Eating healthily during pregnancy can be tricky thanks to cravings, aversions, nausea and vomiting, particularly in the first trimester. Supplements can cover some of your dietary requirements, such as folic acid.1 However, a nutritious well-rounded diet is important during all stages of pregnancy and there are some foods in particular you should aim to include in your diet.
In addition to being a great source of protein, eggs are provide key nutrients such as vitamin D, folate, iodine, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids and, especially, choline.2 Choline is important, especially in the first trimester, as it is crucial for the development of the embryo’s brain.3
Dairy foods are an important source of protein, calcium, vitamin B12 and phosphorus during the first trimester. In a study of the effects of first trimester diet on subsequent childhood bone mass, a higher intake by the mother of protein, calcium, phosphorus and vitamin B12 was associated with higher childhood bone mass, whereas a higher intake of carbohydrates and homocysteine (found in animal proteins) was associated with lower childhood bone mass.4,5
Some intake of red meat is considered to be beneficial during pregnancy. Red meat is packed full of protein, iron, zinc, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are essential for your growing baby. Having adequate levels of iron is particularly important during pregnancy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that pregnant women consume approximately 27 mg per day, which is a substantial increase from the 18 mg per day requirement for non-pregnant women.6 It is important to make sure the meat you are eating is cooked as raw meat can harbor parasites such as toxoplasmosis and bacteria such as Salmonella, and it also important to consume it in moderation as overconsumption carries its own risks.4 If you can’t get all your iron needs from food, consider an iron supplement but talk with your healthcare provider first about this.
Fish is another important source of protein as well as being high in zinc, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids. Intake of fish during pregnancy has been linked to improved brain development of offspring as well as higher birthweight and reduced risk of preterm birth.7,8 However, it is important to avoid fish with high levels of methyl-mercury as this can impair embryonic and fetal brain development and can cause developmental delays. Fish with high levels of mercury tend to be at the top of the ocean food chain and include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Canned light tuna has a lower level of mercury than other types of tuna but should still be eaten in moderation.9, 10
If you weren’t eating many fruits or vegetables before you became pregnant, now is the time to start. Eating fruit throughout the day is a good way to stay hydrated and it also provides you with a high amount of fiber, something that may be beneficial for women who are suffering from progesterone-induced constipation.
Fruit and vegetables are also very good sources of the vitamins and minerals that are essential to your baby’s development. Additionally, in a study of 763 mother-child pairs, high intake of green and yellow vegetables, citrus fruits as well as fruits or vegetables containing high amounts of beta-carotene was found to protect against development of eczema in the offspring.11
- Aside from folic acid, which vitamins & minerals are recommended when planning a pregnancy
- Value of eggs during pregnancy and childhood
- Choline: Critical Role During Fetal Development and Dietary Requirements in Adults
- Animal proteins influence blood lipids and homocysteine
- Maternal first-trimester diet and childhood bone mass: the Generation R Study
- What are the health benefits of eating red meat during pregnancy
- Fish Intake during Pregnancy and Foetal Neurodevelopment – A Systematic Review of the Evidence
- Fish intake during pregnancy and early cognitive development of offspring
- Foods to avoid during pregnancy
- Eating fish while pregnant: the Good and the Bad
- Consumption of vegetables, fruit, and antioxidants during pregnancy and wheeze and eczema in infants
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