The Best Foods for a Healthy Pregnancy
Eating a balanced diet high in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is key to a healthy pregnancy. During pregnancy, it's even more important to get enough of certain nutrients for the benefit of mom and baby. We've compiled a list of the best foods to meet these needs. Plus, a cheat sheet for foods to avoid during pregnancy.
Folate, also called folic acid when taken in supplement form, is a water-soluble B vitamin found naturally in food and is needed for building DNA and RNA. Folate can help reduce the risk of brain defects like anencephaly and neural tube defects like spina bifida in babies. To offset these risks, pregnant women need 600 mcg of folate per day. Try these folate-rich foods:
- 1 small orange (30 mcg)
- 1 ounce peanuts (40 mcg)
- 1/2 cup sliced avocado (45 mcg)
- 1/2 cup broccoli (45 mcg)
- 4 spears asparagus (85 mcg)
- 1/2 cup spinach (100 mcg)
- 1 cup fortified cereal (400 mcg)
Calcium helps promote strong, healthy bones for mom and baby. If a baby doesn't get enough calcium, then it will take it from the mom’s bones, which can lead to problems for mom later in life. Plus, it plays an important role in muscle and nerve development along with promoting a well functioning circulatory system. Pregnant women need 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Foods rich in calcium:
- 8 oz non-fat yogurt (415 mg)
- 8 oz skim milk (302 mg)
- 1 cup fortified orange juice (200-250 mg)
- 3 oz salmon (181 mg)
- 1 oz feta cheese (140 mg)
- 1 cup chickpeas (105 mg)
During pregnancy, the body needs to support its internal changes along with helping the baby develop his or her own blood supply. Iron helps boost immunity, prevent anemia, and aids in blood supply development—pregnant women increase their blood volume by almost 50 percent during pregnancy. Pregnant women need about 27 mg of iron per day. Iron-rich foods include:
- 3/4 cup fortified cereal (18 mg)
- 1 cup fortified oatmeal (10 mg)
- 1 cup kidney beans (5.2 mg)
- 3 ounces beef tenderloin (2.2 mg)
- 3 1/2 ounces light meat turkey (1.6 mg)
- 3 ounces chicken (1.3 mg)
- 1/2 cup spinach (1.0 mg)
Zinc helps with the production of DNA, the development of the baby's organs, and supports the immune system. Pregnant women need 11 mg of zinc per day. Foods rich in zinc include:
- 3 oz of lean beef (8.9 mg)
- 1 chicken leg (2.7 mg)
- 1/2 cup baked beans (1.7 mg)
- 1 cup of fortified cereal (3.8 mg)
Eating high-protein foods promotes the baby's overall growth, and the amino acids in protein serve as building blocks for the baby's cells. Pregnant women need about 70 g of protein per day. Foods rich in protein include:
- 3oz chicken breast (27 g)
- 3 ounces sockeye salmon (18.8 g)
- 1 large egg (6 g)
- 1 cup skim milk (8 g)
- 1/2 cup 1% cottage cheese (14 g)
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter (8 g)
Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
While it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet during pregnancy, there are also foods to avoid. Here's a short list of some of the most common foods to avoid during pregnancy (consult your doctor for a full list).
Certain Types of Fish
Some fish may contain mercury, which can damage brain development and may affect the baby’s nervous system. Pregnant women should avoid eating shark, tuna, swordfish, smoked fish (lox, kippered fish), and any raw fish.
Eating unpasteurized cheese may lead to a bacterial infection. Avoid cheese like feta, brie, Camembert, Mexican-style cheese (Queso fresco), and blue-veined cheese (Roquefort).
Deli Meats and Hot Dogs
Hots dogs and deli meats may be contaminated with foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, Toxoplasma Gondii, Monocytogenes, and Listeria. If these illnesses get into the mother's body and cross through the placenta to the baby, they can lead to infection or blood poisoning, which can be fatal. In order to kill these illnesses, deli meat or hot dogs would have to be reheated until steaming.
Alcohol and Caffeine
Drinking alcohol and caffeinated products during pregnancy have been connected to low birth weight, miscarriages and abnormalities. Alcohol has been specifically linked to fetal alcohol syndrome, deformities, and heart problems, while caffeine may increase the baby's heart rate harming their overall health and development.
*Daily recommended values are from the American Dietetic Association. Nutrient content information is from the National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements.
About The Author
Denise Barry – As a registered dietitian, Denise Barry focuses on ensuring proper nutrition for optimal performance.