9 Pregnancy Diet Essentials (Your Complete Guide)

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Now that you’re expecting, you need to do a complete overhaul on your home and your lifestyle. But do you need to overhaul your diet as well? 

That depends! If you’ve always been conscious about nutrition, you’ll find that your pregnancy diet won’t need to be that different. But if your meals consisted mostly of drive-thrus and takeouts, this may be the perfect time to re-center and rethink your approach to food. 

Now, more than ever, you have to nurture your body so your body can nurture your baby. 

Your pregnancy diet does not need to be some huge overhaul. Start by including the 9 nutrition essentials and the rest will fall into place. If you’re stuck, we’ve included our top 3 food picks, and a simple recipe that incorporates everything you need!

Essential Nutrients in Your Pregnancy Diet 

Folate

Folate is critical for a healthy baby! In fact, your doctor will tell you to take a folic acid supplement months before getting pregnant for healthy spine and brain formation and to prevent neural tube defects. 

In addition to your prenatal vitamins, add folate to your pregnancy diet with dark leafy vegetables, asparagus, and legumes like beans and peas. 

How much you need: 400-1000 micrograms per day

FYI: Folate is also known as vitamin B12 and folic acid when it is in supplement form. 

Fiber 

If there’s one thing that’s true about pregnancy – it’s that your digestive system will feel all over the place! Crampy and bloated one day, blocked up the next. 

Get one step ahead of your ever-changing digestion with a healthy dose of fiber. Dark leafy vegetables like kale as well as fiber-rich red kidney beans are ideal, but whole grains help too. 

How much you need: 25 grams per day

Protein

Protein is essential for building muscle and repairing tissues, and it will help your growing baby get a healthy head start. It will also make you feel fuller longer! 

Add  meat, fish, eggs, and legumes to your pregnancy diet, or try cottage cheese for a healthy dose of protein. 

How much you need – 71 grams per day

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids in avocados, fish, seeds, and nuts will not only help you feel full longer, they’re critical for healthy brain, skin, and cardiovascular development

How much you need – 0.2 – 4 grams per day

Antioxidants 

You’ll find antioxidants in berries, and fresh fruits and veggies. Antioxidants keep your cells from getting damaged and will help you stay healthy and heal quicker. 

Omega-3 fats and Vitamin C also act as antioxidants, so veggies like avocados act like a 3-in-1! 

How much you need – 71 grams per day

Iron

Your blood needs iron to carry oxygen throughout the body. Trouble is, you now have increased blood volume, and need almost double the iron! 
If your pregnancy diet is low in iron you’ll find yourself easily fatigued or even at risk of anemia. If you’ve had an iron deficiency before, it’s likely made even worse by pregnancy. 
That’s why you need to eat your meat

Aside from meat, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans are great sources of iron which best absorbed with vitamin C. 

How much you need – 27 milligrams per day

Calcium 

You already know that your bones and teeth need calcium, so it should come as no surprise that your baby needs it too! 

Dairy products are best when it comes to calcium absorption, but there are alternatives like salmon, spinach, as well as supplements. 

How much you need: 1000 milligrams per day

Vitamins (A, B, C and D)

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an excellent antioxidant found in most fruits and veggies from oranges to brussel sprouts. It helps with iron absorption and will keep your immune system in check. 

How much you need – 80-85 mg per day, without exceeding 2000g

Vitamin D

When it comes to vitamin D – which helps with calcium absorption, and is linked to a healthy mood balance – most people are deficient in the colder months. Fatty fish like salmon is a great source, but you may need to supplement as well. 

How much you need – 600 IU per day

Vitamin A

Vitamin A – found in orange foods like squash, carrots, and apricots can help with eye development. 

How much you need – 700 micrograms per day

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 – is important for a healthy immune system and may help you maintain a more balanced mood. It can also ease your morning sickness. Find it in poultry, fish, and bananas

How much you need – 1.3 milligrams per day 

Water

Your blood volume has increased by 40 per cent, so guess what? You need extra hydration! 

Healthy tip: If you’re pregnant during the hot summer months, or finding yourself woozy even after drinking water, mix a little salt into your water bottle for some electrolytes.
You won’t taste the difference, but you’ll feel the difference. 

