Eating well in pregnancy
What to eat when pregnant?
Making sure you eat a healthy diet is always important, but is especially vital when you are pregnant. During your pregnancy your unborn baby gets all of the nutrients they need from you, so it is important you put the right food in your tummy to help your baby grow.
If you already eat healthy foods, chances are you won’t need to make wholesale changes to your diet, but there are a number of pregnancy foods we’d recommend. If you know you don’t have the best diet in the world (and you eat lots of crisps, chocolate and takeaways!), it’s time to switch things up in order to ensure you and your baby are getting the best nutrition during your pregnancy.
Poor pregnancy nutrition, unhealthy eating habits, and putting on excess weight during your pregnancy may increase your risk of gestational diabetes (which is when you get a high blood sugar level, which isn’t good for you or your little one), as well as pregnancy or birth complications. Thus, it’s really important you maintain a healthy pregnancy diet.
Best foods for pregnancy
Good pregnancy nutrition will help ensure the health of you and your baby. And if you maintain a healthy pregnancy diet, it is also easier to lose your baby weight after you have given birth. A healthy pregnancy diet consists of eating a variety of foods from all of the right food groups.
The following are the best foods to eat when pregnant:
Fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables provide you and your little one with key vitamins and minerals and are an essential part of a healthy pregnancy diet. As an added bonus, they contain a lot of natural fibre, which can really help kickstart your digestive system (it’s not unusual to be constipated during your pregnancy). Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach are great sources of iron which is important during pregnancy.
You can of course make smoothies out of your fruit and vegetables, but remember that the natural sugars and acids in a smoothie can damage your teeth and affect your blood sugar levels. Crucially, remember to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly to make sure there are no nasty germs on them.
Starchy foods, or carbohydrates, are an important part of your pregnancy meal plan. These include potatoes, bread (wholegrain is better for you than white), brown rice, breakfast cereals and pasta. Starchy foods are a great source of energy - something you are going to need a lot of - for you and your little one. These starchy foods should make up just over a third of the food you eat during your pregnancy, and where possible opt for the wholegrain or higher fibre options, instead of refined starchy (white) foods.
Protein is an important cog in a good pregnancy diet, especially during your second and third trimesters (week 13 onwards). This is when your little one is growing most quickly, and you’re getting bigger to accommodate your baby.
Eat plenty of lean meat and try not to add extra fat or oil when cooking during your pregnancy. Make sure chicken, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork are cooked all the way through, and ensure there is no pink meat or red left in them.
Things like beans, pulses (like chickpeas and lentils), nuts, fish and eggs are all excellent sources of protein and good foods to eat during pregnancy.
When you are pregnant your body produces more blood, which is essential in helping your little one develop healthily, so you need to make sure you’re getting plenty of iron.
You should ideally look to be eating two portions of fish per week, as it is rich in iron, Omega-3 and other nutrients, which are essential for your baby’s developing brain and eyesight. While it is good for you and your little one, you shouldn’t eat more than two portions of oily fish per week. Make sure all fish is cooked all the way through to avoid getting food poisoning, which can dangerous for your little growing baby.
Fish to avoid:
When you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you shouldn't eat shark, swordfish or marlin.
Fish to restrict:
You should also limit the amount of tuna you eat to:
- no more than two tuna steaks a week (about 140g cooked or 170g raw each), or four medium-sized cans of tuna a week (about 140g when drained)
This is because tuna contains more mercury than other types of fish.
Dairy foods are good for pregnancy nutrition, so make sure you’re getting plenty of milk, cheese and in particular, yogurt. Dairy is high in calcium, which is essential for developing bones, as well as other important nutrients that you and your baby need. Choose low-fat options wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheeses.
Water is an essential part of a healthy pregnancy diet. Try and make sure you’re drinking lots of water to help you and your baby stay properly hydrated.
To help you keep track of all of the best foods to eat when pregnant, Public Health England has created The Eatwell Guide, which is a pictorial guide to help you eat a healthy balanced diet. The Eatwell Guide below can be used as a helpful guideline to work out whether you are eating the right amount from the different food groups. To help you keep track of your healthy pregnancy diet plan, why not print out the Eatwell Plate and stick it on your fridge?
What eating for two really means
Most mums-to-be find that their appetite fluctuates throughout their pregnancy. To begin with, many expectant mums are not that hungry due to morning sickness, but find their appetites return at around 15 weeks.
Thereafter, you might feel tempted to eat twice as much as normal - after all, there is a little one growing inside of you - but you should try and avoid this.
Your body is at its most efficient during your pregnancy and is currently absorbing plenty of nutrients from your diet. Monitor what you’re eating during your pregnancy, and your midwife will also keep an eye on how much weight you are putting on. They will be able to guide you as to how much of this is your baby, and how much of this is a little overindulgence! Women with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) are not usually routinely weighed.
Feeling too sick to eat during pregnancy
Morning sickness can play havoc with your appetite during your pregnancy, but you must remember to eat. If you cannot stand the thought of a big meal try to eat smaller sized meals and snack regularly throughout the day.
Snacks for pregnant women
If you get hungry between meals or you’re finding mealtimes a little heavy going at the moment, snacking can help you maintain a healthy pregnancy diet. Annoyingly, some of your favourite snacks are now best avoided - your much-loved chocolate biscuit or bag of crisps is likely to be loaded with lots of unhealthy fats and/or sugar. Instead, opt for healthier snacks such as:
- Wholemeal pitta bread with hummus.
- Lean ham
- Salmon or sardines with salad
- Salad vegetables, like carrots or cucumber
- Low-fat fruit yoghurt, plain yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
- Dried apricots, figs or prunes
- Vegetable or bean soup
- Fresh fruit
- Beans on toast
Taking vitamins during pregnancy
The NHS recommends taking folic acid and vitamin D to supplement pregnancy nutrition, as they're essential for your baby's development. Regardless of any vitamins you are taking though, it is still really important to choose healthy foods for pregancy. Ask your midwife or doctor about extra supplements if you’re worried you’re not eating from a particular food group.
Foods to avoid in pregnancy
To stay healthy during pregnancy, there are some foods you should avoid:
- Unpasteurised dairy products. In the UK nearly all milk is pasteurised, but if in doubt, always read the label.
- Cured or uncooked meat. Some can contain dangerous parasites. For ready-to-eat meats, you can reduce any risk from parasites by freezing cured or fermented meats for four days at home before you eat them. Freezing kills most parasites and makes the meat more safe to eat.
- Raw shellfish. Give oysters a wide berth during your pregnancy.
- Undercooked eggs. You don’t want to get salmonella. Lion Code eggs are considered very low risk for salmonella, and safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked. If they are not Lion Code, make sure eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid, in order to prevent the risk of salmonella food poisoning.
- Big game fish. Things like shark, swordfish and marlin contain high levels of mercury, which is not good for you or your baby.
- Caffeine. You don’t have to cut it out completely, but you should look to reduce your caffeine intake and don't have more than 200mg a day. Tea is also better than coffee.
- Limit how many sweets, crisps, biscuits and cake you eat.
Got a question about what to eat when pregnant?
Remember, if you'd like to know more about what to eat during your pregnancy or how to maintain a healthy pregnancy diet, why not give one of our friendly experts a call on 0800 977 8880. Or, ask us a question online, instantly, using Live Chat from Monday to Friday, 8am - 8pm.