What to Eat When Pregnant: Your Perfect Pregnancy Diet

Many women are looking for that perfect pregnancy diet. One that will help them feel great, nourish their growing baby within, and perhaps help them not gain too much weight (pregnant women are like powerlifters after all).

But there is so much conflicting information out there.

  • Eat mostly plants.
  • Eat lots of protein.
  • Don’t eat salt.
  • Do eat salt.
  • Eat fish.
  • Fish is too high in contaminants.

And then there are women who don’t have the luxury of thinking about the perfect pregnancy diet as they are in the throws of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a debilitating form of nausea and vomiting.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the most common ideas around pregnancy diet and determine what’s best for YOU.

Eat for two?

An old adage is “eat for two” but for most people, doubling their calories would not be healthy or even doable! Gaining too much weight during pregnancy can increase risks for high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and even pre-eclampsia, and most midwives or doctors will help pregnant moms in this area. Because I used to be 60 pounds overweight, I think I had more trepidation about gaining weight than most moms, but I was able to work through it and see the bigger picture: I’m nourishing life!

Interesting to note, many moms don’t end up eating additional calories in the first trimester due to nausea, fatigue or excitement. Most moms will want to eat at least 300 extra calories in the second trimester and 500 extra calories in the third trimester to nourish baby and themselves. Keep in mind that these additional calories should ideally come from high-nutrient foods.

A more “sensitive” palate

Eating the perfect pregnancy diet may be challenging for moms who struggle with intense smell and taste aversions or abnormalities. I remember being able to taste plastic in my morning smoothie. I finally realized that this was from the frozen fruit, which was stored in plastic. Papa Natural joked that my “super power” was not necessarily growing a baby in my belly but being able to smell kale from 2,000 feet 🙂 I know another friend who made her husband remove all of the frozen trout he caught fishing from the freezer and store it in the garage (luckily, they had another freezer in there!)

Nearly 75% of women deal with these altered senses and it may be due to changes in female brain activity when pregnant. These increased sensations, along with morning sickness, can also be another way to ensure the survival of baby. In the wild, there are more threats from poisonous or spoiled foods. The logic goes that by increasing mom’s sense of taste and smell, she is able to steer clear of any harmful substances for baby.

Many times in that first trimester, I had to force myself to eat vegetables and choke down my cod liver oil. I know a lot of moms crave the carbs like crackers, dry toast, and pretzels. The starch can help to absorb some of the acidity from a sour stomach and the salt can nourish the adrenals. These foods are certainly not nutrient-dense though so sneak in healthy foods when you can. Thankfully these food/smell sensitivities, as well as morning sickness, usually calms down by second trimester and women can start to enjoy their pregnancy diet.

Slave to the crave

We may have the best of intentions with our pregnancy diet and yet find ourselves craving the weirdest things. You hear the stories… pregnant moms craving pickles, watermelon, lemons straight up, ice cream and eggs with every meal. Or even crazier stories of moms eating clay, dirt, or even craving laundry detergent?! What gives? Well, there are mixed opinions on what drives cravings but some believe these demands are a cry for what the body needs. Clay, for instance, can be high in iron, an important mineral during pregnancy and many moms struggle with pregnancy-induced anemia. Dirt could be a cry for more soil-based organisms, which can aid in digestion and boost good bacteria in the body. Laundry detergent can be a sign of an iron deficiency.

As long as our cravings aren’t for junk food or a harmful substance, I would listen to these cravings as your body has an innate wisdom!

Nutrient variety is key with pregnancy diet

When pregnant, it’s vital to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you get all of the nutrients you need to grow your baby. Think fresh, real foods, and prioritize these nutrients:

  • Calcium (dairy, dark leafy greens, okra, and fish bones)
  • Choline (chicken eggs, fish eggs and non-GMO sunflower lecithin)
  • DHA (wild caught, oily fish)
  • Folate (dark leafy greens, asparagus and broccoli)
  • Iodine (sea vegetables, cod, shrimp and baked potato with skin)
  • Iron (red meat, liver, and blackstrap molasses)
  • Potassium (coconut water, bananas, and avocados)
  • Magnesium (leafy greens, avocados, and brown rice)
  • Vitamin A (cod liver oil, liver, and orange vegetables in the form of beta carotene)
  • Vitamin C (green peppers, kiwis, and tomatoes)
  • High quality protein (see list later in post)
  • High quality fat (coconut oil, organic butter, and nuts & seeds)

