Top 10 Best Foods to Eat for Pregnancy

Aug 09, 2022 Pregnancy Tips

Top 10 Best Foods to Eat for Pregnancy

Quick Health Scoop

  • Eating a balanced, healthy diet is critically important to the health and well-being of both a pregnant woman and her developing baby.
  • The body requires 13 vitamins and at least 16 minerals essential to your health, but specific nutrients important during pregnancy include Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D, DHA, and Choline.
  • The best foods for pregnancy include specific options in whole grains, low-mercury seafood, red and orange vegetables, dark leafy greens, dairy, fruits, legumes, eggs, lean protein, and water.
  • Experts recommend the addition of prenatal vitamins during pregnancy to ensure a pregnant woman gets all the key nutrients she and her growing baby need.

When you’re growing a little human, taking care of yourself becomes a top priority. After all, your baby’s health depends on it! That’s why it’s so important follow a healthy lifestyle, which includes getting a pre-pregnancy health check-up; quitting smoking; getting to a healthy weight; taking prenatal vitamins; and eating a balanced, healthy diet.

Eating a variety of nutritious foods helps to ensure you’re fueling your body with all the nutrients you and your baby need for a healthy pregnancy. As a refresher, the body requires 13 vitamins and at least 16 minerals essential to your health. [1] All of these nutrients play different but important roles in the body to promote good health for both a pregnant woman and her developing baby.

Besides providing key nutrients that you and your baby need, eating the right foods during pregnancy may help alleviate some of your pregnancy discomforts, such as constipation, nausea, vomiting, hemorrhoids, fatigue, leg cramps, and heartburn. [2]

But what are the best foods for pregnancy? Learn about the essential nutrients to consume and which healthy foods to eat during pregnancy.

What Are The Right Foods To Eat While Pregnant?

Before diving into a list of specific foods that a pregnant woman should eat, it helps to understand the key nutrients that fuel a healthy pregnancy. Among other healthy foods, the right foods include those that contain these key nutrients:

  • Folic Acid. For a pregnant woman, or one looking to become pregnant, the CDC recommends taking 400 mcg of Folic Acid daily. [4] Adequate folic acid as part of a healthful diet may reduce a woman's risk of having a child with anencephaly or spina bifida, a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord. It’s important to get enough Folic Acid even before you become pregnant as the neural tube is already formed by day 28 of gestation, often before many women know that they are pregnant.
  • Iron. Iron is vital for red blood cell formation, and pregnant women need to consume twice as much Iron per day than before they were pregnant. During pregnancy, your body will produce a lot of extra blood to support the development of the placenta and fetus, and to supply oxygen to the baby. [3] It is recommended that pregnant women consume 27 mg of Iron daily. [5]
  • Iodine. This mineral is important for the healthy growth and brain development in both the growing fetus and newborn. During pregnancy, a woman’s body produces more thyroid hormones and thus requires increased Iodine intake. Women should consume 150 mcg of Iodine daily during pregnancy. [6]
  • Calcium. This mineral serves as a building block for the baby’s teeth, bones, nerves, muscles, and heart. Pregnant women need increased amounts of Calcium, so aim to consume at least 1000 mg per day. [5]
  • Vitamin D. Working together with Calcium, Vitamin D helps the body absorb Calcium. This, in turn, helps build the baby’s teeth and bones and helps the body’s muscles, nerves, and immune system function properly. Pregnant women should consume 15 mcg (600 IU) of Vitamin D daily. [5]
  • DHA: As an Omega-3 fatty acid, DHA (a healthy fat) helps support the healthy growth and development of the baby’s brain and eyes. Professional organizations (such as the Perinatal Lipid Intake Working Group, European Food Safety Authority, and International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids) recommend pregnant and breastfeeding women consume at least 200 mg of DHA daily. Excellent dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish. Women of childbearing age, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers are advised to consume 8–12 ounces (2–3 servings) of lower-mercury fish every week, according to the latest dietary guidelines for Americans. [7]
  • Choline: This key nutrient plays an important role in the baby’s brain, spinal cord and cognitive development, as well as liver and placental function. Large amounts of choline are transferred from a pregnant woman to their baby via the placenta placing an increased demand on maternal choline stores during pregnancy. [8]

Best Foods To Eat When Pregnant

In general, a healthy, balanced diet focuses on eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Now that you understand the key nutrients to look for and what role they play in the well-being of a pregnant woman and her baby, what are the Top 10 healthy foods to eat during pregnancy? The best foods for pregnancy include the following: [9,10, 11, 12]

  1. Whole grains

Best options: fortified foods such as breakfast cereal, whole grain bread, rice
Key nutrients: Iron, Fiber, Folic Acid

  1. Low-mercury seafood

Best options: 8-12 ounces/week, with the best low-mercury choices being canned light tuna, catfish, cod, herring, oysters, salmon, shrimp, tilapia, trout
Key nutrients: DHA, Vitamin D

  1. Red and orange vegetables
    Best options: carrots, pumpkin, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes

Key nutrients: Beta Carotene, Fiber, Potassium, Vitamin A

  1. Dark leafy green vegetables

Best options: broccoli, kale, spinach

Key nutrients: Calcium, Fiber, Folic Acid, Iron, Potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K

