlin and shark – these contain mercury which, if consumed in high levels, can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. Tuna also contains mercury, so limit your intake to four 140g (drained weight) cans or two fresh steaks (up to 170g each, raw weight) per week. Read more about eating fish during pregnancy.
- Liver and liver products like pâté – these contain vitamin A, which may harm your baby if consumed in excessive amounts. Read more about vitamin A in pregnancy.
- Alcohol– alcohol can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and best is avoided all together
How to balance your diet in pregnancy
The important foods to eat for a balanced diet during pregnancy are protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy types of fat, vitamins and minerals and plenty of fibre and fluids.
Complex carbs are things like vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grain breads or pastas - that means switching out the simple carbs like white bread, cookies or chips (at least some of the time!)
Sources of protein are meats like chicken, turkey, red meat, pork and fish. But it is also plentiful in other protein rich foods, such as eggs, nuts and nut butter, seeds, beans, cheese, Greek yoghurt or tofu! Protein consumption is something you may need to increase during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, so it may be worth talking to your doctor if you have any doubts about eating enough.
Vitamins and Minerals
Fresh fruit and vegetables contain so much of the goodness that you and your baby need, it's really important to get enough into your diet, whether this is by adding them to smoothies (we’ve put together some great pregnancy smoothie recipes for you already!) or switching to more veggie-heavy versions of staples like stews and lasagnes. Grains and legumes are particularly important as they are filled with different nutrients essential for your baby’s development. These will include things like tinned beans, peas & green beans.
You should try to eat 20-35 grams of fibre a day - which you will get from your whole grains, veggies and legumes, but can also find it in things like nuts, oats seeds and berries.
Hearing that you need to eat more fat can sound counter-intuitive to a healthy pregnancy diet, but essential fatty acids like Omega-3 are important for fetal development, especially of your baby's brain. Healthy fatty foods include nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oil and oily fish.
It’s important to remember your fluid intake in your new healthy pregnancy diet plan! You should consume about 2.4 litres a day, and for pregnant people this may need to be a little higher to support all that extra work your body is doing. This includes all drinks; tea, coffee, water, juices, milk, etc. but it’s important to avoid caffeine and sugar as much as you can.
What vitamins and minerals do you need whilst pregnant?
Listing off complex sounding minerals and vitamins may sound confusing, but if you know what you need you can make sure you eat right, or even supplement (with a doctor’s supervision) to make sure you are getting everything that you to grow and fit and healthy baby.
Choline: RDA (recommended dietary allowance) is 930mg
Choline helps to prevent developmental abnormalities in the brain and the spine.
You can find it in foods such as eggs (two yolks provides almost 300mg), mushrooms, soybeans and kidney beans. But you may also want to talk to your doctor about taking a supplement of Choline because it isn't included in most pre-natal supplements.
Folic Acid: RDA is 600 micrograms
Folic Acid is a vitamin that stimulates red blood cell formation and the production of chemical signals in the nervous system, as well as being an important part of the DNA making process. It also helps to prevent neural tube defects in your baby.
Some good sources for this vitamin are cooked leafy greens, cooked beef liver, fortified cereal, avocados, asparagus and citrus fruits or juices.
Pantothenic Acid (B-5): RDA is 4-7mg
This B-5 vitamin is involved in loads of the bodies regulatory and metabolic activities. Foods you can eat to make sure you get enough B-5 include chicken, beef, potatoes, broccoli & eggs.
Riboflavin (B-2): RDA is 1.4mg
Another B vitamin, Riboflavin is important for your baby’s growth and development. B-2 can be found in dairy products, soybeans, grains and pork - but this is another nutrient you may consider taking supplements for during pregnancy, with your doctor’s guidance.
Thiamine (B-1): RDA is 1.4 mg
This vitamin is important for the development of the brain, nervous system and heart. It can be found naturally in whole grains, cereals, oranges and peas, but you’ll find many foods are fortified with Vitamin B1 – such as flour, rice, pasta and bread.
Vitamin B-12 RDA is
Vitamin B-12 is a vitamin that is found mainly in meat and dairy products, so for vegans or vegetarians it can be a problem. If you are on a diet that restricts meat or dairy products you may want to consider a B-12 supplement during pregnancy.
Phosphorus: RDA is 700mg
Phosphorus works to develop the musculature, circulatory and skeletal systems properly. You can find this nutrient in milk, yoghurt, beans, seafood and nuts.
Potassium: RDA is 4,000 mg
Potassium is a mineral that helps with muscle function, cellular function, nerve function and blood pressure regulation.
You can find this important mineral in lots of prenatal vitamins, but you can also get it from including healthy fruit and vegetables such as banana, avocados, oranges, melons, dark leafy greens and legumes in your pregnancy diet.
Magnesium RDA is 300mg
Magnesium is important for regulation of blood sugar levels, maintaining proper functioning of the proteins in your body and for teeth and bones. It is also very useful for tissue growth and repair and you can consume it through eating seeds, wheat germ, tofu, almonds or yoghurt.
Iron: RDA is 14.7mg
Many people do not naturally get enough Iron through their diets, especially women, or those on a plant-based diet. A lot of people actually suffer from iron deficiency or anaemia because they don’t get enough of this mineral. Your doctor will be able to recommend a supplement if you need, but you can also try to consume more through iron rich foods like spinach, lentils, fortified cereal, red meats & kidney beans in your diet during pregnancy.
Calcium: RDA is 1,000 mg
Calcium is of course important for bones and teeth, as well as for your heart and other muscles. Pregnant women's RDA of calcium is 1,000 mg as your growing baby needs a huge amount of it to develop.
We all know that calcium can be found in dairy foods, but it can also be found in calcium fortified breads or juices, calcium-set tofu, cooked beans, cooked dark leafy greens and canned fish with bones in it.
Calcium can be another great nutrient to get through a supplement as your body needs so much of it whilst pregnant!
Vitamin D: RDA 10 micrograms
Vitamin D is naturally produced in our bodies through exposure to sunlight. Of course, with a string of lockdowns behind us, and classic British weather making things a little grey, it can be hard to get enough of it!
But Vitamin D is important for pregnant women as it regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and, as we all know with our new-found understanding of viruses, it helps boost our immune system. Since you can’t eat your way through your daily allowance, and sunlight is scarce in our winters, we suggest you find it in supplement form.
Vitamin C: RDA is 85mg
Vitamin C is pretty easy to find in your diet; citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, broccoli and loads of other fruits and vegetables. Since vitamin C is something our bodies cannot stockpile, it’s important to eat regular sources in your pregnancy diet.
The takeaway for your pregnancy diet?
So, if you take away anything from this blog, it’s that there really are no best and worst foods in pregnancy. Yes, there are a few you should avoid, but overall a balanced and healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, proteins, good fats and 'complex carbs', will keep you and baby fit and healthy. Make sure you’re aware of all the nutrients you need and if you struggle to consume your daily allowance speak to your doctor about supplements.