The above-mentioned nutrients are super important for the development of baby and health of mom. Calcium supports strong bones. Choline is vital for brain development, cell membrane formation and  also protects against neural tube defects. Vitamin A and DHA are essential for baby’s brain formation as well as eye, skin and nervous system development. Iron builds your placenta and supports oxygenating blood for your growing baby. Potassium can help keep mom’s blood pressure in healthy range. Magnesium will help with mom’s sleep quality and ward of restless leg syndrome, body pain and muscle cramping. Vitamin C keeps your bag of waters strong which is important in labor. Folate is king for healthy babies and help to prevent brain and spinal cord defects. You want to be sure you get the right form if you have the MTHFR defect. Don’t know if you do? Stick with this prenatal just in case.

Here’s a whole post with info on the best prenatal vitamins for you.

I find that an easier way to be sure you get a good cross-spectrum of nutrients is to “eat the rainbow”. From a plant perspective, the pigment usually comes from the different phytonutrients it contains. You can also include animal foods because by rotating colors, you’ll be sure to get flood your body with a wide variety of nutrients, some of which science hasn’t even uncovered.

Eat the rainbow when you're pregnant - colorful fruits and vegetables

Try to get 1 food serving from each color group per day if possible. Of course, organic, wild, and Farmer-fresh choices are best!

Purple

  • Plums
  • Red grapes
  • Red kale
  • Eggplant
  • Loganberries
  • Purple potatoes
  • Kidney beans
  • Acai berries

Blue

  • Blueberries
  • Blue potatoes
  • Blue corn (high in selenium!)

Green

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Green Peppers
  • Seaweed
  • Kiwis
  • Split Peas
  • Limes
  • Herbs like basil, oregano and cilantro
  • Avocados

Red

  • Pomegranate
  • Radishes
  • Beets
  • Red meat
  • Apples
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Cranberries

Pink

  • Shrimp and lobster
  • Grapefruit
  • Rhubarb
  • Raspberries
  • Peppercorns
  • Dragon fruit

Orange

  • Apricots
  • Bell peppers
  • Turmeric root (try our golden milk recipe!)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges
  • Papaya

Yellow

  • Pineapples
  • Summer squash
  • Lemons
  • Ginger root
  • Egg yolks
  • Butter
  • Cod liver oil

White/tan/brown

  • Mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Coconut
  • Yucca root
  • Poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lentils
  • Dates (helpful for birth too!)

Black

  • Black beans
  • Blackberries
  • Miso
  • Black olives
  • Black garlic
  • Black rice

A high-quality, food-based prenatal vitamin is a good way to fill in any gaps as well.

What to eat when pregnant: Protein

With my first pregnancy, I ate a low to moderate protein diet, and I found that my feet swelled a little bit in the last 6 weeks. With my second pregnancy, I ate more protein and experienced no swelling. It turns out that eating a high-protein diet (such as the Brewer’s diet) during pregnancy is a great way to stave off preeclampsia, high blood pressure, swelling, premature labor, and other not-so-good pregnancy issues. Dr. Brewer recommends at least 80 grams of protein a day up to 100-120!

Great sources of proteins include:

Adding various types of protein sources in your day allows for a richer amount of nutrients for you and baby.

The Brewer’s diet also recommends pregnant mom’s to eat high-quality salt to taste and to never restrict salt intake as low salt intake can actually cause swelling and blood pressure issues.

What to eat when pregnant: The Weston A. Price nutritional theory

Weston A. Price foundation follows a similar theory for what to eat during pregnancy. Their daily recommendations include a focus on specific food genesis (where and how foods are grown and harvested), a variety of foods, and food preparations to ensure greater nutrition for you and your baby. They recommend that pregnant women eat daily:

  • Cod Liver Oil (Wondering which is the best brand? I like this one best.)
  • Butter, preferably from pasture-fed cows
  • Eggs, with additional egg yolks
  • Fresh Beef or lamb
  • Oily fish or lard
  • Bone broths
  • Soaked whole grains
  • Lacto-fermented foods
  • Whole milk, preferably raw and from pasture-fed cows

I couldn’t eat all this food daily, but I found the list helpful, especially the inclusion of high-quality dairy.

