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As an expecting Mom we wish for nothing more than to deliver a perfectly healthy baby. So it’s no wonder that the subject of healthy eating shoots right to the top of the list of our priorities early on in pregnancy.
But what are the healthiest foods to eat in pregnancy?
Which ones should you be eating plenty of every day?
Which foods contain the most vitamins and minerals?
Here we go through why we need not just a good diet while pregnant, but an excellent one. Plus fourteen must eat foods for a healthy baby, healthy Mom and a healthy pregnancy.
Why is it Important to Maintain a High Quality Diet During Pregnancy?
Even if you’ve only been pregnant a short while you will have been bombarded with so much information about what to eat that you’re probably more than a little confused.
Should you eat this? Should you eat that? If I eat this, am I putting my baby at risk? If I forget to eat this, what will happen?
It’s a total stress-fest, and it’s enough to drive you to distraction.
You should be consuming a high quality diet regardless of your pregnancy but during those precious nine months it’s all the more important.
You baby will be made from the nutrients already in your body plus the ones that you eat during pregnancy. Biologically, his or her needs will come before yours.
That’s why it’s important to start eating plenty of the super nutritious foods before you get pregnant if you don’t already.
If you don’t get enough of the nutrients your baby needs his or her development could be affected.
In addition, you are at risk because your vitamin and mineral stores can become depleted very quickly leaving you with a range of potential symptoms including lethargy, constipation, insomnia, muscle cramps and anxiety.
But if you’re pregnant already fear not. You and baby will benefit from adding these foods into your daily diet now.
So what should you be eating to have a healthy baby?
Here are the foods packed with the nutrients you both need for optimum growth and health.
The 14 Must Eat Foods During Pregnancy
The following foods are not only safe to eat during pregnancy but they are highly recommended.
Make sure you chow down on these and mix them up regularly to give you a balanced and interesting diet. You don’t want to be eating the same thing every day and getting bored, right?
1. Full Fat Dairy
During pregnancy it’s recommended that you consume more calcium and protein to help your baby grow healthily.
Dairy foods will provide those nutrients by the bucket-load so grab that milk ladies!
Your dairy doesn’t have to come from cow’s milk either. Goat’s and sheep’s milk products are great too.
Dairy foods contain casein and whey. These are two good sources of protein and they’re high in calcium too.
In addition to this, you’re getting a good dose of B vitamins (including B12), Vitamin A, Vitamin D, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus.
One dairy product to get your daily allowance of is yogurt. Go for the full fat Greek type, as not only is it infinitely delicious, but it has also been shown to be great for pregnancy.
Greek yogurt contains more calcium than many other similar products whilst also giving you a boost in terms of gut health.
When choosing dairy products go for the full fat versions rather than the low fat because a lot of the vitamins and minerals in dairy are contained within the fat content.
Eating enough essential fatty acids is important for your baby’s brain development as well.
If you have sensitivities to dairy products, don’t worry. There are plenty alternative foods which will give you the same nutrients for you and your baby including oranges, spinach and other leafy greens and oily fish or flax seed.
When we say legumes that includes lentils, beans and peas. The reason you want to eat these gorgeous veggies several times a week at least is because legumes are fantastic sources of fiber as well as calcium, folate, extra protein, as well as iron.
Many women suffer from iron deficiency during pregnancy, so chowing down on legumes on a regular basis is a good way to get a natural boost.
Legumes are great at any stage of pregnancy, but during the first trimester getting enough folate (also known as Vitamin B9) is essential.
Not having enough folate at this stage has been connected with low birth weight, as well as the potential for neural tube defects in the baby, and a lower immune system for the baby.
It is for this reason that many women are given supplements of folic acid which is the artificial form of vitamin B9.
Legumes naturally contain very high amounts of folate within them. Just one cup of lentils will provide between 65 – 95% of the recommended daily allowance.
Legumes are easy to incorporate into your meals especially beans and lentils.
You’ll get a magnesium boost, as well as potassium and a variety of other vitamins and minerals too. Lentil soup anyone?
3. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are delicious and now you have a great excuse to eat more of them.
To make sure you get all of those nutrients your baby needs you should of course be consuming a range of different vegetables during your pregnancy.
Sweet potatoes contain many vitamins and minerals but are particularly high in something called beta-carotene and this is turned into vitamin A.
Vitamin A is used for cell and tissue growth and repair and it helps with the development of your baby, especially during the first trimester.
During pregnancy, you should have a higher vitamin A intake than when you’re not pregnant (from food sources) and sweet potato is the perfect choice.
Sweet potatoes are also a great source of fiber. Fiber is needed for digestive and gut health, and it also helps you to feel full.
In addition sweet potatoes contain high amounts of Vitamin C, manganese, copper, biotin, pantothenic acid, potassium, some B vitamins, potassium and phosphorous.
