A healthy diet during pregnancy is vital for providing all the essential nutrients to the mother and the growing baby. Women need extra energy intake during pregnancy, especially during the second and the third trimester, when the energy requirement increases by 350 Kcal per day and 500 Kcal per day, respectively (1). Some of the best foods to eat while pregnant are eggs, dairy products, legumes, salmon, whole grains, lean meat, etc.
A pregnancy diet should include high-quality proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Including essential nutrients like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), iron, iodine, calcium, folic acid, and vitamin D in their diets helps women avoid developmental abnormalities and complications during pregnancy (2).
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Let’s see some of the best foods to eat while pregnant with their nutrients.
Eggs are a superfood and a great pregnancy food. They contain a bit of every nutrient we need. They are an excellent source of iron and protein, both of which are vital for brain development.
Eggs also contain choline, which is essential for developing memory and preventing neural tube defects like spina bifida (3). One egg contains almost 113 mg of choline, which takes care of 25 percent of the daily needs of a pregnant woman.
However, make sure you do not eat undercooked or raw eggs.
2. Dairy products
Dairy foods are rich in calcium, which is essential for the developing bones of the unborn baby (4). An expectant mom should get around 1000 mg of calcium every day to reduce the risk of low birth weight or preterm baby.
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt also provide two types of protein – casein and whey. Dairy products are also rich in phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins.
Pregnant women should also add legumes to their diet as they are one of the best foods to eat while pregnant. Legumes include lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, and peanuts. They are rich in protein, fiber and other vital nutrients like iron, calcium, folate, and zinc.
Zinc is linked to a lower risk of low birth rate and preterm delivery (6).
Folate is essential for the mom and the baby, especially during the first trimester. Insufficient folate during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight and neural tube defects (7).
Beans are a low glycemic index food, which means they release energy slowly after they are consumed. Some studies have shown that having low GI food is helpful during pregnancy.
4. Lean Meat
Not only are lean meats like beef, pork, and chicken, excellent sources of high-quality protein, but they also contain iron, choline and B vitamins.
Pregnant women need more iron during pregnancy as their blood volume increases. Low levels of iron during pregnancy can lead to anemia, which can double the risk of low birthweight and per term delivery (8).
Pregnant women need more protein in their diet to ensure that the baby’s muscles develop well. Lean meat also contains vitamin B6 which is essential for the tissue and brain growth in the baby.
It also helps control morning sickness. Vitamin B12 helps to maintain healthy nerves and red blood cells.
This fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein and thus is an ideal pregnancy food. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids is essential for pregnant women as they help build the brain and the eyes of the fetus (9).
Higher levels of DHA in newborns have been associated with higher IQs, advanced motor skills, and fewer neurological problems later on.
Unfortunately, because of the high levels of mercury and other contaminants in the fatty fish, pregnant women should limit their intake to once or twice a week.
6. Whole grains
Grains like wheat, oats, barley, corn, and rice are packed with iron, selenium, and magnesium (10, 11). They also contain B vitamins which are essential for the growth of the baby. They also provide energy for the baby’s development and help the placenta to grow.
As compared to refined grains, whole grains are rich in fiber and many other nutrients. Oats and quinoa are an excellent source of protein, which is essential during pregnancy.
Nuts like almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts are full of healthy fats, protein, fiber and vitamins, and minerals. They are rich in vitamin B and E which makes them ideal pregnancy food. They contain minerals like phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, and copper.
They are a rich in magnesium, which helps in the development of the baby’s brain and reduces the risk of preterm labor. Nut butter is also a healthier option than saturated fats.
According to recent studies, women who have nuts during pregnancy are less likely to have kids with nut allergies.
8. Dried fruit
Dried fruits like prunes and dates are very beneficial during pregnancy as they are a rich source of nutrition. One of the benefits of having dried fruits is that you can eat them in lesser quantities and still get the same benefit as fresh fruit.
Dates are a rich source of potassium, iron, and fiber. They can help in cervical dilation and reduce the need to induce labor in the third trimester (13).
Dried fruits are also known to help relieve the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy like nausea, and high blood pressure.
9. Sweet potato
Sweet potato is one of the best pregnancy food options. It contains nutritious fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C, iron, and copper. However, the essential nutrient in sweet potatoes is beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts into vitamin A.
Vitamin A is vital for healthy fetal development as it is essential for the growth and development of most cells and tissues (14). This is the reason that pregnant women are advised to increase their intake of the vitamin A by 10 to 40 percent.
Sweet potatoes also contain fiber which improves satiety, reduces blood sugar and promotes digestive health.
10. Leafy greens
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, asparagus, and kale are must pregnancy food. Not only are they a rich source of antioxidants, but they are also a good source of calcium, potassium, fiber, folate and vitamin A.
These vegetables are a rich source of fiber, which helps in preventing constipation during pregnancy (15). Having a diet rich in green leafy vegetables also helps prevent low birth weight in babies (16).
Bananas are rich in potassium, and they also are an excellent source of energy during pregnancy. Bananas also contain vitamin B6, vitamin C, and fiber. The fiber in this fruit helps provide relief from constipation during pregnancy.
Vitamin B6 helps provides relief from nausea and vomiting during early pregnancy.
Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are a great snack to have during pregnancy as they contain both water and fiber. Berries are packed with vitamin C, potassium and folate as well.
The high vitamin C content in berries helps to absorb iron better, and they are also perfect for the immune system (17). Berries are a low glycemic index(GI) food, so they do not cause big spikes in blood sugar.
According to recent research mothers who have apples during their pregnancy reduce the risk of asthma and eczema in their children later in life.
Not only are apples great for the immune system, but they are also beneficial for your digestive health. Apples are rich in vitamin A, E, C, D, zinc, and fiber. They also contain antioxidants that are important for the health of the fetus.
Avocados are superfoods that are loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids. They also contain fiber, potassium, copper, B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin E and vitamin C.
Avocados are one of the best foods to eat while pregnant. The monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) in avocados help in the development of the brain, skin, and tissues of the fetus.
The folate content of this fruit is helpful in preventing neural tube defects (18). Potassium too is helpful during pregnancy as it helps prevent leg cramps which may occur during pregnancy.
15. Orange juice
Not only is orange juice an excellent source of vitamin C and folic acid, but it also contains potassium which is known to lower blood pressure, a common problem during pregnancy.
The folic acid content in orange juice is helpful in preventing congenital disabilities. Potassium also aids in proper muscle function and improving metabolism.
The vitamin C in orange juice helps to fight colds and helps to absorb iron better, which helps in keeping the bones and the teeth of the mother and the baby healthy.
It is essential to stay hydrated during pregnancy as dehydration can cause contractions and can trigger preterm labor. The blood volume of the mother increases by 1.5 liters during pregnancy, so staying hydrated is essential (19).
Having more water during pregnancy also helps prevent headaches, anxiety, constipation and it reduces the risk of urinary tract infections. Experts suggest that you should have around two liters of water a day including the water you get from tea, coffee, and juices.
Final thoughts on the best foods to eat while pregnant
Till now, you must have got a glimpse of the best foods to eat while pregnant. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet during pregnancy is essential. A diet that is rich in vital nutrients helps keep the mother healthy and aids the development of the baby. So, include the best pregnancy food in your diet.
It is also advised to sleep well during pregnancy.