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.
Try to get 1 food serving from each color group per day if possible. Of course, organic, wild, and Farmer-fresh choices are best!
- Red grapes
- Red kale
- Purple potatoes
- Kidney beans
- Acai berries
- Blue potatoes
- Blue corn (high in selenium!)
- Green Peppers
- Split Peas
- Herbs like basil, oregano and cilantro
- Red meat
- Shrimp and lobster
- Dragon fruit
- Bell peppers
- Turmeric root (try our golden milk recipe!)
- Sweet potatoes
- Summer squash
- Ginger root
- Egg yolks
- Cod liver oil
- Yucca root
- Fish and seafood
- Dates (helpful for birth too!)
- Black beans
- 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)
- Deli meats (unless warmed to steaming hot)
- 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?