Eating a healthy diet while pregnant is one of the best things you can do for your baby and yourself. This can help prevent too much weight gain, along with avoiding gestational diabetes, anemia, premature labor and a low birth weight baby.
When considering a “healthy diet” while pregnant, emphasize a balance between food quantity (in the form of calories and grams of protein per day) along with food quality. Food quality (aka nutrient-dense foods) is just as important as food quantity because the foods you consume not only impact you but will impact your fetus, too.
The exact amount of healthy weight gain during pregnancy varies, but in general, could be 25–35 pounds for a normal weight woman, 10–20 pounds for an overweight woman and 35–45 pounds for an underweight woman. (These are only ballpark ranges; please seek more specific advice from your healthcare provider.)
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO EAT IN BALANCE?
The main rule to remember is: Eating for two definitely does not mean eating twice as much food. Overall, pregnant women need about 300 extra nutrient-dense calories per day. Where these calories come from matters. If you consume sweets or junk food, the extra calories don’t provide the nutrients your baby needs. As a result your growing baby will not get the vitamins and minerals it needs from your body.
Ensure every meal is balanced to make sure you are getting adequate nutrients and calories for both yourself and your baby. Eating in balance also helps you stave off food cravings. Aim to have some form of protein, fat and slow-release carbohydrates with every meal and snack. Also aim to have about half of a plate of non-starchy vegetables for two meals per day.
TARGET CALORIE GOALS
For most normal-weight pregnant women, the right amount of calories is:
- First trimester: About 1,800 calories per day
- Second trimester: About 2,200 calories per day
- Third trimester: About 2,400 calories per day
TARGET PROTEIN GOALS
During your entire pregnancy, try to get 75–100 grams of protein per day. Aim for approximately 6 ounces per meal. Good sources of animal protein are chicken, turkey, fish and omega-3 eggs. Plant-based options include beans as well as organic tofu and tempeh.
TARGET FAT GOALS
It’s important not to skimp on your fat intake during pregnancy. Fats (and the fatty acids they contain) are especially important during pregnancy because they support your baby’s brain and eye development — both before and after birth. Fats also help the placenta and other tissues grow, and studies show that some fats may help prevent preterm birth and low birth weight.
In general, you’ll want to aim for at least two tablespoons per meal. Healthy fat sources include: nuts and seeds of any kind, unsweetened coconut, coconut oil/butter, nut or seed butter, olives, olive oil, ghee, cocoa butter and avocados
TARGET CARBOHYDRATE GOALS
Out of the three major macronutrients discussed here, carbohydrates have the biggest impact on your short-term blood glucose levels. When foods containing carbohydrates are consumed, the hormone insulin is released into the bloodstream to help move glucose from the blood into our cells, causing blood glucose (or blood sugar) levels to rise.
High blood glucose levels during pregnancy are associated with an increased risk of the mother developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy and Type 2 diabetes in the future. However, carbohydrates should not be feared or avoided. Aim to include a variety of more nutrient-dense carbohydrates into your daily diet including 100% whole grains, 100% whole-grain breads, beans, fresh fruit and starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, beets, winter squash) and non-starchy vegetables (asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, leafy greens, etc).
In general, aim for 150–250 grams of carbohydrates per day — less if you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
READ MORE > 10 POSES TO AVOID IF YOU’RE PREGNANT
ADDITIONAL NUTRIENTS TO CONSUME
Folate is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects and serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is known as folic acid. Folic acid supplementation has been shown to decrease the risk of premature birth.
Aim to get 400–800 micrograms a day of folate or folic acid before conception and throughout pregnancy.
Good sources: Fortified 100% whole-grain cereals are great sources of folic acid. Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits and dried beans and peas are also high in the nutrient.
You and your baby need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also helps your circulatory, muscular and nervous systems run normally.
Aim to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
Good sources: Dairy products are the best absorbed sources of calcium. Nondairy sources include broccoli and kale.
Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy, you need double the amount of iron that nonpregnant women need. Your body needs this iron to make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby.
If you don’t have enough iron stores or get enough iron during pregnancy, you could develop iron-deficiency anemia. You might become fatigued. Severe iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy also increases your risk of premature birth, having a low birth weight baby and postpartum depression.
Aim to get 27 milligrams a day.
Good Sources: Lean red meat, poultry and fish, as well as iron-fortified breakfast cereals, beans and vegetables.
*Consider seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist to discuss a more personalized eating plan during your entire pregnancy. Also reach out to your healthcare provider to discuss appropriate supplementation during your pregnancy.