Apr 7, 2023 • 10 min read

Best Foods to Eat While Pregnant

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 4/7/2023
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Pregnancy is a unique time in a woman’s life. Suddenly, she is responsible for the entirety of the nutrition of another human—a role she will assume for nine months until her baby is born. This is an awesome responsibility, but one that can be done well with planning.

Every nutrient matters in the life of an unborn baby. The food you eat contains both macronutrients (water, carbohydrates, fats, and protein) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients). These important nutrients must be sufficient for you and your baby so you both remain healthy.

Eating healthy has been known to lead to better pregnancy outcomes. Eating too many or too few calories can lead to problems with your baby’s size and contributes to poor outcomes like cesarean section, prematurity, and miscarriages. Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals can lead to birth defects.

You need to eat a variety of healthy foods to avoid complications and nourish your baby throughout your pregnancy. The foods that fill this requirement include:

  • Lean meats and fish
  • Whole fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy foods
  • Vegetables of different colors
  • Healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, and other sources)

This guide will go over the best foods to eat while pregnant, why these foods are so important, and why there are some foods you should avoid. You’ll be able to build a list of foods and recipes from this guide that make better nutrition choices easier. Finally, we’ll talk about how a prenatal nutritionist can support you in many different ways.

Best foods to eat while pregnant              

The best foods for pregnancy are those that have a lot of what you need and nothing you shouldn’t have. Certain foods, like large predator fish and sliced deli meats, are not recommended during pregnancy. Others, like leafy green vegetables and whole grains, are so good for your baby that you should consume them frequently.

If you’re looking for help with choosing the best foods during pregnancy, you may want to consider working with a pregnancy nutritionist that can help create a meal plan and make sure you are eating the correct amount. Here at Zaya Care, we can match you with a pregnancy nutritionist that accepts your insurance.

Let’s look at the foods most recommended in pregnancy and see why they are so beneficial for your baby:


Vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates and phytonutrients. Aim for a diet rich in vegetables of a variety of colors. Phytonutrients perform several functions including as antioxidants, immune enhancers, and hormone regulators. There are plenty of vegetables to choose from.

  • Leafy green vegetables. These top the list of healthiest foods in pregnancy because of their high iron, folate, potassium, and vitamin levels. You can also eat a lot of these without adding calories to your diet. Top choices include spinach, kale, and broccoli.
  • Yellow/orange vegetables. Yellow or orange vegetables are rich in beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes are preferred over white potatoes and are one of these carotenoid-containing vegetables you need in pregnancy.
  • Other vegetables. Don’t forget cauliflower, peppers, and tomatoes. These have different phytonutrients than leafy green veggies and are needed for their vitamin C levels as well.


Fruits also have phytonutrients and carbohydrates. They are generally rich in vitamin C and benefit your immune function in other ways. Be sure to eat your fruits whole rather than drinking fruit juices that have less fiber than the fruits themselves.

  • Berries. Berries have phytonutrients and lots of vitamin C. Consider blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries if you are looking for something to snack on. They have loads of fiber, too.
  • Citrus fruits. When you eat citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, choose whole fruits rather than juice. The vitamin C content alone makes these fruits excellent snack choices during pregnancy.


Carbohydrates should make up at least half of the calories you consume. You will get carbohydrates in the fruits and vegetables you eat; however, grains and other foods have carbohydrates you need.

  • Whole grains. These include oats, barley, whole wheat, and quinoa. Whole grains have protein and vitamins you won’t get in refined products.
  • Rice. Choose brown rice over white to gain extra fiber and vitamins in your rice-based dishes.


It’s important to get protein during pregnancy. Foods high in protein help make enzymes and structural proteins in your baby’s cells. You should try to eat a variety of foods in this category.

  • Lean meats and poultry. Lean meats contain protein, iron, and vitamin B12 for hemoglobin formation. Your best options are lean cuts low in saturated fats. Steak, pork chops, chicken, and turkey are excellent options. With poultry, you’ll want to select white meat for lower fat content.
  • Fish. Fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential for brain and overall cellular health. Choose salmon for the best fish to eat while pregnant.
  • Eggs. Eggs are a great source of both protein and fat. It also contains choline, which is essential for your baby’s brain and spinal cord health.
  • Non-meat proteins. These include legumes such as chickpeas, peanuts, soybeans, peas, beans, and lentils. They are excellent sources of folate and enhance your baby’s nervous system health.


