A Short Guide to the Best Foods to Eat When Pregnant

Jillian Ondreyka

MPH, RDN, IFNCP, IBCLC

Congrats, you’re pregnant! Now let’s talk about food. You may have heard that there are increased nutrient needs during pregnancy to help you and baby grow. It’s true. So what does this mean? Here’s a short guide to foods to eat when pregnant. 

Meat, Beans, and Dairy AKA Protein Foods

Protein is the “building block” nutrient which is super important for when your body is doing the amazing task of building a baby. During pregnancy, the amino acid glycine, something in protein rich foods, becomes conditionally essential. You need more of this for your stretching skin and baby’s growing body. Some say eating glycine can prevent stretch marks! Hello! Sign me up. 

What protein foods to eat when pregnant? Check out…

  • For meat: Try to eat slow cooked meat like stew, pot roast or pulled pork a couple times a week. 
  • For beans: Any bean will do!
  • For dairy: Buy grass-fed 2% milk or higher. Are you lactose intolerant? Try butter, cream, full fat greek yogurt, or aged cheese. Some women report being able to tolerate dairy in pregnancy even if they were not before pregnant!
  • Wild card: Make some jello (gelatin). 

Eat More Fish 

Fish is a winner. Try to eat it two to three times each week. Specifically, eat more lower mercury fish such as salmon, shrimp, tilapia, pollack, perch, crab, sardines, and anchovies. Fish contains EPA and DHA, types of Omega 3 fats, that help baby’s brain development. Fish are also good sources of iodine, zinc, iron, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and glycine. If fish is not your thing, many women choose to take a DHA supplement, which is commonly paired with a prenatal vitamin.  

Aim to eat fish 2-3 times each week.

Get Some Sun or Eat Salmon, Tuna, Eggs, and Dairy

This one feels like cheating but Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and your body absorbs vitamin D just from being in the sun! Not surprisingly, many of us in the United States are deficient in this essential vitamin, especially now with covid19 keeping many of us ‘off’ our usual routines. Vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy puts you at higher risk for preeclampsia and gestational diabetes and your baby at risk for low birth weight and Vitamin D deficiency, so let’s talk about how we can get the right amount. 

Research suggests that 4,000 IU of Vitamin D3 a day is a safe and effective dose in achieving sufficiency in all women and their babies regardless of race. (That’s right, some guidelines differ because we come in different colors. For example, African American women need more time in the sun to get the benefits of vitamin D absorption.) You can get vitamin D from food like salmon, tuna, eggs and dairy. But we also suggest you check your prenatal vitamins. Be sure to choose a prenatal vitamin with 600 IUs of Vitamin D or more. You can take a Vitamin D3 supplement separately, regardless of what you eat.

Choline is Your Friend AKA Eggs, Lean Beef and Salmon

Eggs, lean beef and salmon are foods to eat when pregnant that are excellent sources of choline. Choline is an up-and-coming nutrient that has been in the spotlight recently due to new research. Choline helps support brain growth and protects against neural tube defects. Unfortunately, choline is often missing from prenatal vitamins, so it’s even more important to try to get this one from food. The current Adequate Intake is 450mg/day; however, some research suggests that 980 mg/day may be optimal. Stay tuned for more exciting research on choline! In the meantime, eat those eggs for breakfast (or dinner).

Want to learn more about eggs? Read why they are so great for the whole fam.

Eat Your Greens

Most people have heard of folate and its role in preventing neural tube defects. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in some supplements. It’s the same, but different. Interestingly,  naturally occurring folate is easier for your body to absorb compared to folic acid. So bring on the leafy greens. Don’t love those? You can also get folate from legumes, nuts, seeds, avocados and eggs. 

Power Up on Iodine-Foods 

What do fish/seafood, seaweed, eggs, beef, asparagus, beets, and cranberries have in common? Iodine! Iodine plays an important role in thyroid, brain, and metabolic health. This is another one that is often missing in prenatal vitamins, so focus on getting it from food.

A Special Note about Food to Eat When Pregnant for our Vegetarian and Vegan Mama Friends

Are you vegetarian or vegan? You may have to get creative to meet some requirements. Check out our full article on what to eat while pregnant if you are vegetarian or vegan. 

Want more?

You’re a smart cookie and probably noticed some repeat foods on this list. One amazing fact about food is that each food is made up of many different things that can nourish our bodies. Aim to include these prenatal nutrient powerhouse foods into your meals and snacks!

I want to read more: Get more food inspiration and learn about our pregnancy plate. 

I want to talk to someone: Cool! Our Fooblie coaches are on standby, ready to help you with all things pregnancy nutrition. Talk to a Fooblie coach today! 

You’ve got this!

Have fun exploring these powerhouse foods to eat when pregnant. Wishing you a healthy, happy pregnancy nourished with the foods we talked about today. You got this, mama!

Sources:

  • Hollis BW, Johnson D, Hulsey TC, Ebeling M, Wagner CL. Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy: Double-blind, randomized clinical trial of safety and effectiveness. J Bone Miner Res. 2011;26:2341–57. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21706518/)
  • Nichols, L. (2018). Real Food For Pregnancy.