What to eat when pregnant: Foods to avoid

There’s a long list of foods that conventional wisdom tells us to avoid while pregnant:

  • Raw fish/shellfish
  • Alcohol (alcohol during breastfeeding is different though)
  • Lunchmeats
  • Raw or undercooked beef or poultry
  • Raw sprouts
  • Unpasteurized juices
  • Raw dairy

Some of these foods can be contaminated, causing hazardous or lethal results.

Lunchmeats, for example, are prone to Listeria Monocytogenes, which can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or other serious health problems. Other foodborne illnesses include high mercury or lead levels, E. coli, pathogens, parasites, toxicity, and more.

So food warnings should be taken seriously. However, keep in mind that while your immune system can be compromised during pregnancy, infection and serious consequences from the aforementioned foods are extremely rare, so using your personal judgement and advice from your healthcare provider is also valuable.

That said, I did occasionally eat sushi and drank raw milk while pregnant

I know. There are risks but I trusted their high-quality standards. As a general rule, it is still best to avoid raw meats, fish, and dairy for maximum safety unless you are very confident of food source. Beware of old, spoiled, and unclean or questionable food sources. Know where your food comes from. Learn how your food was grown and harvested. And when it doubt – throw it out (or compost it!).

Listen to your body

At the end of the day, your best pregnancy diet isn’t about calorie counting or eating perfectly, it’s about listening to your body. If we get really honest with our body’s promptings, it won’t tell us to eat Fruit Loops or Twinkies. Set aside your emotions and listen to that wise woman inside of you who understands balance and nourishment.

I so wanted to be one of those pregnant moms who gained 25 pounds, lost it within 3 months and never have a junk food craving. Haha! My body wasn’t having it! I ended up gaining 40+ pounds with each pregnancy (and some doctors believe this is healthier) and indulged in the occasional nacho dinner. But, I was able to lose the weight within the first year by listening to my body (and not my emotions!), drinking enough fluids and getting gentle exercise most days. I also know that breastfeeding played a huge role. My body will never be the same after having two babies; and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

How about YOU?

Did you follow a special pregnancy diet? Did you follow your cravings?

References

  • http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/diet-for-pregnant-and-nursing-mothers/
  • http://thebovine.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/new-studies-confirm-raw-milk-a-low-risk-food-wall-street-journal/
  • http://www.drbrewerpregnancydiet.com/id96.html
  • http://www.bu.edu/synapse/2010/07/28/the-mystery-of-pregnancy-cravings/
  • http://livewellforlife.eu/blogs/the-importance-of-food-diversity

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth book

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week-by-week pregnancy guide
from a natural perspective!

37 Comments

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  1. Amazing article mama natural

  2. I’m really not following a “special” pregnancy diet. I had a nutritionist help me figure out my diet a year or so ago, and it slowly but eventually helped my hormones out so much that I figure it must be good. I almost always eat oatmeal with eggs and berries mixed in, grain salads with chicken/fish/tofu/chickpeas, fruit with nut butters, protein and veggies for dinner. I’m in my first trimester, so keeping my upset stomach (no vomiting) at bay has been tricky – my morning snack had to become a sprouted bagel or toast with lox or cream cheese, and nut butters upset my stomach so I switched to full-fat Greek yogurt. The biggest benefit so far is that straight-up junk food really makes me feel like garbage, so I’ve had no interest in chips, cookies, baked goods, none of it. I’ve had mochi ice cream once.

    “If we get really honest with our body’s promptings, it won’t tell us to eat Fruit Loops or Twinkies.” This sentence is gold. I cannot believe how many times I’ve seen women justify ice cream on a waffle topped with peanut butter because “that’s what baby wants.” I truly believe baby wants as nutrient-dense a diet as the mother can stomach, with an occasional treat. Thank you for writing out what should be common sense!

  3. Congrats on your pregnancy! May you and your family continue to be blessed. Thanks for the article. While not pregnant, i would like to know any specific tweaks (if any) to the article for vegan Mamas. Thanks! Keep up the awesome work!

  4. I am expecting a baby girl and I want her to be healthy, so thanks for the tips.

    Can you please share the safe ways and eatables for having a fair child.