Dairy foods provide calcium for your baby’s bones, teeth, and protein. Even if you don’t drink milk, there are many dairy options to help you obtain these nutrients.

  • Yogurt. Yogurt is often better tolerated than milk. It contains probiotics for gut health. Greek yogurt has a higher calcium content than most other dairy products.

Healthy Fats

Many foods in these categories have been covered; however, some stand out for their healthy fat content. While healthy fats are generally considered healthy, you should avoid extremely restrictive diets like keto while pregnant.

  • Nuts and seeds. These are excellent protein sources when you need a quick snack. They also contain polyunsaturated oils that are high in minerals like magnesium, copper, and manganese, as well as vitamin E, and some of the B vitamins.
  • Avocados. Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat, which you need in pregnancy for cell functions. They are also rich in folate, vitamin K, other B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, vitamin C, and minerals like copper.

It’s important to note that the best foods to eat while pregnant will vary from person to person. For example, you may need to change your diet if you have cholestasis of pregnancy or heartburn and acid reflux during pregnancy.

Also, don’t forget about water. Adequate hydration in pregnancy is needed for all cellular functions and to enhance your own health. Healthy gut and kidney function depend on drinking plenty of water.

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Healthy mom, healthy baby: Get support from a prenatal dietitian

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Essential vitamins & minerals to eat while pregnant

Nutrition is important in every trimester. Knowing the best foods to eat during pregnancy is part of what will help you choose wisely for your health and that of your baby. The ideal foods may differ by pregnancy. For example, you may benefit from certain foods during the first trimester but others during the third.

The second part is understanding the nutrients that contribute to overall health during this important time of your life. Once you understand the “why” behind optimal eating in pregnancy, it will be easier to push past cravings and select the right foods.

There are specific vitamins and minerals that many women struggle to get enough of during pregnancy. Others are not necessarily difficult to obtain but carry special weight based on their importance to fetal health and well-being.

These micronutrients found in the best pregnancy foods carry special importance for your baby’s health:  

  • Folate. Folate is one of the more critical nutrients to get prior to conceiving and in early pregnancy. Folate and folic acid are two forms of this B vitamin that are essential for spinal cord development and the formation of blood cells. A mother who gets too little of this vitamin risks anencephaly or spina bifida (two severe nervous system defects) in her baby.
  • Calcium and vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D work together to mineralize bone and teeth. They are crucial nutrients when your baby is building bone in utero. Vitamin D has value in immunity, and calcium is critical for blood clotting, heart rhythm stabilization, and muscle function.
  • Iron. Iron is critical for the formation of hemoglobin and to help blood carry oxygen to all tissues. Myoglobin provides oxygen to your baby’s muscles; this molecule also needs iron as part of its production.
  • Vitamin A. Vitamin A is critical to eye health. It also plays an essential role in immunity and many individual cellular functions.
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that protects the cells from damage. Collagen and neurotransmitter formation also rely on this critical vitamin.
  • Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is crucial for brain, nerve, and circulatory health. Your baby needs vitamin B12 to have normal nerve pathways throughout the body. You need it to make blood for oxygen transport in the bloodstream.
  • Iodine. Iodine is essential for the thyroid gland and reproductive health. Your baby’s bones and brain rely on the thyroid gland activity for optimal function.
  • Zinc. Zinc is important for optimal mood during pregnancy. It is also an immune-promoting cofactor and becomes essential for the production of DNA in your baby.
  • Choline. Choline is critical for brain health and development. The cell membrane stability of every cell in your baby’s body depends on normal choline intake.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids aid in optimizing your mood. Your baby’s eyes and brain require these fatty acids for their growth and development.
  • Magnesium. In pregnancy, low magnesium levels can cause high blood pressure or preeclampsia.