  1. Dairy

Best options: Skim or 1% milk, fat-free or low-fat yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), low-fat cottage cheese, soymilk, or other nutrient enriched milk alternative

Key nutrients: Calcium, Potassium, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin D

  1. Fruits
    Best options: berries, citrus fruits, fortified orange juice, prunes
    Key nutrients: Antioxidants, Calcium, Fiber, Potassium, Vitamin C
  2. Legumes
    Best options: beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, peanuts, soybeans

Key nutrients: Calcium, Fiber, Folate, Iron, Protein

  1. Eggs
    Key nutrients
    : choline, healthy fat, protein
  2. Lean Proteins
    Best options: lean beef, chicken, and pork
    Key nutrients: choline, iron, protein, Vitamin B
  3. Water
    A pregnant woman’s blood volume increases by roughly 45 percent. [13] Among many other health benefits, staying hydrated helps flush out toxins from the body, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, and helps a new mom increase her milk supply.

In addition to eating a healthy diet, experts recommend that pregnant women also take prenatal vitamins to help fill in any nutritional gaps in the diet. Good prenatal vitamins include Vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, as well as those key nutrients important to both a pregnant woman and her developing baby, including Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, DHA, and Choline. Learn more about what happens if you don’t take prenatals.

Learn More: Can You Take Vitamin C While Pregnant?

Bottom Line

Eating a balanced diet with nutrient-dense foods plays a critical role in supporting a healthy pregnancy. Key nutrients important during pregnancy include Folic Acid, Iron, Iodine, Calcium, Vitamin D, DHA, and Choline, so it’s best to eat foods that contain these nutrients. The best healthy foods to eat during pregnancy should include whole grains, low-mercury seafood, red and orange vegetables, dark leafy greens, dairy, fruits, legumes, eggs, lean protein, and water. Also, eating the best foods can also lessen some common pregnancy discomforts, including constipation, nausea, vomiting, hemorrhoids, fatigue, leg cramps, and heartburn. To help fill in any nutritional gaps, experts also recommend taking prenatal vitamins. And for breastfeeding moms, postnatal vitamins can help support a nursing mom and her breastfed baby.

Learn More:

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

▲ In both the United States and globally, 42% of pregnant women were observed to be iron deficient in the first trimester. [14]

References 

  1. Pharmacy Times. “Vitamins and Minerals Explained.” June 22, 2015. Accessed on: May 13, 2022. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/vitamins-and-minerals-explained
  2. UCFS Health. “Coping With Common Discomforts of Pregnancy.” 2022. Accessed on: May 13, 2022. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/coping-with-common-discomforts-of-pregnancy
  3. Mayo Clinic. “Prenatal vitamins: Why they matter, how to choose.” April 19, 2022. Accessed on: May 16, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945
  4. The Centers for Disease Control. “Folic Acid & Neural Tube Defects: An Overview.” November 9, 2017. Accessed on: May 16, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefectscount/basics.html
  5. March of Dimes. “Vitamins and Other Nutrients During Pregnancy.” September 2020. Accessed on: May 16, 2022. https://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/vitamins-and-other-nutrients-during-pregnancy.aspx
  6. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Iodine.” 2022. Accessed on: May 16, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/Iodine/
  7. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition.” December 2020. Accessed on: June 1, 2022. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials
  8. International Journal of Women’s Health. “Nutrition in pregnancy: the argument for including a source of choline. April 22, 2013. Accessed on: May 16, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23637565/
  9. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Ideal Foods to Eat During Pregnancy.” 2022. Accessed on: May 18, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/nutrition-during-pregnancy
  10. S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: Quick Tips.” May 18, 2022. Accessed on: May 18, 2022. https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/pregnancy/nutrition-and-physical-activity/eat-healthy-during-pregnancy-quick-tips
  11. March of Dimes. “Eating Healthy During Pregnancy.” April 2020. Accessed on: May 18, 2022. 
  12. Mayo Clinic. “Pregnancy diet: Focus on these essential nutrients.” February 18, 2022. Accessed on: May 18, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20045082
  13. “Cardiovascular Physiology of Pregnancy.” September 16, 2014. Accessed on: May 18, 2022. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circulationaha.114.009029
  14. Zeisler, H., Dietrich, W., Heinzl, F., Klaritsch, P., Humpel, V., Moertl, M., Obruca, C., Wimazal, F., Ramoni, A., Tiechl, J., & Wentzel-Schwarz, E. (2021). Prevalence of iron deficiency in pregnant women: A prospective cross-sectional Austrian study. Food science & nutrition, 9(12), 6559–6565. https://doi.org/10.1002/fsn3.2588

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Melissa Dorval Pine, RD

Science and Health Educator

Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.

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Amy Mills Klipstine

NatureMade Sr. Copywriter

Amy has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University in Los Angeles and is a credentialed English teacher, though she left the classroom to write full time. She especially enjoys creating educational content about health, wellness, and nutrition. Her happy place is in the kitchen, and when not writing, you can find her trying out “kid-friendly recipes” and “healthy desserts for chocolate lovers” from her Pinterest board.

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