Eating a healthy diet in pregnancy means you'll get all the nutrients you and your developing baby need. Making sure you eat the right foods won’t just keep you in tip-top condition, it can make a real difference to your baby’s development too.
Nutritious food is linked to good foetal brain development, a healthy birth weight, and it reduces the risk of many birth defects. A balanced diet will also reduce the risk of you becoming anaemic, as well as other unwelcome pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue and morning sickness.
So what does a healthy diet during pregnancy look like?
There are four main food groups that you need to consume daily in order to stay healthy in pregnancy. Our Healthy Pregnancy Diet Guide sums them up.
Let’s look more closely at these food group. What are the benefits of each and how can you make sure you get enough of them each day?
75-100g a day (with 2 portions of fish each week)
Protein helps the growth of foetal tissue, including the brain. It also helps your breast and uterine tissue to grow during pregnancy, and it plays a role in your increasing blood supply.
Food rich in protein includes lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and pulses, such as beans and lentils. Aim to eat two portions of fish a week, one of them oily, like salmon or mackerel.
There are some fish like shark, swordfish and marlin that you shouldn’t eat if you're pregnant, or trying to conceive too.
Always make sure eggs are cooked properly. And look for eggs stamped with the red lion as they are produced under the British Lion Code of Practice meaning they’re considered very low risk for salmonella and so safe for pregnant women.
Cooked or cold pre-packed meats are fine to eat, but avoid raw or undercooked meat as there is a small risk of toxoplasmosis which can cause miscarriage. Also stay away from liver and liver products as they have lots of vitamin A, which can be harmful for your growing baby, all types of pâté (even vegetarian pâté), game (as it may contain lead shot) and cured meats, as they may contain parasites that cause toxoplasmosis.
Fruit and Veg
5-7 fresh, frozen or tinned portions daily
Vitamin C helps wound healing and baby’s tooth and bone development. And vegetables containing iron help increase your blood volume and prevent anaemia.
Good sources of Vitamin C are oranges, strawberries, mangoes, tomatoes, grapefruit, kiwi, melon, potatoes, peppers. Vegetables rich in iron are turnips, spinach, lettuce and cabbage – aim to have about 27 milligrams of iron a day.
If you’re eating tinned or frozen fruit and veg, try to choose varieties with no added salt or sugar. And although juices and smoothies also count as one of your 7 a day they can be sugary - even when they’re all-natural - so try to limit the amount you drink.
Eat/drink at least 4 servings a day (for 1000-13000mg of calcium)
Diary products are packed with calcium which helps your body regulate fluids and build your baby’s bones and tooth buds.
Good sources of calcium are milk, cheese and yoghurt (especially Greek Yoghurt)
When possible, choose low-fat varieties of dairy products, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese. If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, opt for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
Not all cheeses are safe to eat in pregnancy. You can munch away on all hard cheeses such as Cheddar, Stilton and Parmesan and also soft cheeses that are pasteurised such as cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goats' cheese without a white coating on the outside (rind) and processed cheese spreads. However unpasteurised dairy products can contain listeria (a bacteria that can cause an infection called listeriosis which leads to a small chance of miscarriage, stillbirth or a very unwell newborn) so avoid these. Also avoid blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola and soft cheese with a white coating on the outside, such as Camembert and brie, as these have more moisture which can make it easier for bacteria to grow.
1/3 of the food you eat each day
Carbohydrates can contain essential vitamins and fibre but their main health benefit is the provision of essential energy for you and your baby during pregnancy. Many starchy foods also provide important nutrients for your baby's development, including calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Starchy foods can be found in abundance, but common sources are bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, oats, biscuits and bananas.
Some carbohydrates are better for you than others. Try to go for low GI carbs as these keep blood sugar levels more stable. So, try not to eat too many high GI carbs such as white bread, white rice, sugary foods such as cakes and biscuits, and potatoes. Instead try to get your daily starch intake through bananas, sweet potatoes, porridge made from rolled oats, chickpeas and other pulses, wholegrain breads, cereals and pastas.
Other top tips to help you follow a healthy diet in pregnancy
Cutting down on salt
It’s a good idea to cut down on salt during pregnancy. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure (although high blood pressure in pregnancy can also be caused by other things). High blood pressure can increase your risk of developing heart disease or stroke.
Eating for two
Sadly ladies this is a myth! Of course you’ll probably find you’re more hungry in pregnancy but you don’t need extra portions (even if you’re expecting twins!). However, in your third trimester, you'll need an extra 200 calories a day – that's the same as 2 slices of wholemeal toast and margarine.
Start the day right
Try starting each day with a healthy breakfast. This will reduce you craving for snacks between meals which should help keep the calories down.
Drink plenty of fluids
During pregnancy, the increasing demand on your body means you need to drink more fluids than usual. Until about 27 weeks, you should be drinking about 1.5 litres (about eight 200ml glasses) a day, increasing slightly in the third trimester. Any fluid counts – but try to cut back on sugary drinks, drink decaf tea and coffee and, of course, alcohol is strictly off limits.
Remember your folic acid
You should take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day as soon as you start trying to get pregnant and then carry on until you're 12 weeks pregnant. This can help prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spinabifida.
Pregnancy Friendly Recipes
There are many websites offering an array of pregnancy friendly recipes. One of our favourites is the BBC website.
To celebrate National Vegetarian Week we thought we’d share this simple Mushroom and Spinach Pancake Recipe by James Martin. It’s delicious, quick to make and the ingredients easy to come by in lockdown.
Prep: less than 30 mins. Cooking: 10 to 30 mins
Ingredients (serves 2)
For the pancakes
- 125g/4½oz plain flour or buckwheat flour
- 1 free-range egg
- 150ml/5fl oz milk
- olive oil, for frying
For the filling
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- handful mushrooms, sliced
- 2 handfuls baby spinach
- 2 tbsp crème fraîche (optional)
- few sprigs fresh parsley or chives, chopped (optional)
- salad leaves, to serve
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the pancakes, sift the flour with a pinch of salt into a mixing bowl, then crack in the egg and mix well. Add the milk and 150ml/5fl oz water, then beat well until smooth and well combined. Set aside while you make the filling.
- For the filling, heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until softened, then add the mushrooms to cook through. Season well with salt and pepper, add the baby spinach and cook for 2 minutes until it wilts, stirring frequently. Set aside while you cook the pancakes.
- To cook the pancakes, heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan, pour in a ladleful of batter and swirl around until it thinly covers the base of the pan. Fry for about a minute until the underside is set and beginning to turn golden-brown. Turn over using a spatula and cook the other side.
- While the pancake is still in the pan, spread half the crème fraîche over one side (if using), scatter over half of the mushroom and spinach mixture, and sprinkle with parsley and chives (if using). Fold the sides of the pancake over the filling and lift onto a serving plate.
- Repeat with the remaining batter and filling to make another pancake (if you have any batter leftover, fry-up another pancake for dessert). Serve with salad leaves.