Foods to avoid while pregnant

Your baby can thrive on the foods just named. Other foods are detrimental to you and your baby’s health. Here are some examples:

  • Sugar. Sugar or “simple carbs” do not offer nutrients and stimulate your pancreatic insulin levels. This means you can put on weight or develop gestational diabetes without any other benefits from consuming these foods.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol is risky to consume at any point in pregnancy. Babies born to mothers who drink excessive alcohol risk the development of numerous birth defects and mental impairment.
  • Lunch meats. Lunch meats or deli meats can carry a bacterial organism called listeria. Listeriosis in pregnancy can result in your baby being born with a seizure disorder, severe mental impairment, paralysis, kidney disease, and blindness.
  • Certain fish. Fish that carry high mercury levels are to be avoided in pregnancy. These tend to be predatory fish including sharks, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, orange roughy, bigeye tuna, and marlin. Other fish are generally fine to eat up to twice weekly. Smoked fish does carry the risk of listeriosis and should therefore be avoided.
  • Unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized milk has not been adequately heated to avoid bacterial contamination. The organism most likely to harm your baby is the listeria species.
  • Soft cheeses. Soft cheeses can also carry the risk of listeriosis, even if it is pasteurized cheese.
  • Undercooked eggs. Raw or undercooked eggs can carry salmonella. If you get this infection and pass it to your baby, they can develop meningitis or severe diarrhea after birth.  
  • Raw fish. If you consumeraw fish of any kind including shellfish and oysters, you can get a vibrio infection or norovirus. Vibrio is a strain of cholera. Both types of infections can be passed to your baby.

>> Find a pregnancy nutritionist that accepts your insurance

How many calories should I eat while pregnant?

Researchers say that a full-term baby uses 80,000 calories from the time of conception through the birth process. This varies by the baby’s weight, if you are overweight or underweight, and other factors.

The general recommendation is to eat 300 extra calories per day while pregnant. This varies by a number of factors, however, which we’ll go over throughout the rest of this article.

Here is some more specific information on how many calories you should eat while pregnant:

  • First trimester: The first trimester of pregnancy requires no more calories than you would eat when not pregnant. 
  • Second trimester: Your BMI determines how many calories you’ll need to eat during pregnancy to gain the recommended weight. Underweight women need to gain more during pregnancy than overweight women. The amount of extra calories you need to eat during the second trimester ranges from 200 to 650.
  • Third trimester: During the third trimester, the extra amount of calories you need is around 450 but varies by BMI and other factors.

Tips for eating healthy while pregnant

Eating healthy while pregnant benefits you and your baby. As soon as you know you’re pregnant, analyze your diet and eliminate those things you know you shouldn’t eat.

You may also benefit from following this advice from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion:

  • Snack often on healthy foods. A handful of nuts, a yogurt, and whole pieces of fruit make great choices for snacks. They also prevent snacking on less healthy foods.
  • Make seafood dishes at least once weekly. If you consume healthful fish like tilapia, salmon, cod, shrimp, and light canned tuna, you can eat up to two servings per week. These fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to your baby’s health.
  • Prepare food at home as much as possible. When you cook at home, you know what has gone into the food you eat. You can also ensure that your meals are cooked thoroughly if needed.
  • Eat the rainbow. Color determines the phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables so the more variety you eat, the more different kinds of helpful nutrients you will get.
  • Eat raw, washed fruits and vegetables. Cooking destroys some phytonutrient levels in these foods, so they are more beneficial when raw. Make sure they are washed before eating, even if the packaging says they come washed from the store or are “organic.”

How a prenatal nutritionist can help you choose healthy foods to eat during pregnancy

It is common to feel stuck on which foods you are eating enough of and those you are missing. In this case, you could benefit from working with a prenatal nutritionist. This is a trained healthcare provider with a special interest in the nutritional challenges of pregnancy.

Your nutritionist can help you identify a list of foods you like that also meet your unique nutritional needs. They can identify your optimal weight gain and the number of calories you should eat per day. This information can be translated into recipes, food choices, and meal planning to help you and your family eat healthier throughout pregnancy.

If you develop any pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes, heartburn/acid reflux, or third-trimester nausea, or are at risk for them, you can prevent negative pregnancy outcomes by working with your prenatal nutritionist as soon as you know your risk.

Here at Zaya Care, we can match you with a prenatal nutritionist that accepts your insurance and preferred visit type. Simply find a provider that suits your needs and book online!

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Healthy mom, healthy baby: Get support from a prenatal dietitian

90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for one-on-one counseling with a Registered Dietitan

Christine Traxler MD is a family physician, lifelong writer, and author with a special interest in mental health, women’s healthcare, and the physical after-effects of psychological trauma. As a contributing writer and editor for numerous organizations, she brings a holistic focus to her work that emphasizes healing and wellness through daily self-care, connecting with others, and setting stepwise goals toward achieving more balanced and authentic lives.