A balanced diet for pregnancy

Expecting a bundle of joy? Nutritionist Kerry Torrens explains how to eat healthily for you and your baby every step of the way.

A balanced diet for pregnancy

A balanced healthy diet is crucial for good health and even more so when you’re a “mum to be” – but should you really be eating for two and are some foods completely off the menu?

As well as sticking to general healthy eating guidelines - like getting your five-a-day, including whole-grains and choosing more fish, poultry, lean red meats and opting for low fat calcium-rich dairy foods - there are some other important changes you can make to your diet when you’re expecting.

Not surprisingly, you now have a need for additional nutrients to support the growth and development of your baby but it is possible to achieve the levels required without increasing your food intake. That’s because your amazing body becomes more efficient at absorbing nutrients while you’re pregnant which allows you to start building stores of vital vitamins and minerals. So with this in mind there’s no need to eat for two. It’s far more important to focus on the quality of your diet. Follow our guide for choosing nutrient-dense foods to carry you through each stage of your pregnancy.

 
It is advised that you consult a doctor or accredited health practitioner before embarking on a supplement programme or change of diet. Speak to your GP if you suspect you may be at risk of nutritional deficiency.

First trimester

How to minimise morning sickness...

Chicken soupMorning sickness is most common in the early stages of your pregnancy but sadly it’s not always limited to the morning! Help minimise the effects by:

Ginger

Using fresh ginger in cooking and for making tea - ginger is a natural anti-emetic so it can help to calm your nausea. 

TOP TIP – grate ginger into an ice cube tray, top with a little water and freeze. When the need strikes add one or two ice cubes and steep in warm water for a soothing tea. Or try it in some of the below recipes...

Folic acid

Folic acid is an important vitamin from the moment you try for a baby until the end of week 12 (at the earliest) of your pregnancy; that’s why “mums-to-be” are advised to take a daily 400mcg supplement of folic acid but don’t forget to include plenty of folate -rich foods in your diet as well:

Green leafy vegetables - cabbage, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, spring greens, kale, okra and fresh peas, get insipration from the below delicious recipes:

Pulses - chickpeas, black-eyed beans and lentils.

Fruit like strawberries.

Second trimester

Many mums claim this is one of the best stages in pregnancy because, as your baby’s senses develop, you may start to notice him / her reacting to their environment. You may also start to feel different yourself with your own heightened sense of taste and smell leading to food cravings or dislikes. These changes are unlikely to have an adverse effect provided your overall diet is balanced and varied. So plan your weekly diet and as well as following healthy eating guidelines aim to include two portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily variety like salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines.

Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy so be sure to focus on wholegrain versions of foods including wholemeal bread, cereals or pasta as well as oats, barley, fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds. Keep your fluid intake up by aiming for 1½ -2 litres of filtered water, herbal teas or diluted juices daily. Try some of the below recipes for inspiration...

As your pregnancy progresses your reserves for nutrients like iron may be called upon so include plenty of iron-rich foods – lean meats like chicken, especially the darker meat e.g. thighs, fish as well as plant sources including dried apricots, green leafy veg and pulses such as lentils.  Our body doesn't absorb iron from plant foods as easily but by including a source of vitamin C with your meal e.g. a glass of orange juice with your breakfast cereal can optimise how much you absorb. Tannins found in black tea reduce the rate of iron absorption so enjoy your cuppa an hour before or two hours after your main meal. Try some of these recipes for inspiration...

Third trimester

Indigestion and heartburn can be an issue later in your pregnancy. Luckily though, for most people, this is only temporary but it can help to have smaller, more frequent meals, and to avoid lying or bending down after eating - even bending to load a dishwasher can aggravate symptoms so get someone else in the family to do that job! Fatty foods and spices can aggravate symptoms.

Your energy requirements do increase during the last trimester, when you’ll need an extra 150-200 calories a day – that’s the equivalent of about three oatcakes topped with houmous.  

Another important nutrient is calcium - your calcium needs double during pregnancy, especially during the last ten weeks when it’s being used to strengthen your baby's bones. Despite this, you don’t need to eat more because your body adapts to absorb more calcium from the foods you eat. So as well as dairy foods, good sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, canned fish with soft, edible bones (salmon, sardines and pilchards), almonds (unsalted), dried apricots, sesame seeds, tofu, fortified orange juice and fortified soya milk. Try some of the below recipes for inspiration...

Another important nutrient for strong, healthy bones is vitamin D, the 'sunshine vitamin'. In our diets we get vitamin D from a limited number of foods mainly eggs and oily fish as well as fortified margarines and breakfast cereals.  This is why pregnant women are recommended to take a 10mcg supplement throughout the duration of their pregnancy and while breast-feeding.

OFF THE MENU

Your food choices demand a little more care when you’re pregnant because certain foods can present a possible risk to your unborn baby. It’s best to avoid:

  • Raw / partially cooked eggs and any dishes made with them like homemade mayonnaise, mousses and some desserts as well as soft-whipped ice cream from a machine
  • Raw shellfish and under-cooked meats
  • Soft ripened cheeses like Brie, camembert, certain goat's cheeses as well as blue cheeses like Roquefort.
  • Unpasteurised dairy foods
  • All pates including vegetable, as well as liver and liver products
  • Pre-prepared salads like potato and coleslaw
  • Certain species of fish such as swordfish and marlin, while limiting fresh tuna steaks and other oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel to no more than twice a week.
  • Some countries advise against eating cold cured meats like salami, prosciutto and pepperoni as well as smoked fish, although the current UK advice does not restrict these foods.
  • Caffeine – should be limited to 200mg a day – that’s 2 mugs of coffee or 3 cups of tea a day.
  • Alcohol – is best avoided during pregnancy and minimised while breast-feeding.

For more information visit:

For more information on breast feeding:

Whether you've had crazy cravings or struggles to get the right facts, we'd love to hear your experiences of finding the right diet during pregnancy.

Kerry Torrens is BBC Good Food magazine's nutritional therapist.

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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