Rejoice the fact that eggs are on the list because they are so versatile. You can make so many meals with an egg, proving that healthy pregnancy eating doesn’t have to cost the earth.
Put simply, eggs contain every nutrient you need during pregnancy in some amount.
They have been labelled as nature’s multivitamin because they are so nutritious.
To give you an idea of what you’re getting by eating just one egg (large), you’re getting calories (around 70-80 per egg), protein, good fat, and you’re also getting something called choline.
Choline is needed for overall health, but it is also great for brain development, helping your baby’s overall development in the womb.
Studies have looked into choline and pregnancy and results showed that those who don’t eat enough during this time, run the risk of neural tube defects, as well as brain development problems with the baby.
Eggs also contain high amounts of selenium, B12, B2, B5, Pantothenic acid and in smaller amounts, nearly all the other vitamins and minerals we require.
This is the perfect excuse to enjoy that omelet, boiled egg, scrambled egg … the list goes on.
Oh delicious berries, and the great news is that they’re oh-so good for you too.
If you know anything about healthy eating you’ll know that berries are power foods.
They’re packed with antioxidants to boost your overall health and well-being, and give your immune system a real helping hand.
Keeping bacteria and viruses at bay is particularly important during pregnancy.
Eat them as they are for a truly delicious snack or add them to your morning porridge. By doing this you’ll get extra water (ideal for avoiding dehydration), more fiber, those aforementioned antioxidants, and you’ll also get a good dose of vitamin C.
Vitamin C is important during pregnancy because this vitamin encourages your body to absorb iron.
As we’ve mentioned before, many pregnant women have iron deficiency issues, so the addition of Vitamin C really is a plus point.
As well as vitamin C berries also contain high levels of Vitamin K, folate, Vitamin E, plus a range of minerals and other vitamins in smaller amounts.
Oh, and your skin will thank you, you’ll be glowing!
6. Leafy Greens, The Darker The Better
You have free rein to enjoy plentiful broccoli, spinach and kale during pregnancy, and by doing so you’ll be getting a big dose of nearly every mineral you could possibly need.
Aim for one or two portions of greens per day and you and baby will both be in tip top health.
Broccoli and dark leafy greens will give you a big hit of vitamins C, K, and A, as well as fiber, potassium, folate, and iron. Then there’s the B vitamins, copper, calcium, zinc and choline.
There isn’t much on that list we’ve missed out from your entire nutrition needs. There are extra antioxidants to add in too which can help boost your immune system.
In fact, studies have shown that regular consumption of these types of greens can help you avoid the problem of low birth weight.
Another good reason to eat broccoli and other dark leafy greens, is that they can help you avoid pregnancy constipation.
This is a big problem for many women but the high fiber content of these types of vegetables can be a huge help.
7. Good Quality Meats
It’s certainly worth paying for good quality meat as it will give you a huge nutritional boost.
Go for beef, chicken, lamb and pork and you’ll get a fantastic source of protein, plus a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
It’s always worthwhile avoiding any type of meat product that has been processed, so avoid any luncheon meats or packet deli meats, hot dogs or things like that.
Unprocessed meat is the way to go and it’s much more enjoyable too.
Beef and pork will give you a boost of iron, zinc, B vitamins, selenium, phosphorous and choline. These are nutrients which pregnant women need more of than at any other time, so get cooking!
How about a stir fry?
With meat, iron is the main talking point.
During pregnancy, you need more iron than at any other time, which is down to the fact that you have more blood working its way around your body.
If your iron levels drop or become low, you run the risk of developing iron deficiency anemia.
Many women are given iron supplements during pregnancy for this reason, but eating plenty of foods which are high in iron such as meat may help you avoid this.
Avocados contain a huge range of different vitamins and minerals so pregnancy is a great time to add them to your meals.
Try it mashed up on toast for your breakfast for a delicious start to the day.
This fruit actually has many different beneficial aspects to it, aside from its taste, including monounsaturated fatty acids (they’re good, by the way), fiber, folate, vitamins K, E, and C, and potassium.
Avocado contains plenty of healthy fat. This good type of fat is ideal for helping the development of your baby, especially his or her skin, tissues, and brain.
Some studies have also shown that consumption of healthy fats can help to reduce the chances of neural tube defects.
One problem which many pregnant women experience is cramping of the legs, and avocados have been shown to be very effective in helping to reduce this thanks to their high levels of magnesium.
Read more about why magnesium is so important for health during pregnancy here.
If you love fish, you’re in luck. Fish is great for overall health and it’s fantastic for pregnant women.
Oily and fatty types of fish are particularly good because they are packed with omega-3 fatty acids.
Not only are these a great boost for your health, they’re also essential for your baby’s vision and brain development.
Put simply you need these essential omega-3 fatty acids in your diet during pregnancy, no excuses.
They are called essential because your body can’t make them by itself.
It needs to take them in through food. Every cell in your body and your baby’s body needs fats so don’t skimp on the healthy fats in the mistaken belief that fats are bad.
