Pregnancy Diet: Best 21 Foods to Eat While Pregnant

When you’re pregnant, your eating habits become more important than ever, affecting your health, the way you feel, and, of course, your baby! Healthy pregnancy meals and snacks contain a good balance of nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, and fats, helping to keep you well and supporting your little's one's growth and development. Read on to find out what a healthy pregnancy diet can look like, which foods best nourish you and your baby, how to plan vegetarian menus, and what your pregnancy cravings might mean.

What Is a Healthy Pregnancy Diet?

So, what should pregnant women eat to maintain a healthy pregnancy? It helps to know that a pregnancy diet is not about losing weight—the last thing you want to do is cut calories while pregnant. Additionally, the adage “eating for two” is outdated. Instead, try to focus on consuming a variety of healthful, nutrient-rich foods to support your developing baby. Generally, there are a few key principles to consider when planning a healthy pregnancy diet:

  • Vary your plate. Aim for a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins from the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. An easy way to accomplish this is to reserve half your plate for fruits and vegetables and the other half for grains and proteins.

  • Drink low-fat milk. Both skim milk and 1-percent milk are good choices.

  • Opt for whole grains. When eating grains, whole grains are a better choice because they provide more dietary fiber than refined variants. Examples include whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal.

  • Limit certain foods. Try to avoid foods that are higher in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar, and sodium. If you’re wondering what to eat to lower your blood pressure during pregnancy, your healthcare provider may suggest avoiding too much salt—use lemon juice, herbs, and spices to flavor foods rather than salt.

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Pregnancy Nutrition: What You Need to Eat

During your pregnancy, you’ll want to strive for a balanced diet with various nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, fats, and key vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D.

One of the most essential nutrients is folic acid, which helps prevent congenital disabilities of the brain and spine, but your iron and calcium intake matters, too. Iron helps you produce more blood, which you, your developing baby, and the placenta all need. And you might already know that calcium is important for bones and teeth—those not getting enough of this nutrient might experience bone loss during pregnancy. You can get a nutritional boost from a prenatal vitamin, but a well-rounded diet may give you all you need to nourish yourself and your baby throughout pregnancy. Prenatal nutrition requirements will vary slightly from person to person. Consult your healthcare provider for advice on prenatal vitamins and whether you might need to take any extra supplements. If you’re interested in how to obtain these nutrients through diet, check out our pregnancy food chart below, a good starting point for those whose pre-pregnancy weight falls into the “normal” range. (Always work with your healthcare provider when crafting a pregnancy diet, as everybody is unique.)

Best 21 Foods to Eat While Pregnant

Not sure what to include in your pregnancy diet meal plan? Healthy food for your pregnancy might be a lot tastier than you think! We’ve included 21 of the best foods to eat while pregnant, whether you’re in your first trimester or the final stretch:

  1. Eggs. Packed with protein and vitamins, eggs are nutritional powerhouses, and they're quick and easy to prepare.

  2. Cheese. Cheese is a delicious calcium-rich food for pregnancy; look for varieties made with pasteurized milk. It’s best to avoid the following cheeses unless the label specifically says pasteurized: feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined, queso fresco, and queso blanco.

  3. Yogurt. Another calcium-rich food for your pregnancy menu is yogurt. You’ll want to avoid overly processed and sugary foods, so the best yogurt for pregnancy is one that’s plain, Greek, or anything without added sugar.

  4. Fortified milk. Fortified milk is a great source of calcium, and it also contains vitamin D, which can be a tricky nutrient to obtain from other sources.

  5. Fortified cereals. To ensure you’re getting the calcium, vitamin D, iron, and folic acid you need, opt for fortified or enriched cereals. Eat a bowl for breakfast or sprinkle some atop Greek yogurt drizzled with honey.

  6. Nuts and seeds. Portable and non-perishable, nuts and nut butters are perfect as healthy, on-the-go pregnancy snacks and are excellent protein and fat sources. Almonds, peanuts, and walnuts are all good picks.

  7. 100 percent orange juice. Enjoy a fresh cup of orange juice, a great dose of calcium and vitamin C. Try squeezing the juice yourself, as you’ll want 100 percent (fresh-squeezed if possible) orange juice, not from concentrate or with any additives. The only exception is fortified orange juice, which may add folic acid and vitamin D.

  8. Avocados. Avocados in your pregnancy diet are an excellent idea. They contain many nutrients and also monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are among the "good fats" that help control cholesterol levels.

  9. Citrus fruit. A great source of vitamin C, citrus fruit comes in lots of delicious forms—from oranges and all their varietals to grapefruit, lemons, and limes. Vitamin C helps to keep your gums, teeth, and bones healthy. Oranges are also high in folic acid.

