Even if you're already packing an alphabet of vitamins and minerals into your daily meals, you may still worry that you're missing the mark for a healthy diet during pregnancy, especially if your appetite hasn't increased yet.
Enter these nutritional superstars. When it comes to the best foods to eat while pregnant, try to choose options that pack a lot of nutrients in just a few bites and not too many empty calories. This will help you and your baby get the vitamins and minerals you both need. (Though an occasional cookie or ice cream is fine, so don't feel bad about indulging once in a while!)
Nutrient-dense items are especially effective when efficiency is a priority, such as when you have nausea,gain weight very quicklyonot earning fast enough.
Speaking of nutrients, while they're all important right now, the best pregnancy foods are rich in vitamins and minerals that play a key role in supporting your baby's growth and development, including:
- folate.Getting at least 600 micrograms a day during pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects.
- Ferro.You need almost twice as much iron during pregnancy, or 27 milligrams a day. The mineral is used to make more blood that carries oxygen to the baby.
- Soccer.Aim for 1,000 milligrams a day. Calcium is key to helping your baby develop strong bones, teeth, muscles, and nerves.
- Vitamin D.It helps calcium do its job and keeps your immune system strong. You should receive 600 IU per day.
- DHA.An omega-3 fatty acid, DHA plays a role in your baby's brain and eye development. You need 200 to 300 milligrams a day.
- Iodine.The mineral promotes the development of the baby's brain and nervous system. You should receive 290 micrograms per day.
- Hill.Aim to get 450 milligrams of this vital nutrient every day to help prevent neural tube problems and support your baby's cognitive development.
More healthy eating tips
How much calcium do you need during pregnancy?
How much iron do you need during pregnancy?
How much vitamin C do you need during pregnancy?
How much calcium do you need during pregnancy?
How much iron do you need during pregnancy?
How much vitamin C do you need during pregnancy?
Keeping track of your nutritional needs during pregnancy may seem like a lot of work, but choosing the right foods can help you meet more of your needs (plus eating avitamin prenatal, Of course). So make an effort to keep these pregnancy superfoods on hand and make them a mainstay in your daily menus.
low fat meat
The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of every cell in your body and your baby. Protein-rich foods also keep hunger at bay by stabilizing blood sugar, so aim for at least three servings (about 75 grams) of protein a day.
This makes lean meat one of the best foods to eat during pregnancy. Not only is it high in protein, it's also high in iron, which is essential for helping your baby build their red blood cell supply and supporting yours, too. (Blood volume increases when you are pregnant, which is whyanemia in pregnancyis so common). Iron also plays a role in the development of the baby's brain.
How to eat it:Lean cuts of meat such as round, sirloin, yuca, and tenderloin; ground beef with less than 15% fat; pork loin or sirloin chop; poultry like chicken and turkey; and the leg, arm or loin of lamb fit the bill. A little goes a long way, so add your favorite cut to soups, salads, and rice dishes or vegetable-stuffed noodles. Finally, remember to cook the meat well. An internal temperature of 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit is high enough to kill disease-causing bacteria like E. coli andsalmonella.
Whether you're a meat eater or not, this vegetarian protein source deserves a place on your plate. One cup of cooked lentils contains around 17 grams of protein, along with around 7 milligrams of iron.
Lentils are also rich in the B vitamin folate (called folic acid in supplements), which is vital forbuild your baby's brain and nervous systemand has a powerful protective effect against neural tube defects such as spina bifida, a congenital disorder in which the spine does not form correctly. Lentils are also high in fiber, which can keep your digestive system working and help prevent pregnancy-related constipation.
How I eat them:To top it off, lentils are easy to cook and can work in almost any dish. Try firm black or French lentils in salads, use softer brown lentils in place of chickpeas in your favorite hummus recipe, or make a thick, stew-like soup with creamy, quick-cooking red lentils.
Your baby needs a constant supply of calcium for her growing bones, and you need it to keep yours strong and help your nerves and muscles work. Three to four servings of dairy can help you meet your daily calcium needs, and yogurt is one of your best options.
Glass for glass, it contains as much calcium as milk, plus it is rich in protein, iodine and folic acid. The active cultures (ie good bacteria) in yogurt can also help prevent upset stomach and yeast infections (which are more common during pregnancy).
But not all yogurts are the same. Plain varieties may be a better option than flavored ones, since they contain no added sugars and are easy to customize with mix-ins.
How to eat it:Try a drizzle of honey or chopped fresh fruit to sweeten, if desired. In addition to eating it by the glass or bowl, you can add yogurt to smoothies, top it with granola to make a creamy, crunchy parfait, or use it in place of sour cream or mayonnaise in dressings, sauces, or baked goods.
