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    Healthy pregnancy diet: What food is and isn’t safe to eat during pregnancy?

    Updated 05 October 2022 |
    Published 29 September 2022
    Fact Checked
    Lauren Talbert, RD
    Medically reviewed by Lauren Talbert, RD, Clinical dietitian and diabetes educator, Department of Medicine, Women and Infants Hospital, Rhode Island, US
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    When it comes to planning a pregnancy diet, there’s a lot of confusing information available about what you can and can’t eat. We speak to a nutritionist and do the research to help you separate fact from fiction about what a healthy pregnancy diet really involves.

    What we eat is important at any time in our lives, but nutrition during pregnancy is particularly critical. We’ve all heard the expression “eating for two,” and while that doesn’t quite mean that you need to double your intake of food (phew!), it does mean that you need to consider what counts as a healthy pregnancy diet, for both you and your growing baby.

    But what exactly is a healthy pregnancy diet? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the principles of pregnancy nutrition and break down everything you need to know about what food is safe to eat as well as the food to avoid during your pregnancy. 

    There’s a lot of information to take in, and we know it can be overwhelming, so it might help to make a pregnancy diet chart or list to stick on the fridge to help you figure out what’s what. And as always, if you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your health care provider.

    With that in mind, let’s get started. We’ve dug through the research and enlisted the expert help of nutritionist Laura Cordella to separate fact from fiction when it comes to nutrition during pregnancy.

    The importance of nutrition during pregnancy

    It’s important to be mindful of your nutrition during pregnancy for both your own health and the health of your baby. Experts recommend that you follow a healthy pregnancy diet to help your baby grow and develop, while also boosting your own health, too. So let’s take a closer look at what exactly a healthy pregnancy diet comprises.

    What nutrients are essential during pregnancy?

    You’ve probably already heard about the benefits of including folate and folic acid in your pregnancy diet. “In addition to a diet rich in folate, it is generally recommended to take a daily prenatal vitamin supplement that contains a minimum of 0.4 mg (400 mcg) of folic acid,” explains Cordella. This allows you to meet the increased amount of folic acid you need during pregnancy, a total of around 600 mcg. As a B vitamin, folate can help to protect your baby from developing serious problems in their brain or spinal cord. Lots of foods contain folate, from leafy, dark green vegetables to citrus fruits and dried beans, so these are all ideal foods to add to your shopping cart when planning your pregnancy diet menu. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate that comes in the form of a supplement, and evidence suggests that it can lower the risks of both premature birth and your baby being born with a low birth weight. 

    You can start thinking about folate and folic acid if you’re trying to conceive, too. “It is suggested that you start taking a supplement containing folic acid at least one to two months prior to conception or as soon as you find out you are pregnant,” adds Cordella. Just remember to always speak to your doctor before starting any new supplements. 

    Of course, folate and folic acid aren’t the only nutrients to consider. Medical experts also recommend that you include calcium, vitamin D, choline, iron, and essential omega-3 fatty acids in your pregnancy diet plan.And again, because it bears repeating, remember to always speak to your doctor before starting any new supplements, including folic acid.

    A healthy pregnancy diet: What might this look like?

    Now that we know what nutrients to consider during pregnancy, what does a healthy pregnancy diet actually look like? “Throughout pregnancy, the focus should be placed on a balanced diet,” explains Cordella. A balanced diet includes adequate calories, lean protein, healthy unsaturated fats, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, in addition to staying adequately hydrated,” explains Cordella. It’s also important to keep in mind that you’re recommended to take prenatal vitamins in addition to following a healthy diet, as food and drink alone don’t provide all the necessary nutrients to support a pregnancy.

    It’s also worth noting that calorie needs increase throughout the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy; although, Cordella explains that you don’t “typically need to increase your caloric intake” during the first trimester. Cordella breaks it down:

    • “Approximately an additional 340 calories per day are suggested during the second trimester.  
    • “Approximately an additional 450 calories per day are suggested during the third trimester. 

    “These suggestions may be individualized depending on prepregnancy nutritional status, so always refer to the recommendations provided to you by your medical team,” she adds.

    While this might sound like a lot of additional calories to consume each day, Cordella emphasizes the importance of listening to your body’s growing need for energy and trying not to follow any restrictive diets during this time, such as a low-carb diet or a pregnancy diet plan to lose weight. “Self-imposed dietary restraint during pregnancy can contribute to poor health outcomes for mom and baby,” she explains. “Pregnancy is not a time to start following a restrictive diet and can lead to more harm than intended benefit.”

    Remember that weight gain is completely normal during pregnancy, and everyone will experience this in a different way. “Pregnant women can gain weight at different rates throughout pregnancy. While it is typically common practice for a woman to be weighed at the start of each prenatal visit, I wouldn’t be too concerned if there is a weight increase higher than expected on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis,” says Cordella. Weight gain recommendations for pregnancy are based on your body mass index before pregnancy and should be discussed with your health care provider. As long as you’re gaining weight within these recommendations, Cordella emphasizes that “weight gain should not be the focus. Overall dietary patterns and nutritional status are much more important factors to focus on and are often not reflected through measuring body weight alone.”  

    The best foods to eat and the foods to avoid during pregnancy

    Now that we understand a bit more about the importance of nutrition during pregnancy, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common food groups that people have questions about during pregnancy.

    Is it safe to include raw meat in your pregnancy diet?

    While it’s safe to eat cooked meat during pregnancy, Cordella advises that you steer clear of raw meat dishes, such as rare steaks and carpaccio, when planning your pregnancy diet. She explains that these could potentially cause food poisoning. “Make sure all meat is cooked well to the minimum acceptable internal temperatures,” she adds. Not sure how hot your meat needs to be? Cordella has the following recommendations: 

    • Poultry: 165 F (74 C)
    • Beef, pork, lamb: 145 F (63 C)
    • Ground meat: 160 F (71 C)