17 Healthy Foods, Meals, and Food Alternatives to Eat When You're Pregnant

Pregnancy and healthy nutrition

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A woman's nutrition is never more important than when pregnant or lactating. High-quality, nourishing food with your doctor-recommended intake of both macro and micronutrients can substantially benefit both mother and baby during pregnancy. Poor nutrition during pregnancy may result in insufficient baby development, fetal abnormalities, and serious birth defects, not to mention detriments to the mother's own health.

Below are foods, entrée options, and nutrient-dense dietary alternatives for all three daily meals and snacks. You should always speak with a health care provider first about what to eat during pregnancy to ensure you are following all the proper guidance for your individual needs.

Breakfast

Breakfast Cereal Fortified with Folic Acid

Any prenatal vitamin contains a high amount of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate, a vitamin that aids in red blood cell formation and healthy cell growth), as a deficiency in folate can result in major birth defects. As the baby develops early in the pregnancy, folic acid can help form the neural tube, the precursor development to the spinal cord, spine, skull, and brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

You can add to your folic acid count by eating specific breakfast cereals. Certain brands contain 100 percent of your recommended daily requirement of folic acid—simply check the nutrition label.

Strawberries

Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, containing 56 milligrams per 100 grams (about half a cup. Vitamin C can boost your immune system during pregnancy as you take care of your growing baby.

In addition, strawberries act as nature’s sweet treat, which can satisfy sweet cravings during pregnancy. A study from Nutrients found that pregnant women increased their consumption of sweet foods by 16.3 percent. This was more than savory at 11.3 percent or spicy at 1.3 percent. Fresh fruit, like strawberries, are a nutrient-dense alternative to sweet baked goods and processed foods.

Eggs

Yes, you can eat eggs when pregnant, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). You do, however, need to pay attention to the way eggs are prepared:

  • For cooked eggs, make sure both the yolks and whites firm up.
  • Fry eggs for two minutes on each side. 
  • Scrambled eggs should be firm throughout everything in the pan. Do not eat runny scrambles.
  • Avoid raw or slightly cooked eggs.

Why should pregnant women choose eggs? They contain about 24 micrograms of iodine. One large egg has approximately 16 percent of the recommended daily value of this macronutrient, of which pregnant women require 50 percent more of than other women. Iodine deficiency can cause serious health issues, including neonatal hypothyroidism, perinatal mortality, birth defects, brain damage, and an increased risk of an unplanned abortion.

Lunch

Vegetable Salads

Pregnancy requires a focus on protein, as this nutrient supports fetal growth, maintaining optimal body functioning, increasing blood supply, and preparing the woman for lactation. The American Pregnancy Association recommends 75 to 100 grams of protein each day, which can come from any number of sources, such as chicken, lean beef, lamb, nuts, and vegetables.

According to the European Journal of Pediatrics, animal protein is of higher quality than vegetable protein, suggesting that pregnant women should choose meat over plant-based proteins. The quality of proteins generally has to do with the absorption and quantity of the amino acids in the food.

During pregnancy, an aversion to meat is common. If you feel unable to eat meat during pregnancy, a salad with a variety of vegetables can provide a strong dose of necessary protein. Mixing up various types of vegetables can increase the quality content of plant protein. Try making a salad from leafy greens, spinach, green peas, broccoli, and lima beans, which all provide high amounts of plant-based protein.

If the broccoli and lima beans contribute to pregnancy bloating or discomfort, you could try cooking these cruciferous vegetables first rather than eating them raw, which makes them easier to digest. Asparagus and sweet potatoes are also excellent substitutions. These two vegetables contain high amounts of protein and might not cause the bloating and gastrointestinal issues typically associated with cruciferous vegetables.

Salmon

Eat fish while pregnant? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says yes, you can. Certain types of fish contain healthy fats, which are good for both you and your baby’s development. Eating fish may also aid in preventing pre-term labor and delivery and lowering the risk of pre-eclampsia, as long as the seafood is low in mercury.

HHS recommends eight to 12 ounces a week of cooked seafood, such as salmon cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F in the thickest part of the filet.   

High-mercury fish that you should avoid include the following:

  • Tilefish
  • Swordfish
  • Mackerel
  • Shark

Instead, select lower-mercury fish:

  • Salmon
  • Canned tuna
  • Pollock
  • Catfish

Daytime Snack

Berry Smoothies

Berries are low glycemic fruits, so they shouldn’t cause major spikes in blood sugar while pregnant. The fruits also offer fiber, which is shown to correlate with fewer visits to your OB/GYN in both the early stages and late stages of pregnancy.

Fiber also can also soften stool and aid in digestion, as pregnancy can slow down the digestive system and cause constipation.

Try mixing the following berries (fresh or frozen), which offer the most fiber impact:

  • 1 cup of blackberries
  • 1 cup of blueberries
  • 1 cup of raspberries

Add some liquid, such as a cup of milk, and blend.

