Guidelines for Healthy Eating

Institutes & Services > Women's Services

Eating well is essential for the health of your growing baby. During your nine months of pregnancy, you are your baby’s main source of nourishment. What you eat
will impact the health of your developing baby. Typically, it is best to:

  • Eat a wide variety of foods daily to keep you well nourished and build a healthy baby.
  • Eat three balanced meals and two to three healthy snacks. This will help you provide your baby with proper nourishment.
  • Eat frequently throughout the day, which may also help with nausea and heartburn.

Women who eat well significantly lower their risk of miscarriage in the first trimester.

Nutrients Your Body Needs During Pregnancy

Protein

Protein is the main “building block” for your baby’s cells. It also produces red blood cells that carry oxygen to the tissues of the mother and the baby. Good sources of protein are eggs, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, milk, nuts, peanut butter, dried peas, soy products, beans, yogurt, and sunflower kernels.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide energy for you and your baby during pregnancy. Complex carbohydrates provide more long-lasting energy than simple carbohydrates such as candy, table sugar, etc. Complex carbohydrates also supply more nutrients and fiber. Healthier carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as whole wheat bread, pasta, cereal and brown rice.

Fats

Fats add calories quickly, so limit total fat to 25 to 30 percent of total calories. Cut back on saturated fats in fatty meats and many processed foods; choose lean cuts of meats and remove skin from chicken; and avoid palm and coconut oil when possible. Trans fats are another type of bad fat. These contain hydrogenated fats and may be found in many processed foods. Saturated and trans fats have been proven to raise bad cholesterol (LDL).

The healthier fats include olive or canola oil, nuts,  seeds, avocado and fish. When eating out, select healthy choices. Limit fast food and fried choices, and limit portions.

Calcium

Calcium is an important mineral for your baby’s developing bones. Sources include milk, cheese, yogurt, calcium-fortified orange juice, greens, pudding, custard and cream soup made with milk, milkshakes, canned salmon with bones, tofu (soybean curd) processed with calcium, and frozen yogurt. If you feel you may need a calcium supplement, consult with your
health care provider. Particular calcium supplements are not recommended during pregnancy.

Iron

Iron helps create the red blood cells that deliver oxygen to your baby and also prevents fatigue. Sources of iron include lean red meat, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, dried fruits such as prunes, figs, nuts, eggs, peanut butter, sunflower kernels, prune juice, raisins, apricots, ironfortified cereals and breads, and leafy green vegetables. Foods rich in vitamin C enhance iron absorption. Vitamin C sources include citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, berries, melon, broccoli, kiwi fruit and baked potatoes.

Folic Acid

Folic Acid, especially early in pregnancy, will help your baby’s brain and spinal cord development. Good sources include: lentils, chick peas, oranges, oatmeal, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, enriched grains and beans.

Caloric Requirements

Adults and older adolescents require an additional 300 calories per day to fulfill energy needs during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Including nutritious snacks is one way to increase calories and at the same time provide your growing baby with extra protein, calcium, iron, folic acid and other vitamins and minerals.

Ideas for healthy snacks include yogurt, fruit, raw veggies, nuts, whole grain crackers, milk, cheese, hardcooked eggs, hummus, trail mix, vegetable/tomato juice, sunflower seeds or sunflower kernels, granola bars, fig bars, low-fat popcorn, frozen yogurt, cottage cheese, salsa with low-fat tortilla chips, peanut butter on celery, apple slices, graham crackers, fruit juice Popsicles, and milkshakes made with fruit.

 Serving Size  Minimum # of Servings Per Day
Bread, cereal, rice, pasta group, 1 slice of bread,
1/2 cup of cooked cereal, pasta, rice,
1 cup of cold cereal
6 to 11
Vegetable Group
1/2 cup cooked or 1/2 cup raw
3 to 5
Fruit Group
1 piece or 6 oz. juice
2 to 4
Milk, Yogurt, Cheese Group 3 (4 for pregnant teens or breastfeeding women)
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans,
Eggs, Nuts Group, 3 oz. cooked beef,
poultry, fish; 1 oz. meat = 1 egg,
2 T peanut butter,
1/2 cup beans/peas
1/4 cup tofu, 1/3 cup nuts
2 to 3 (3 for pregnant teens or breastfeeding women)

Weight Gain

Am I Gaining Weight Too Rapidly?

If you are gaining weight too rapidly, try to limit or avoid empty calorie snacks such as chips, soft drinks, cakes, candy, etc. Limit fruit juice to one cup per day; drink adequate plain water; and use low fat milk. Discuss a walking plan with your health care provider.

