15 Healthy Foods To Eat While Pregnant
Sam C’s may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content.
What are the Best Foods to Eat While Pregnant?
We often hear the phrase “you’re eating for two,” referring to someone who’s expecting. Part of this is true. If you’re pregnant, you are technically eating for yourself and for your baby. But this doesn’t mean you should stuff your face of whatever you get your hands on. And it doesn’t mean to double the amount of what you normally eat just because you’re feeding two humans.
So how much extra should you be eating for your baby? Typically, during your second and third trimesters, you should be getting an extra 340-450 calories a day. This should include extra healthy carbohydrates and fats, and about 10 extra grams of protein.
So before you go grabbing that extra bag of chips just to get all your calories in, know that quality, nutrient-dense foods are crucial for your health during pregnancy and also for the little one in your tummy.
Lacking these nutrients can result in poor development of your baby, premature birth, and low birth weight.
Staying healthy for these 9 months can also make the postpartum baby weight fall off a little easier. That sounds good, right?
So, what are the best foods to eat while pregnant?
There are so many nutritious, delicious foods to choose from. Here are 15 good-for-you (and your baby) foods you’ll want to be sure to add into your diet:
- Sweet potatoes. Eat them sweet with cinnamon or salty, whichever you prefer. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta-carotene, which gets converted into vitamin A when you eat them. Vitamin A is necessary for cell and tissue growth, which means it’ll help with fetal development. Sweet potatoes also contain fiber, which not only keeps you feeling full, but will also help to stabilize blood sugar. Just try and fight the temptation to load it up with sugar.
- Salmon. Salmon is known for its omega-3 fatty acids, specifically its long chain omega-3s known as DHA and EPA. The long, fancy words for these are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These fatty acids work together, but also have jobs of their own. DHA is important for the central nervous system, including the brain and eyes. EPA has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to strengthen the heart and immune system.
Salmon is also known to contain vitamin D, which is important for the immune system and bone health. It’s especially important to get vitamin D through foods during winter months when sunlight, the best source of vitamin D, is limited.
It’s important to note that not all types of fish are equal, especially during pregnancy. Some fish contains high levels of mercury and should be avoided. Some of these include marlin, shark, swordfish, and tuna.
- Eggs. Eggs are one of the most nutritious, versatile, superfoods there are. They’re low in calories but high in protein and healthy fats. They also contain choline, which is essential for brain development and health in you and your baby.
Don’t skip out on those yokes! Egg yokes are loaded with antioxidants and several minerals including zinc, sodium, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus.
Not only are eggs good for you, but they’re also inexpensive, can be eaten any time of day, and are easy to prep ahead.
- Greens. This includes dark, leafy greens and broccoli. These veggies are high in fiber which helps to not only stabilize blood sugar but also can keep you from becoming constipated, which is common during pregnancy. Green veggies are also high in vitamins C, K, and A, calcium, iron, folate, and potassium. It has been shown that consumption of broccoli and leafy greens can reduce the risk of low birth weight for your baby.
Not only can you eat these raw in a salad, but you can also cook them or even blend them into a yummy smoothie.
- Lean meats. Meats such as chicken, beef, and pork are high in protein, which is important for you while carrying your little one.
Lean meats also a source of iron, which helps with getting oxygen to the cells of your body. Since your blood volume increases while you’re pregnant, you need more iron. Without enough of it, your baby may be born prematurely or with a low birth weight.
- Berries. Berries are loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, and folic acid, which all help to protect your little one’s immune system.
Berries are a delicious dessert from nature. Eat them plain, add them to granola, or blend them in a smoothie to curb a craving for sweets.
- Avocados. Not only are avocados a great source of fiber and healthy fats, but they also contain folate. Folate is one of the B vitamins and has been shown to reduce the risk of birth defects.
Eat them plain, put them on eggs, toss them in a salad, or make guacamole (who doesn’t love some guac?!). If you are one of those people that doesn’t love avocados, you can also throw an avocado half into a smoothie for extra creamy texture.
- Nuts, especially walnuts. Many nuts including pecans and almonds have benefits for pregnant women. But when it comes to omega-3s, walnuts come out on top. These omega-3s are important for brain health and development of the baby. They also help with cognitive function for the mom, and may even help with “pregnancy brain” (yes, it’s a thing).
Walnuts also may help you to produce more melatonin as well, which helps regulate your sleep cycle. Sleep is important, especially while growing a baby human. That can get tiring!
- Bananas. Bananas, another one of nature’s desserts, have so many benefits to an expecting mom and baby. They have antioxidants and folic acid. They can prevent or help treat constipation, fight iron deficiency by raising hemoglobin levels and help the baby to develop strong bones. Bananas are also easy on the stomach and can help calm nausea.
Bananas are easy to grab and go for busy moms, but they don’t have to be eaten alone (although they are delicious that way). Try cutting up a banana and topping with walnuts, mix them with berries, dip them in dark chocolate, cover them in nut butter, and of course, use them in smoothies for an extra-creamy texture.