How much you need – 8 cups per day

3 Best Pregnancy Diet Staples

While your pregnancy diet needs a variety of foods, if you introduce these 3 staples you’ll know you’re most of the way there. 

Salmon. 

If salmon is not a regular staple in your pregnancy diet, you’re missing out! It’s an amazing source of essential nutrients and vitamins like vitamin D, calcium, protein, and omega-3. 

Salmon filets are super easy to cook, but if you want to simplify it even more, add a can of salmon to salads, chiles, and stir fries. 

A 3oz can of salmon with bones contains: 

  • 181 milligrams of Calcium
  • 570 IU of Vitamin D 
  • 17 grams of protein
  • 1.24 grams of Omega 3 fatty acids

Spinach.  

We’ve always known that spinach is good for you, but given how much baby-healthy nutrition it brings you – it’s time to re-fall in love with this leafy superfood. 

Fresh spinach leaves are great in salads and on sandwiches, but it can also be snuck into smoothies, chiles, and stir fries. 

A half cup of cooked spinach contains: 

  • 131 micrograms of Folate
  • 123 milligrams of Calcium
  • 3 milligrams of Iron
  • 570 micrograms of Vitamin A
  • 2 grams of fiber

Avocados. 

You’ll certainly see the benefits of avocados’ fatty acids in your own skin and hair, but your baby will thank you for this vitamin-rich fruit too! 

Avocados are awesome in smoothies and delicious in salads, sandwiches, as guacamole, or just spread on toast. 

Half an avocado contains:

  • 6 grams of fiber
  • 43 micrograms of vitamin A
  • 0.2 milligrams of vitamin B
  • 6.7 grams of fatty acids
  • 10 milligrams of vitamin C

One Recipe to Put It Together

If you sometimes forget to focus on your nutrition, keep it simple. Focus on having at least one super-nutritious meal per day, and the rest will follow. Here’s your complete pregnancy diet in one meal. 

Also read:
3 Pregnant Protein Shakes and the Best Protein Powders for Pregnancy

Every lunch pack a salad with:

  • Mixed greens and spinach (Fiber, folate, calcium) 
  • Grated carrots (Vitamin A)
  • Sliced Avocados (Omega-3, fatty acids, vitamins A and C)
  • Tomatoes (Vitamin C)

Add a protein like

  • Eggs (vitamin D)
  • Salmon (Omega-3, Vitamin D, Calcium, Vitamin B6, Iron)
  • Chicken (Vitamin B6, Iron), or
  • Lentils or peas (Fiber, Iron, Folate)

And top with an olive oil dressing for extra healthy fats. 

Bring a snack like:

  • A banana (vitamin B6)
  • Yogurt (calcium)
  • Berries (antioxidants)
  • Nuts or seeds (protein, Omega-3s) 

Don’t forget the water bottle, and you’ll know that your pregnancy diet lunch is chock full of baby-healthy nutrients!

Foods to Avoid in Your Pregnancy Diet

Fish with high mercury content

While fish like salmon are great in a pregnancy diet, some fish are high in mercury – which can interfere with baby’s development – and best avoided. Swordfish, king mackerel, shark, marlin, and some types of tuna are known to be higher in mercury. 

Raw meats, eggs, and fish

Raw fish (like sushi,) eggs (like some sauces,) and undercooked meats risk carrying bacteria like Listeria and Salmonella. 
These contaminants would make anyone sick, but they’re extra harmful in a pregnancy diet to the mom-to-be and her baby. 
So save the sushi platter or the rare steak to celebrate after the baby comes, not before. 

Unpasteurized cheeses and milk

For the same reason as the raw meats and fish, avoid soft cheeses (like blue cheese) and unpasteurized milk! These could be harboring bacteria that could make you sick and even make its way to your baby. 

Your Pregnancy Diet in Summary

  • Don’t skimp out on folate, fiber, iron, calcium, proteins, fats, antioxidants, and vitamins when it comes to eating while expecting. 
  • Foods like salmon, spinach, and avocados bring multiple essential nutrients in a small package. 
  • And of course, don’t forget to hydrate
  • Sources
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