Salmon is a great source of these essential fatty acids whilst also containing a good amount of naturally occurring Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is very important for the immune system but also for bone health and hundreds of other biological processes.
Again, this benefits your body, but also the development of your baby.
Not getting enough Vitamin D can actually increase the risk of developing pre-eclampsia. Something to avoid, for sure.
The problem with fish however, is that many women are worried about eating it.
This is due to a possible contamination of mercury and other pollutants which are sometimes found in fish. For this reason, women are advised to eat oily and fatty fish no more than twice per week.
Don’t avoid it, simply stick to the recommendation.
Of course, it’s not just salmon you can eat. Anchovies, sardines, and mackerel are great ones to add to your diet.
10. Non-Animal Sources of Omega 3’s
We just talked about the importance of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet during pregnancy, but if you’re vegetarian or vegan or simply don’t like fish, how can you pack these into your diet?
The good news is that there are several other sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
The most common ways to get omega 3 into your diet without resorting to animal sources is by enjoying walnuts, chia seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, tofu, or cooking with soybean oil.
You could also look into supplements to make sure you’re getting the right amount every day.
11. Whole Grains
Whole grains include wholewheat, quinoa, oats, millet, rye, brown rice and corn.
These are very easy to incorporate into meals, they taste great and they contain a range of important nutrients.
(If you’re eating a keto, low carb, whole 30 or paleo diet, don’t worry. You can still get all the nutrition you need by eating plenty of the other foods on this list).
During pregnancy, whole grains can help you get enough calories and they can also give you a boost of fiber, a range of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium.
The other plus point is that whole grains can help you avoid pregnancy constipation thanks to all that fiber.
12. Dried Fruits
One of the healthiest snacks around, dried fruits are ideal for snacking during pregnancy, as well as a topping for your morning porridge.
Nearly all varieties contain good amounts of useful vitamins and minerals, including folate and magnesium, potassium, iron and fiber.
Apricots for instance, are abundant in Vitamin A and Vitamin E.
If you suffer from pregnancy constipation try some dried prunes which are a natural form of laxative but are also high in potassium and vitamin K.
There is a word of warning here however, because of the high sugar content of dried fruits it’s best only to enjoy one serving and then wrap it up for the day.
Also, avoid the sugared or candied versions that you might see.
13. Go Nutty For Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are great for a quick snack anytime and they’re also great to your diet for your pregnancy months because they contain so many important nutrients.
You’re going to be getting a big dose of omega-3 here, especially if you go for walnuts, whilst also getting that super important folate at the same time.
On top of those benefits you’ll get a whole range of vitamins and minerals including Vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, B Vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, selenium and a range or other micronutrients.
A good choice is hazelnuts which are high in folate, as well as vitamin E, Vitamin B6, Zinc and Omega 6 and 9.
Cashew nuts are delicious, either as a snack or as part of a meal, and they’re fantastic for getting a good dose of zinc in your diet.
Zinc is important for the safe development of your baby, and cashews (around 3oz serving) can help you to reach half of your daily zinc requirements.
Almonds are another excellent way to add in some great nutrition to your diet because on top of delivering a wide range of vitamins and minerals they’re packed with good fats.
Flax seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds are also easy to add to your diet, and will also give you a boost of nutrition, without much effort.
Chia seeds will give you that omega-3 boost, but try watermelon seeds for something different, and a dose of vitamin C to boot.
14. The Good Types of Fat, Unprocessed Fats
Finally we have arrived at the good fats. These fats are all natural and unprocessed and are essential for a healthy diet, regardless of a pregnancy bump or not.
Fats have been given a bad rap over the last 50 years but all the research shows that the unprocessed, natural fats are essential for good health and not the baddies they have been made out to be.
Fatty acids are an essential nutrient that the body needs.
“Triglycerides, cholesterol and other essential fatty acids—the scientific term for fats the body can’t make on its own—store energy, insulate us and protect our vital organs.
They act as messengers, helping proteins do their jobs. They also start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism.
Fats help the body stockpile certain nutrients as well. The so-called “fat-soluble” vitamins—A, D, E and K—are stored in the liver and in fatty tissues.”
The best fats to focus on are those that have not been heat processed.
These are extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter, palm oil (if you can get it from ethical sources) and tallow.
By incorporating these oils into your cooking you can ensure your baby receives the building blocks for their brain and other physical systems that rely on fats to function.
We’ve talked about the healthiest 14 foods and there are plenty to choose from in terms of packing your diet with the best and most nutritious fare around.
It’s so easy to become confused or worried that you’re not eating the right thing, but becoming stressed about it is not something you should be aiming to do.
Keep it simple ladies.
Fill your plate with the natural, unprocessed foods listed here and you won’t go wrong.
By incorporating the foods we’ve talked about on our list you’re giving you and your baby the best possible chance at optimum health.