Oily fish earns a reputation as one of the best foods to eat during pregnancy.
Cold-water fish like salmon are full of DHA omega-3s, which are essential for a number of reasons. The body cannot produce them on its own; help metabolize fat-soluble vitamins such as A and E; can help reduce the risk of prenatal and postpartum depression; and are essential for the development of the baby's eyes and brain (both the brain and the retina are mainly made up of DHA).
Salmon is also a good source ofiodineand vitamin D.
As for concerns about mercury? Salmon is asafe choice of shellfish for pregnancy, so feel free to indulge in 8 to 12 ounces (two to three servings) a week. (Sardines and herring are other good options.) Choose wild salmon when possible.
How to eat it:Try grilling salmon fillets and serving them with vegetables or rice. Enjoy it alongside a sweet potato and steamed vegetables, or pile flaked salmon on top of grains or salad bowls.
The creamy green fruit is packed with folate, along with vitamin B6, which promotes healthy tissue and brain growth in your baby and can help ease morning sickness.
It's also a delicious source of healthy monounsaturated fats, which help your body better absorb many of the vitamins found in fruits and vegetables. Avocado's high fat content can keep you full longer, so you're less likely to feel the hunger pang and need to eat now.
How to eat it:You probably know that avocado is essential to guacamole, but that's not the only reason. Try using mashed avocado in place of cheese or mayonnaise on sandwiches or add diced avocado to a salad.
You should know that cooked soybeans are a tasty source of vegetarian protein, serving up 18 grams per cup with the shell on. But they are also rich in other important nutrients for pregnancy. One cup of edamame provides nearly 100 milligrams of calcium, 3.5 milligrams of iron, and 482 micrograms of folic acid.
How I eat them:Best of all, they're easy to cook (frozen green beans can be steamed or microwaved in just a few minutes) and highly versatile. Top edamame with sea salt for a quick and satisfying snack, puree with lemon juice and olive oil to make a creamy paste, or toss them into salads for a quick protein boost.
Talk about small but mighty. Walnuts are packed with important vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc, potassium, and vitamin E, along with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Plus, they're easy to transport, making them an ideal snack for moms-to-be.
Are certain types better than others? All nuts have their own unique nutrient profiles, and all can fit into a healthy diet during pregnancy. But some can be especially valuable. Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, while almonds provide a healthy dose of calcium. What about the peanuts? They are loaded with folic acid. (Who knows?)
How I eat them:Use walnuts to add a tasty crunch to oatmeal or yogurt, or crush them and use them in place of breadcrumbs for chicken or fish dishes.
Their bright orange color means carrots are packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. And this nutrient is essential for the development of your baby's eyes, skin, and organs.
How I eat them:In addition to eating on the go, try grating carrots and folding them into pancakes, muffins, or quick bread crusts. Or steam and mash with a little butter and cinnamon, just like sweet potatoes.
These vegetables are a superior source of vitamins C and A, as well as fiber to keep things moving. Another big benefit? Research has found that eating a plant-rich diet during pregnancy can help reduce the risk of complications such as high blood pressure and preeclampsia.
How I eat them:Enjoy the crunchy texture the next time you eat one.desirefor crispy pretzels or chips. When dipped in hummus, ranch dip, or even plain yogurt for a snack, they're sure to hit the spot.
Does your stomach turn at the thought of vegetables? Good news: mangoes are another great way to get vitamins like A and C.
How I eat them:Use diced fresh mango in a compact sauce that tastes great over fish or chicken, or mix frozen cubes with yogurt for a sweet and sour smoothie.
You probably know that eggs are an inexpensive and easy-to-cook source of protein—a single large egg provides 6 grams. But that is not all.
Eggs are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin D, with up to 44 IU per serving. Vitamin D plays a key role in helping to build strong bones and teeth for your baby, as well as keeping their immune system in top shape. Also, getting enough of the nutrient could reduce the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and low birth weight, the results suggest.
They are also rich in choline, an essential nutrient for brain and nervous system development.
How I eat them:If you're looking for ideas beyond the usual clutter, you've got plenty to choose from. Pile a poached egg on top of a bowl of grits or salad, or sprinkle sliced hard-boiled eggs with all the bagel seasoning and enjoy as a snack. Just be sure to cook the eggs well, until they are firm and no longer runny, to avoid Salmonella illness.
Leafy green is always a good choice and is a particularly potent superfood for pregnancy. Kale contains folate, iron, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, and fiber, all in one tasty package that can be enjoyed a million different ways.
How to eat it:Try swapping kale for basil in your favorite pesto recipe, mix it into pasta, layer it on a sandwich, or mix it into scrambled eggs.
