What is a healthy pregnancy diet
Registered nutritionist Kerry Torrens explains how to eat healthily and safely for you and your baby, through each trimester
A balanced, healthy diet is crucial for good health, and even more so when you’re a mum-to-be. But should you be eating for two, and are some foods off the menu?
As well as sticking to general healthy eating guidelines – like getting your five-a-day, including wholegrains, choosing lean meats and opting for calcium-rich foods – there are some other important dietary changes to consider when you’re expecting.
How do I follow a healthy diet during pregnancy?
Not surprisingly, you have a greater need for nutrients during pregnancy to support the growth and development of your baby, but it is possible to achieve this without increasing your food intake. During this time, your amazing body becomes more efficient at absorbing nutrients which means there’s no need to eat for two – it’s far more important to focus on the quality of your diet.
Follow our healthy eating guide to carry you through each stage of your pregnancy.
Read more about eating during pregnancy, including how to have a healthy vegetarian diet in pregnancy, what your food cravings really mean and all your pregnancy diet myths debunked.
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Do I need to supplement during pregnancy?
Mums-to-be are advised to supplement with:
Folic acid from the moment you try for a baby until the end of week 12 (at the earliest). Take a daily supplement of 400mcg of folic acid, but don’t forget to include plenty of foods naturally rich in this vitamin (folate), such as:
- Green leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale
- Pulses, like chickpeas, black-eyed beans and lentils
- Fruits, including strawberries and oranges
If you're diabetic, have had a previous pregnancy with a neural tube defect, or are on a medication to manage epilepsy, your need for folic acid may be greater – refer to your GP for guidance.
Get inspiration from our recipes:
- Roasted harissa vegetables with kale & ginger
- Sweet potato, spinach & lentil dahl
- Yellow lentil & coconut curry
- Moroccan chickpea soup
- Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
- Grapefruit, orange & apricot salad
Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium. The UK Government recommends a supplement of 10mcg daily throughout pregnancy and when breast-feeding. However, if you are at higher risk of deficiency your need may be greater – refer to your GP.
How should I eat during the first trimester
Morning sickness is most common in the early stages of pregnancy and despite its name, these feelings of sickness may occur at any time of the day or night. Symptoms vary and if you are struggling do speak to your GP or midwife, although for most people symptoms resolve by 20 weeks.
In less severe cases, these simple tips may help:
- Eating little and often, base meals and snacks on starchy foods like bread, porridge, plain biscuits, crisp-breads, oatcakes, pasta, rice or potatoes.
- Minimise your exposure to very smelly foods.
- Minimise harder to digest fatty foods.
- Choose quick and easy recipes.
- Keep some plain biscuits beside your bed.
- Batch cook and freeze meals while you're feeling well – try some of our freezable recipes.
How should I eat during the second trimester?
Many mums claim a heightened sense of taste and smell at this time, resulting in food cravings or dislikes. These changes are unlikely to have an adverse effect, provided your overall diet is balanced and varied. Plan ahead where possible, follow healthy eating guidelines and aim to include two portions of fish a week, one of which should be an oily variety like salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines.
Constipation may be an issue, so 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 6-8 glasses of filtered water, herbal teas or diluted juices daily.
As your pregnancy progresses, include plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet – poultry like chicken, especially the darker meat e.g. thighs, and fish, as well as plant sources such as dried apricots, green leafy veg and pulses. The 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), you can optimise how much you absorb.
Try our recipes:
- Full of fibre muesli
- Squash & barley salad with balsamic vinaigrette
- Marinated lamb steaks with barley salad
- Lentil ragu
- Spring chicken in a pot
- Moroccan lamb with apricots, almonds & mint
How should I eat during the third trimester?
Indigestion and heartburn can be an issue as your pregnancy progresses. Luckily though, for most people, this is only temporary – having smaller, more frequent meals, avoiding lying or bending down after eating and minimising fatty foods and spices may alleviate symptoms.
Your energy requirements increase during the last trimester, with an extra 150-200 calories a day needed – that’s the equivalent of about three oatcakes topped with hummus. Your needs for calcium also increase and as much as double during pregnancy, especially during the last ten weeks when calcium intake is critical for strengthening 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 – as well as dairy foods, good sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, canned fish with soft, edible bones (salmon, sardines and pilchards), almonds, dried apricots, sesame seeds, tofu, fortified orange juice and fortified soya milk.
Check out our recipes:
- Seeded soda bread with hummus & tomatoes
- Spanish sardines on toast
- Apricot & hazelnut muesli
- Apricot & seed overnight chia
- Tofu scramble
What foods are off the menu during pregnancy?
Certain foods may pose a risk to your unborn baby, so it’s best to avoid:
Raw or under-cooked eggs that do not carry the British Lion Mark – those stamped with the red lion logo are safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked.
Raw shellfish and undercooked meats.
Soft ripened cheeses like brie, camembert, certain goat's cheeses, as well as blue cheeses like Roquefort.
Unpasteurised dairy foods.
Soft-serve ice cream – the machines used to dispense the ice-cream may harbour listeria.
All pâtés, including vegetable and liver as well as liver products.
Pre-prepared, chilled salads like potato and coleslaw.
Certain species of fish, like swordfish and marlin, while limiting fresh tuna steaks and 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 is to exercise caution rather than restrict these foods.
Caffeine should be limited to 200mg a day – that’s two mugs of coffee or three cups of tea a day.
Alcohol is best avoided during pregnancy and minimised while breast-feeding.
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For more information on breast feeding:
Whether you've had crazy cravings or are struggling to get the right facts, we'd love to hear your experience of finding the right diet during pregnancy.
This page was last updated in 4 February 2022.
Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a Registered Nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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