- Oranges. Oranges are another food that contains folate, which is crucial for the proper growth of your baby. Oranges are a great source of vitamin c which helps your body to absorb iron, strengthen your immune system, fight infections, and protect the cells in your body, as well as your baby’s.
Oranges also contain quite a bit of water to help you stay hydrated. Hydration is pivotal during pregnancy. It is what helps you to produce the extra blood volume and amniotic fluid, and clean out toxins.
- Bell peppers. Bell peppers are another folate-containing food. Hopefully, by now you’re noticing just how important folate is for preventing birth defects and properly development of the nervous system.
Folate isn’t the only benefit of bell peppers. They also offer a source of vitamin K1, which helps with blood clotting, vitamin E, which aids in heart health and immune function (just to name a couple of its many functions), and vitamin A for cell growth and a healthy immune system.
Eat them raw, sautee them, or stuff and bake them. They’re good just about any way you wish to eat them.
Stuffed Bell Peppers
One of the awesome things about stuffing bell peppers full of food to bake is that you can choose whatever kind of “stuffing” you want!
Cut the tops off of your peppers and clean out the seeds from the inside.
Have leftover taco meat? Add some chopped veggies or salsa into your peppers, top with cheese and bake.
Leftover chicken or steak fajitas work just as well.
Want a breakfast stuffed pepper? Add some scrambled eggs, veggies, and meat (if you wish).
Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
- Milk. Milk, talking about cow’s milk here, is rich in calcium, which is important during pregnancy for the development of several systems in the baby’s body, including the musculoskeletal, circulatory, and nervous systems.
We all know calcium is important for strong bones. But do you know how much you need? Typically, women under 50 need about 1,000 mg per day. When you’re pregnant you need to add on an extra 200-400 mg on top of that.
However, many moms nowadays are backing away from cow’s milk and looking for alternatives. If you are choosing to stay away from it for personal reasons or because of lactose intolerance, there are other food items you can consume to get your calcium intake.
There are lactose-free milks on the market if you want cow’s milk but are lactose intolerant.
While there are other types of milk like coconut, cashew, and almond milks, these are not high in calcium like cow’s milk. Some of these may be fortified, however, meaning that there have been micronutrients added back in. Just be sure to read your labels and look at the calcium content.
The next 3 foods listed are other, non-milk sources of calcium:
- Cheese. Cheese is a satiating and satisfying food for a lot of people! Good thing it has calcium, protein, and other vitamins and minerals (including vitamin D).
But like milk, some people may not tolerate cheese. Some aged cheeses are lower in lactose, making them easier to digest for some people.
- Beans and lentils. These are usually known for their high fiber and protein content and yes, that’s true. And it’s great for pregnancy. But beans and lentils, especially white beans and chickpeas, also contain folate and quite a bit of calcium. One serving of white beans contains around 132 mg of calcium, with chickpeas following in second at 99 mg.
- Almonds and seeds. Earlier, walnuts were praised here as the best “super nut.” But when it comes to calcium, almonds are where it’s at. A serving of almonds contains about 75 mg of calcium (walnuts have less than 30). If you don't like raw nuts, try almond butter! Hazelnuts and brazil nuts also have calcium.
Certain seeds are rich in calcium as well, like poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds.
If you’re having trouble getting in all your nutrients because of food aversions, loss of appetite, nausea, or whatever else it is that makes pregnant women feel just-not-normal, a smoothie really may be a good idea and easy on the stomach.
Basic Smoothie Recipe
Here’s a basic smoothie recipe using some of these pregnancy superfoods. This is just an idea. Pick ingredients that sound good for you and your baby.
- A banana or half of an avocado to add the creamy texture (and lots of nutrients, of course)
- A handful of berries of your choice; blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries. You pick. Bonus points if they’re in season!
- Leafy greens; kale, spinach, romaine lettuce. Doesn’t matter, just add the greens! Two cups of these are great but add as much or as little as you like.
- About ¼ cup nuts or seeds of your choice. If it’s extra calcium you’re going for, try adding almonds and chia seeds.
- Milk of your choice or water. Usually somewhere around 12 ounces of liquid works fine (milk tends to make a thicker smoothie than water). Add more liquid for a thinner texture or less if you want it thick and creamy.
The possibilities for flavor combinations are endless, so play around with the ingredients!
Obviously, these foods aren’t the only foods you should eat when you’re getting ready to have that little one. Variety is important. Eat colorfully. Stick to real, whole foods.
Keeping a healthy, balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and legumes will generally help you to get enough of the nutrients you and your baby need.
If you’re unsure of anything you’re eating or concerned you’re not getting enough nutrients, it’s always best to discuss that with your doctor.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Weight Gain During Pregnancy, January 2019.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Maternal Diet and Nutrient Requirements in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. An Italian Consensus Document, October 2016.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Eating right during pregnancy, September 2018.
- Kristina Diaz