Getting the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day can help you feel fuller longer and stay uncomfortable.constipation in pregnancyat bay. And good news: a cup of cooked oats yields more than 4 grams.
More good news? That same cup also provides more than 30 percent of your daily magnesium, another mineral that plays a key role in helping your baby develop healthy bones and teeth.
How to eat it:Not a fan of hot oatmeal for breakfast? Try grinding oats in a food processor to make a flour to use in place of all-purpose flour in your favorite baked goods.
They are a tasty source of energy when you feel like eating something, anything, ASAP. Plus, they're easy on your stomach, even when you're feeling nauseous. (Bananas contain vitamin B6, which is associated with reducing morning sickness!)
Bananas are also high in potassium, a mineral that plays a key role in promoting healthy blood pressure. They can even help you control annoying pregnancy bloating, since potassium helps your body release bloating-promoting minerals, like sodium, through your urine.
How I eat them:If a banana on its own isn't a snack, try stacking banana slices on top of peanut butter toast. Or blend frozen banana chunks in your food processor to make delicious and surprisingly creamy dairy-free ice cream.
A single sweet potato provides more than 400 percent of the vitamin A you need in a day. This is especially important during the first trimester, when your baby's cells divide rapidly to become different organs and body parts. (While vitamin A is important during pregnancy, avoid supplements, as receiving megadoses of the nutrient can increase the risk of birth defects.)
How I eat them:Try baking sliced sweet potatoes for oven fries, or create a one-bowl meal by topping a halved baked sweet potato with baked beans, shredded cheese, and diced avocado.
If quinoa wasn't part of your diet before pregnancy, it's worth adding to the menu now. The whole grain (which is technically a seed) provides 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and nearly 3 grams of iron per cooked cup, along with small amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
How to eat it:Best of all, the quinoa cooks in less than 20 minutes. Try mixing it with diced roasted sweet potatoes and black beans for a tasty burrito filling, or simmering it in milk for an oatmeal breakfast.
low fat milk
You know it's packed with calcium to strengthen your baby's bones and teeth—a single cup is about a third of what he needs in a day. But milk also provides vitamin D, iodine, and plenty of protein—about 8 grams per cup.
How to eat it:If the thought of having a glass of milk doesn't appeal to you, there are other ways to include it in your pregnancy diet. Use milk in a fruit smoothie or pour fruit smoothies and milk into popsicle molds to make cool, creamy popsicles.
Figs, dates, prunes, and dried apricots are quick, concentrated sources of energy when you feel your blood sugar starting to drop. And the naturally sweet flavor is a better choice than real candy when you've got a sweet tooth.
Even better? Dried fruits are a surprisingly valuable source of nutrients like fiber, iron, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants. Remember, a little goes a long way: Dried fruit is higher in calories than fresh, so watch your portions and look for varieties made without added sugar.
how to eat it: Pair a handful of dried fruit with a handful of nuts for a satisfying snack, or mix chopped dried fruit with yogurt. Or enjoy it as a healthy dessert: try stuffing dates with peanut butter or almond butter or dipping dried apricots in melted dark chocolate.
Okay, technically it's not a food. But H2O is key to a healthy diet during pregnancy, so be sure to drink eight to 10 8-ounce glasses a day.
Why is water so important? It plays a key role in supplying your baby with nutrients and helps the body make new cells. Staying hydrated is also important to you. Drinking enough water is one of the best ways to avoid constipation during pregnancy. Also, dehydration can increase the risk of preterm labor.
All these great benefitsmeans you need to drink regularly, so fill up a water bottle and take it with you wherever you go. If drinking too much fills you up uncomfortably, take small sips throughout the day.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy
Since we are talking about the best foods to eat during pregnancy, remember that there aresome items that need to be removed from the menu. Certain foods are more likely to harbor bacteria or chemicals that can make you sick, so stay away until after you give birth.
For now, you'll want to take a break from:
- raw juice
- raw cheese
- raw shellfish
- Rotten meat
- hot dog andcold meats
- Raw or undercooked eggs
- Fish high in mercury, such as swordfish, mackerel, orange, bigeye tuna, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
- raw sprouts
It is normal to worry that your diet during pregnancy is not giving the expected results. But sticking to good-for-you foods—especially those rich in essential nutrients like folate, protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, DHA, and iodine—will help you and your baby get the nutrition you both need.
And if at any time during your pregnancy you're concerned that you're not getting enough vitamins or minerals, talk to your doctor. Together, you can determine where you may be falling short and how to fill the gaps.
From the editorial team What to expect andHeidi Murkoff,author ofWhat to expect when you're expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only reputable sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and well-respected healthcare organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up to date by reading ourmedical review and editorial policy.