  5. Hi all. I suspect that the message on whether (sustainable and organic) raw milk is safe during pregnancy is so controversial that Genevieve is reluctant to take a stance since she needs to legally protect herself… that said, I also suspect that since she trusts raw milk for herself when pregnant what she is allowing the reader to do is draw conclusions for herself. If the mother meets the farmer and absolutely knows that the practices are certified by a third party as clean on a regular basis, whole raw Milk is superior and full of good microbes for the mothers belly.
    I wish Genevieve would comment and take a stand as to where she is now on the subject as many mothers to be value her experience…

  6. I used to eat lots of papaya before I get pregnant but now its not one of my favorite am enjoying bananas more than ever and I make use before bed I drink cup of warm milk with honey.

  7. Dairy products, especially yogurt, are a great choice for pregnant women. Dairy products help meet increased protein and calcium needs. Probiotics may also help reduce the risk of complications. Also, whole eggs are incredibly nutritious and a great way to increase overall nutrient intake. They also contain choline, an essential nutrient for brain health and development.

  8. Do you think homesprouted lentils will be ok?

  9. Would love some input please in kidney and urinary support…..1st trimester of 4th pregnancy and I am already feeling uncomfortable…some tightness in kidneys, some low cramping?
    Have also had kidney stones with past baby, so I am very anxious about this all over again!!!

  10. I have just read that pineapple was not good to eat during pregnancy, due to the bromelain?
    Is that true?

    • In moderation, it should be fine.

  11. I have been drinking Braggs apple cider vinegar for months now and love the health benefits. I also eat raw sauerkraut (Jacobs brand). Are these okay to continue eating during pregnancy? I’ve read conflicting info.

  12. Great article and I LOVE this part… “I so wanted to be one of those pregnant moms who gained 25 pounds, lost it within 3 months and never have a junk food craving. Haha! My body wasn’t having it! I ended up gaining 40+ pounds with each pregnancy.”

    I’m in my the third trimester of my second pregnancy and have had the same experience of weight gain with both pregnancies despite continuing to eat healthy and exercise. I’ve been feeling especially frustrated with the weight gain this time. Reminding myself to trust my body 🙂 and that the weight will most likely come off naturally, as it did with the first pregnancy.

    Thank you for such a positive article!

    • I ate whatever I wanted and gained 60 pounds my first pregnancy, difficult labor, lost so much blood, tore like crazy. Switched to a whole food diet, and only gained around 30 pounds on my second pregnancy, great birth, little tearing and hemmoraged 2 weeks after birth. Then my friend gave me the book “Powerfully Pregnant” by Donna Young and changed my pregnancies forever. 3rd pregnancy on her diet was a dream, high energy, no illness, and 30 pound weight gain, and no bleeding problems, in fact very low bleeding. The birth was amazing and my body did all the pushing which I had never had that before! It was awesome and I was up and about not long after the birth. She has you do cat cow exercises (helps prevent breech and makes for a great recovery). She has a solution for every discomfort in her book, and it’s so legit. Now I’m on my 4th pregnancy, and had morning sickness and extreme fatigue like never before for a week. Read her book and found the solutions because she has the answers, did what she said and problem cured within days, it’s so incredible. Her protocols help you feel truly powerful and in control of how you feel and how much weight you gain. Here’s some of the guidelines: no unnatural sugars, no flours, lots of good protein, good fats, veggies and fruits and whole grains. And an awesome prenatal tea. Everyone should read this book because there is so much more! Haha, sorry I’m so excited, but it literally has saved my life!

  13. What food supplement can you recommend for cheese to persons who are lactose intolerant? Good guide, by the way. Very informative!

  14. Hey, thanks for the input Genevieve. Just a heads up that in the Weston Price section it says to have whole milk, preferably raw, and the next section it says to avoid raw dairy. I know different schools of thought have different reasons to advocate both, just want you to know that there’s conflicting info in the article. Also I live in Australia and we have strict laws about all dairy being pasturised, therefore all our soft cheeses have to be made from pasteurised milk. Does that make them any safer to eat? Seriously craving some Camembert or Blue Cheese. Wondering if the mould itself is dangerous or if it’s just the risk of listeria from unpasteurised milk. Thanks for all your passion and encouragement for the preggo mamas out there, Genevieve. Appreciate all your hard work.

  15. I just ate some wild planet (which is suppose to be better) canned tuna fish. I only took a couple of bites but now I’m reading how you shouldn’t eat canned tuna fish at all and I am freaking out a bit. Am I silly to be so worried?

