What foods should you eat when pregnant?
Pregnancy is a time of rapid growth – your baby will be growing from a sesame seed to an avocado, and even melon, in a matter of months! As a result, pregnant women need increased amounts of many essential nutrients, including protein, folate and iron.
A diet full of key nutrients is best for the baby’s development. The best thing you can do is eat a colourful, balanced diet, but what, specifically should you put on the menu, now that you’re expecting?
The amino acids that make up protein are the building blocks of your body’s cells – and of your baby’s body as well. Beef, lamb and pork are excellent sources of protein and are rich in iron, choline and other B vitamins — all of which are important during pregnancy (pregnant women need more iron to compensate for the increase in blood volume.
Not a fan of meat (or less so now that you’re pregnant)? Eggs are your next best choice. Eggs contain a little of almost every nutrient you need, including choline and healthy fats.
Legumes are also a great plant-based source of fiber, protein, iron, folate and calcium, so make lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans and peanuts your friend (peanut butter smoothies, anyone).
Speaking of smoothies, dairy is an amazing pregnancy food. Dairy products contain both casein and whey proteins, calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Yoghurt, especially Greek yoghurt, is particularly beneficial for pregnant women, so stir it into curries, have it with fruit for breakfast or dessert, or dollop it into your smoothies.
My favourite pregnancy smoothie recipe is from Kohi Cafe, and packs 15 grams of protein:
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup yoghurt
- 1 1/2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2-3 T creamy peanut butter (or cashew or almond butter)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 medium banana, chopped and preferably frozen
You could also add ricotta or cottage cheese to meals, parmesan or pasteurised buffalo mozzarella cheese in salads or pizza, or snack on cheese and crackers.
Kumara (aka sweet potatoes) are rich in beta-carotene which your body converts into Vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for the growth and differentiation of cells in your growing fetus. Put simply, kumara are one of your best carbohydrate sources, also containing vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C and iron, as well as fiber which helps to reduce blood sugar spikes and improve digestive health and mobility. Substitute rice or potatoes for delicious mashed, roast or kumara fries.
While there are unfortunately some fish and shellfish to avoid eating when you’re pregnant, most are amazing pregnancy foods, and salmon is one of the best. Salmon is rich in omega 3 essential oil, low in mercury and one of very few natural sources of vitamin D. Studies have shown that pregnant women who eat 2–3 meals of fatty fish weekly achieve the recommended intake of omega-3 and increase their blood levels of EPA and DHA, so ask for cooked salmon instead of bacon with your weekend brunch, and have a couple of servings in lunch or dinner too.
You’re already taking folic acid supplements (right?), but getting folate from foods is even better. Folate is a nutrient necessary for preventing certain birth defects early on, and for ensuring a healthy pregnancy thereafter, so try to hit 400 micrograms a day. A glass of pasteurised OJ will fill you up on folate, potassium for muscle function and overall health, and vitamin C of course, for fighting colds, and aiding iron absorption. Bonus, opt for Vitamin D fortified OJ.
5 + Fruit & Vege
You can also get your vitamin C and folate from leafy greens like broccoli, kale and spinach, also boasting vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, potassium and fibre… basically everything you need! Berries, capsicums and tomatoes, citrus fruits – when it comes to fruit and vege, it’s hard to go wrong, but you can’t go better than avocados. Because of their high content of healthy fats, potassium, fiber, B vitamins (especially folate), vitamin K, copper, vitamin E and vitamin C avocados are the best choice for pregnant women, helping with leg cramps and restless leg syndrome too. Rewash salad ingredients and vegetables before serving, and be aware of pre-prepared salads and coleslaws that have been left out a long time (see foods to avoid when pregnant).
Whole grains too are great for fibre, protein and vitamin B6, and you can even look for varieties fortified with iron and folic acid. Wholegrains are complex carbohydrates which will give you consistent energy, ideal if morning sickness is leaving you drained, and fibre will keep you regular (especially if pregnancy constipation is causing issues). Oats or bran are a perfect way to start the day, and swapping white bread for whole-grain will up your intake easily.
When pregnant, your blood volume increases by up to 1.5 litres, as your body also needs water to form amniotic fluid, help digestion and flush out wastes and toxins. Aim to drink at least 2 litres of water each day, more if possible, especially if it’s hot or you’ve been exercising. Herbal teas, smoothies, juices and soup all count, and generally if your urine is light yellow or colourless, you’re probably well hydrated.
Once you’ve filled your diet with these nutritious and delicious foods, you won’t even miss the foods you should avoid when pregnant – leave your favourite craving-beating healthy foods or recipes below.