When you’re pregnant, it’s important to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. You don’t need to go on a special diet – but following these healthy eating guidelines will help ensure you stay well and give your baby the best possible start in life
Fruit and vegetables
We’re always told to get our ‘five a day’ and when you’re pregnant, it’s even more important to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. As well as containing health-boosting vitamins and minerals, they’re a good source of fibre which helps improve digestion and can prevent that all-too common pregnancy side effect - constipation. When preparing fresh produce, be sure to wash it well. Fruit, vegetables and salads can come with traces of soil which may contain toxoplasma - a parasite that can harm your unborn baby. Steaming or cooking in a little water will help ensure vegetables retain more of their nutrients.
Carbohydrates may have had a bad press, thanks to the popularity of low-carb diets in recent years but starchy foods really are your friend. An important source of vitamins and fibre, they provide energy and keep you feeling fuller for longer - without being high in calories. You should include carbs, such as bread, potatoes, pasta and noodles, with every meal – opt for brown varieties over white, processed ones, where possible.
Protein is a building block for life itself – so it’s especially important to get enough during pregnancy. Aim to eat protein at least once a day – and vary the sources if possible. For example, eat beans and pulses, dairy, nuts, eggs, fish, poultry and lean meat (avoiding liver). The NHS advises pregnant women to eat two servings of fish a week – but steer clear of raw seafood (such as oysters or uncooked sushi). The majority of fish contain traces of methylmercury - a metal believed to be harmful in high doses to the growing brains of fetuses – so it’s best to limit your consumption to about 12 ounces a week - equivalent to two servings.
When preparing eggs, poultry and meat, make sure they are thoroughly cooked through – raw and partially cooked eggs and meat should be avoided. You should also avoid pâté, including vegetable pâté, as it can contain listeria - and steer clear of liver and liver products as they can contain too much vitamin A, which can harm your baby.
Calcium is essential during pregnancy (helping to build strong bones and teeth) and you should aim to eat two to three portions a day. Dairy foods, such as cheese, milk and yoghurt, are great sources of calcium – but there are some varieties you need to avoid in pregnancy. Milk and soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk and mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie and camembert, should be avoided as they may contain bacteria. You should also steer clear of soft blue-veined cheeses, such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort.
Carbs are an important source of vitamins and fibre
While you don’t want to eat too many fatty foods, the body needs a certain amount of fat – just make sure it’s the good kind. Cut down on saturated fat, found in meat products, butter, hard cheese, cream, biscuits, cakes and pastries, and choose foods that are rich in unsaturated fat instead – like oily fish, nuts, seeds and sunflower and olive oils.
Best snack options
If you get hungry between meals, say no to crisps, chocolate and biscuits and opt for healthy snacks instead, such as low-fat yoghurt, fresh fruit or crunchy vegetables. It’s best to cut out sugary and fizzy drinks – try water, low-sugar squashes or herbal tea instead.
Supplements to take in pregnancy
Although it’s best to get the vitamins and minerals you need from food, pregnant women are advised to take supplements to ensure they get everything they need. Choose a multivitamin formed especially for pregnant women (ordinary ones contain too much vitamin A) which should also contain folic acid. If not, you’ll need to take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day separately