The Best Way to Gain Weight During Pregnancy

The best way to gain weight during your pregnancy is slowly and steadily. During the first trimester, a weight gain of one to four pounds is usually recommended. During the second and third trimesters, weight gain should average approximately one-half to one pound per week.

Total weight gain recommendations according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

Weight Status  Weight Gain (Pounds)
Underweight 28 to 40
Ideal weight 25 to 35
Overweight 14 to 25
Obese 11 to 20
Carrying Twins 35 to 45

Your health care provider will individualize your weight gain goals. Do not go on a weight loss diet when you are pregnant. If you do your baby may not get enough iron, folic acid, protein, and many other essential nutrients to grow. In addition, weight loss causes your body to use its fat stores for energy. This can cause ketones to build up in your blood and this can be very harmful to your developing baby.

Where does the weight gain go? (approximate amounts)

  • Blood: 3 pounds
  • Breasts: 2 pounds
  • Uterus: 2 pounds
  • Baby: 7.5 pounds
  • Placenta: 1.5 pounds
  • Amniotic Fluid: 2 pounds
  • Fat, Protein, and other nutrient stores: 4 pounds

Source: March of Dimes

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are associated with potential negative consequences during pregnancy. These may include higher rates of miscarriage, low birth rate, obstetric complications and postpartum depression. Discuss any past or current eating disorders and weight gain goals with your health care provider.

Pregnancy Nutrition: What Should I Eat?

Focus on fiber

During pregnancy, fiber is especially important to help prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. Increase fiber in your diet with these foods: popcorn, fresh fruits, vegetables, brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, dried fruit (especially prunes), granola bars, beans, lentils, oatmeal and whole wheat crackers. Remember to add fiber gradually to your diet and drink plenty of fluids. For information regarding constipation and hemorrhoids see “Discomforts of Pregnancy” section on page 19.

Water

Water – the forgotten nutrient Water is an essential nutrient during pregnancy. Water constitutes almost half of your body’s weight. During pregnancy, extra fluid is needed to digest and absorb nutrients, remove waste products from the body, produce amniotic fluid and regulate body temperature. Water aids in many metabolic processes. It also helps to keep up with a pregnant woman’s increasing blood volume. As your baby grows during pregnancy, your blood volume increases by 50 percent. Drinking adequate water can help with swelling and constipation and help prevent dehydration. Early contractions can occur when you are dehydrated. Try to drink a minimum of eight to 10 cups of clear, clean water a day. If you dislike water, try putting a lemon, lime or orange slice in your cup of water. Water is especially important in preventing overheating and dehydration during warm weather and while exercising.

Prenatal Vitamin/Mineral Supplement

Prenatal vitamin/mineral supplement Healthy food is the best source of most nutrients, although during pregnancy your daily prenatal vitamin is good nutrition insurance. Your baby will depend on your diet for the extra protein needed during pregnancy. Your prenatal supplement will not contain protein. Things to remember:

  • Always take your prenatal supplement with plenty of water.
  • If stomach upset occurs, try taking it with food or just before bed.
  • All pregnant women and women of childbearing age should take a supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. The March of Dimes states that 70 percent of all neural tube defects can be avoided with adequate folic acid intake.
  • According to the National Academy of Sciences, a pregnant woman in the second and third trimester should take a prenatal supplement containing 30 mgs of iron daily.
  • Do not take your prenatal or iron supplement with coffee or tea because they may decrease iron absorption.
  • Discuss your own individual vitamin/mineral supplements with your health care provider, especially if you are on a strict vegetarian food plan.
  • Multiple doses of some vitamins can be harmful to you and your baby.

Herbal supplements

There is a growing amount of evidence that some herbal supplements/teas may be harmful during pregnancy/breastfeeding. Always consult your health
care providers before taking any herbal supplement.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, iced and hot tea, cola, many soda beverages, chocolate and many coffee-flavored yogurts. The U.S. FDA has advised pregnant women to “avoid caffeine-containing food and drugs, if possible, or consume them only sparingly.” During pregnancy, caffeine crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus. Caffeine may decrease blood flow to the placenta, which may harm the baby. The March of Dimes recommends that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant consume no more than 200 mgs of caffeine per day (equal to 12 oz. of coffee per day).

Sugar substitutes

Sugar substitutes Limit intake of sugar substitutes during pregnancy. For further information regarding specific sugar substitutes, consult your health care provider.

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