No Sugar Added Yogurt

Calcium is necessary for the development of your baby’s bones, heart, nerve system, and muscle functions, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. If you don’t consume enough calcium during pregnancy, your body will pull the mineral from your own bones. This can cause weakness—a trait you don’t want, especially while growing a baby.

Consuming no sugar added yogurt can provide calcium, protein, and probiotics (bacteria to aid in digesting food). Note that no sugar added yogurt is not the same as sugar-free yogurt. Sugar-free yogurt generally contains artificial sweeteners. Yogurt inherently contains sugar from milk, but no sugar added yogurt uses natural flavors instead of added sweeteners.

Dinner

Avocado Toast

The ubiquitous avocado toast can benefit pregnant women with its omega-3 fatty acids thanks to the nutrient-dense fruit. Avocado's healthy fats benefit a baby’s brain development and breast milk quality. The American Pregnancy Association also says that adequate intake of omega-3 can regulate blood pressure, blood clotting (such as swollen ankles), and inflammatory and allergic responses.

To boast the fiber-filled benefits of toast, you should look for bread labels that say “100 Percent Whole Wheat” or “Whole Grain,” and always study the nutrition label. The package should list whole wheat flour as the first ingredient.

Lentil Soup

A serving of lentils provides approximately eight grams of protein of which women need at least 60 grams during pregnancy.

The International Journal of Molecular Sciences states that adding lentils to your diet provides iron, a highly important mineral, especially for pregnant women. Adequate intake of iron can help prevent iron deficiency anemia, which is common in pregnancy.

Nighttime Snack

Nighttime can cause you to reach for the cupboard or open the fridge, as snack cravings often commence during this time. To ensure that you reach for nutritious foods to satisfy your cravings, stock your kitchen with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.

Walnuts

Want something crunchy? Grab a handful of walnuts. These nuts are especially helpful during the first trimester when you might be dealing with nausea. Walnuts contain a heap of nutrients, such as omega-3s, and allow you to feel full and get in your nutrition without having to eat a large quantity. This is helpful if nausea makes eating unenjoyable.

Frozen Bananas

Want ice cream? Try making an ice cream substitute by blending frozen bananas with peanut butter. According to a Nutrition Journal study that looked at pregnant women's consumption habits, 97.5 percent reported eating high-sugar desserts while pregnant, with ice cream as the favored dessert among 82.7 of participants.

Instead of indulging in ice cream each time a sweet craving hits, try swapping frozen bananas and peanut butter, which offer a similar creamy texture and refreshing coldness while providing potassium and protein.

Tart Cherry Juice

Trouble sleeping with your pregnant belly? Drink a little tart cherry juice. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that the juice elevated melatonin levels, helping those who experienced disturbed sleeping patterns.

Nutrient-Dense Alternatives for Your Favorite Foods

When you're pregnant, it's important to keep an eye on your diet, not just for you, but for the health of your baby. That doesn't mean that there isn't room for mindful indulgences in your favorite treats. However, certain medical conditions, such as gestational diabetes, may require you to be more careful with your diet.

For all pregnant women, there are some foods and beverages that may be smart swaps to ensure you get the best nutrition for your baby.

Swap Soda For Sparkling Water With Fresh Fruit Juice

Sugary drinks can spike your blood sugar, provide excessive calories, and contribute to gestational diabetes. Swap out your soda, juices, and sports drinks for sparkling water with a splash of fresh fruit juice.

Swap Chips And Other High-Sodium Snacks For Unsalted Popcorn

High consumption of salt can lead to blood pressure spikes. Instead of reaching for chips or other high-sodium snack foods, try making your own unsalted, natural popcorn.

Swap Your Favorite Sweets For Medjool Dates

If you're craving a sweet treat, consider trying a Medjool date or two. Medjool dates may help you have quicker and easier labor. A small study showed that women who ate six dates per day in the last four weeks before their due date had a reduced need for induction and had a shorter first stage of labor than women who did not eat dates.

Note that Medjool dates do contain a considerable amount of complex carbohydrates, so you should be mindful of your intake, particularly if you have gestational diabetes.

Swap Coffee For Raspberry Leaf Tea

Instead of caffeinated beverages, try raspberry leaf tea. This is especially helpful in the final stages of pregnancy as the leaf can soften cervical tissues.

Swap Refined Carbohydrates For Whole Grain and Whole Wheat Options

The fiber from whole grain and whole wheat foods can provide you more energy and help to alleviate or prevent constipation. Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, bagels, pasta, and white rice breaks down quickly and may cause blood sugar spikes. Higher intake of dietary fiber during pregnancy, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, may also result in greater gut microbiome diversity and a lower risk of glucose intolerance and pre-eclampsia.

A Word From Verywell

Individual calorie guidelines, recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals, and protein choices during pregnancy should come directly from a medical professional. Your needs will change based on the stage and specific concerns of your pregnancy, so you may need to reassess your diet needs from time to time.

While making dietary changes, particularly during pregnancy when you may be feeling nauseous and fatigued, may be challenging. When you are able, it is important to prioritize your nutrition to support the growing baby and your own health.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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