Foods to eat or avoid when pregnant


Let’s be real, pregnancy is VERY physically demanding. To meet this demand, a healthy, balanced pregnancy diet is vital for you and also to boost fetal health.

While vegetables, fruits, grains, and iron-rich foods are beneficial, certain fish, caffeine, certain types of cheese, and alcohol are on the no-go list. So, how do you separate what’s good for you from what isn’t?

First off, it’s important to consume a balance of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. In this article, we cover expert-recommended foods to avoid or eat during pregnancy.

What to eat when pregnant

According to Kelsey Costa, RDN (Registered dietitian nutritionist), “There are several key food groups expecting mothers should prioritize to ensure optimal health and development for themselves and their unborn child” such as:

  1. A minimum of three cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Complex carbohydrates, like farro, a whole grain, complex carbohydrates like sweet potato, and legumes like beans, peas, and lentils can be beneficial.
  2. These vegetables contain dietary fiber, provide energy, and help manage blood sugar, all of which are crucial during pregnancy. The dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables helps satiate hunger, improve gut health, and prevent pregnancy-related issues such as constipation and hemorrhoids.
  3. Consuming a diverse range of lean proteins is pivotal for fetal growth and development. Therefore, lean animal proteins like fish, eggs, and chicken are great. Regarding plant-based protein, options include tofu, soy, and soy products, seeds and nuts, and legumes.
  4. Healthy fats are also essential to a balanced diet during pregnancy. One that plays a vital role in fetal development is Omega-3 fatty acids which have been found to help prevent preterm births and, according to some doctors, may lower the risk of postpartum depression. Salmon, chia seeds, algae oil, flaxseeds, and sardines are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, but you could opt to take a supplement instead.
  5. During pregnancy and lactation, the need for micronutrients also increases. These can be found in vitamins D, A, B12, choline, and folate which are fat-soluble vitamins and water. Supplements containing these vitamins will often be prescribed by your doctor before, during, and after pregnancy to support prenatal nutrition and post-natal recovery.
  6. When you’re pregnant, there is an increase in blood volume and therefore, an increase in Hemoglobin production. Therefore, iron is important to aid in this production.

    Consuming iron-rich foods or taking an iron supplement, can help prevent anemia and the risks associated with it, such as fatigue, postpartum depression, low birth weight, and preterm birth. Apart from poultry, legumes, and salmon, dark green vegetables are a great source of iron.

What not to eat when pregnant

To avoid complications during pregnancy, Costa recommends avoiding certain foods and substances. The list includes:

  1. Processed foods. It’s no secret that processed foods are high in sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats. They are also low in minerals, vitamins, and dietary fiber. During pregnancy, these foods can increase the risk of pregnancy-related issues like GDM or gestational diabetes mellitus and can cause inflammation.
  2. Foods with a high mercury content, namely, certain seafood. Tuna (including canned tuna), tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel, and marlin all contain mercury, which can affect your developing child’s nervous system and brain.
  3. Raw and undercooked animal products are to be avoided for the sake of your health and the health of your child. Eating undercooked or uncooked eggs, poultry, fish, meat, and shellfish can cause illnesses such as toxoplasmosis, listeriosis, and salmonellosis.
  4. Mold-ripened soft cheeses can contain listeria bacteria which can penetrate the placenta and cause health complications in babies or pregnancy loss. Therefore, it’s best to avoid cheese such as camembert, brie, and blue cheese.
  5. It’s also best not to eat raw sprouts because they have been known to contain bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. Only eat mung beans, radish, alfalfa, and even broccoli sprouts when thoroughly cooked.
  6. Alcohol can pass through the umbilical cord during pregnancy and lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. So, all forms of alcohol must be avoided when you’re pregnant.
  7. And last, but not the least, caffeine. As hard as it is, most women know that it’s not recommended to drink caffeine when pregnant because even as little as 200 milligrams can impact fetal development.

    It’s not just coffee that you need to avoid, but also energy drinks and bars, tea, chocolates, and certain flu, cold and pain medication. Consult your doctor on medications that are safe to take while pregnant.

While this list is meant to give you direction, everyone’s tolerance levels and dietary requirements are different. Consult your doctor or work with a registered dietician to create a personalized pregnancy diet plan that is safe for you.

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