  16. I did the 80/100 grams of protein with my first pregnancy and I didn’t swell also! I’m excited with this pregnancy, to receive emails from you and read your posts! I found you on FB towards the end of my last pregnancy and found them very educational!

  17. Hey! 🙂 I’m a huge fan of turmeric, and give it to my toddler all the time. I have seen that pregnant mamas shouldn’t have it (I’m in my 5th month) but I see you mention golden milk. I would LOVE to be given the green light on it and asked my mid wife about it, and she wasn’t very helpful on should/shouldn’t. I know you can’t play doctor, but I was just curious if you had personal experience with a certain “safe” amount.. Any input is super appreciated! 🙂

    • I AM NOT A DOCTOR…first let me be clear about that. This is not advice. 🙂

      Anyway, I have been taking Turmeric 2-4 capsules daily since the early 2nd trimester (I have also enjoyed the occasional mug of turmeric/honey tea). 3rd trimester now. I feel good and so far have had no pregnancy complications, everything looks good. Turmeric thins the blood so keep that in mind (but so does ginger and garlic, which people commonly consume during pregnancy). The blood thinning may good for preventing blood clots. But also make sure you are getting enough Vitamin K2 and leafy greens to balance that out.

  18. I ate raw salmon just a couple nights ago and have been so worried ever since- I don’t know why I did it, I thought it was okay, but now I am freaking out! I have heard many people eat sushi on occasion, so I am hoping I am fine!

    • You are likely fine since it’s extremely rare for raw fish to cause problems. Just stay away from it in the future 🙂

    • If it was properly handled and had been frozen beforehand – I wouldn’t worry!

  19. Great article – thank you! You mention Brewer’s Yeast which I had been taking regularly until I found out I was pregnant. Could you please tell me if this is safe to take and if so, how much? I cannot find a reliable source of information anywhere.

    • Yes, it’s safe during pregnancy. Just take the same amount.

    • You should always check with doctor or midwife but I consumed regularly while pregnant. It’s a food and contains good nutrition.

  20. Thank you so much! This article is great! I also love your week 14 pregnancy update. The physical, emotional, and spiritual parts were awesome! Love it! Especially that you talk about natural things you’re doing and praying for your baby! I hope for next week you show us your baby bump!!

  21. Thank you for the article. I am on my 13th week and all I have been craving is vegetables, more and more vegetables. I am unable to cook any meat and fish because I can’t take the raw smell. But once cooked, I can stomach chicken and fish… no other meats. I have mostly been eating small amounts of rice with lots of vegetables; Kale, Carrots, Beets, Cabbage, Green Beans, Pumpkin, Leeks, Collard greens, broccoli, asparagus and such. And lots and lots of lentils. So far I have not gained any weight. Wish all of you out there a safe and healthy pregnancy.

    • I think that sounds like a healthy variety of foods! Slather the veggies up with coconut oil or butter to get some healthy fats in, too, if you can stomach it!

      ~not a doctor-not medical advice 🙂

  22. Thank you for this article! I am 12 weeks pregnant and having extreme nausea in the afternoons all through the night. It’s really tough. Before I became pregnant I ate tons of fruits and vegetables and few processed foods. Now I eat pretty much carbs and pickles because I can’t keep down most vegetables. Boo. Why would my body need so many carbs, like bagels and potatoes?

    • It could be helping to absorb some of the acidity from the nausea. It will pass!

  23. Raw milk is wonderful, too, for morning sickness! I relied on it a lot for protein the first tri. A glass with most meals! Take a sip, let it warm in your mouth, and then swallow . . . sooooo good!!

  24. Hey Mama Natural, what are your views on drinking raw milk while pregnant? Would you rather sub a grass -fed non homogenized or what other option?

    • whey, fermented foods, pretty much the whole dairy part of WAPF is what I’m curious for.

  25. I love the advice to eat the rainbow. It’s simple to follow and ensures we eat a lot of fruit and veg. Great post!

    I want to share this concern without judgement but with sincerity- the line about how you have a friend who enjoyed an occasional glass of wine worries me. I think it is important for your readers to know that there is no safe amount of alcohol to consume in pregnancy and the risks are enormous. I have friends who adopted children with FASD and I cannot describe to you how heartbreaking it is to see how these kids struggle and know how preventable their suffering was. The risk is just not worth it. We do not have enough evidence to say that it is safe to have a glass of wine, even occasionally. If you are pregnant please abstain!

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