  10. Berries. If you’re looking for good fruits for pregnancy, start with berries! Those yummy strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries not only provide vitamin C but also offer other nutrients, including antioxidants, iron (especially dried berries), and flavonoids. Berries have also been shown to improve and support cognitive health.

  11. Bananas. To combat constipation while pregnant (or even when not pregnant), eat bananas. They have lots of fiber and can help soothe the digestive tract, plus provide vitamin B6, which helps form red blood cells and assists the body’s use of important nutrients, like protein and fats.

  12. Dark leafy greens. If you want a dose of health, turn to dark leafy greens—you could even think of them as pregnancy superfoods, loaded with calcium, vitamin A, folic acid, iron, and more. Get a nice salad mix with spinach, kale, arugula, and romaine and enjoy a salad each day.

  13. Orange vegetables. Some of the best pregnancy vegetables are orange in color and contain vitamin A, which supports healthy skin and eyesight while also assisting in bone growth. Think carrots, sweet potatoes, orange peppers, and squash, to name a few. Try cut-up veggies dipped in hummus for quick and easy healthy pregnancy snacks.

  14. Broccoli. This is another fiber-rich vegetable that provides vitamin C, a nutrient that promotes gum, tooth, and bone health. If you’re not a broccoli fan, cauliflower is a nice alternative.

  15. Beans and lentils. Besides being chock full of fiber, beans and lentils provide folic acid, iron, and protein. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, these can be one of your go-tos for getting enough protein during pregnancy.

  16. Spinach. You'll need various iron-rich foods for a healthy pregnancy diet, and spinach is one of the best. Iron helps to keep your energy elevated and ward off anemia. Frozen spinach is especially affordable and easy to prepare; try mixing it into casseroles or a pasta sauce.

  17. Brown rice. A great alternative to refined white rice, brown rice includes the entire grain—the part that provides dietary fiber. Again, fiber is key to keeping pregnancy constipation in check. Plus, complex carbohydrates take longer for your body to break down, providing longer-lasting energy.

  18. Whole-grain pasta. Likewise, whole-grain pasta is a better choice than refined pasta for the same reasons as brown rice. Whole grains help you feel fuller for longer periods and may help in reducing cholesterol levels, too—all important things during pregnancy.

  19. Fatty fish. Good fats (unsaturated fats) are crucial during pregnancy, as they provide you with energy, help build the placenta, and assist in developing fetal organs. Fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon, are good choices, as they also provide omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

  20. Tofu. For vegetarians and vegans, tofu is a handy alternative to meat-based proteins. You can also find calcium-enriched tofu to help ensure you get enough of that essential nutrient.

  21. Olive oil. Some oils, including olive oil, are unsaturated fats, so they’re like fatty fish in that they provide important nutrients to build the placenta and fetal organs. Use olive oil rather than butter, margarine, and shortening, which are saturated fats.

For more information about the amounts of these foods you might need per day in each trimester of pregnancy, download our pregnancy nutrition guide below:

Pregnancy Diet: Foods to Avoid

Besides understanding what to eat when pregnant, it’s equally essential to know what not to eat when pregnant. There are a few foods to avoid during pregnancy, as they can either impact the development of the fetus or are generally unhealthy. Here are a few foods to leave out of your pregnancy diet:

  • Certain types of fish

  • Unpasteurized milk and foods

  • Raw or undercooked foods

  • Simple carbohydrates from processed foods

  • Trans fats

It’s always a good idea to consult your healthcare provider about any additions to this list or specific foods you personally may need to avoid. There’s a lot to think about, but for even more useful dos and don’ts, check out our guide to pregnancy.

Pregnancy Diet: Beverages

Staying hydrated is important, and you'll need to drink 8 to 12 cups of fluids daily. Water is the best option: Getting enough water can help ward off constipation, prevent your skin from getting too dry, and flush toxins and waste products from your body. Of course, water isn’t the only beverage out there, and besides wondering about what to eat when pregnant, many wonder what to drink. Here’s a brief guide on how to approach other common beverages while pregnant, including coffee, tea, alcohol, and soda:

  • Coffee and tea. There’s no need to cut out your morning cup of coffee while pregnant, but it’s best to limit caffeine to less than 200 milligrams a day. That’s around two cups of brewed coffee or four cups of caffeinated tea.

  • Herbal tea. Although herbal tea is often touted as a caffeine-free alternative to black tea and coffee, there is little data on some herbs' effects on developing babies. So, unless your healthcare provider gives you the OK, it’s best to avoid herbal tea altogether—even when it comes to those marketed for pregnancy.

  • Alcohol. You’ve probably heard that alcohol is a no-no for pregnancy. That’s because experts agree that any amount of alcohol could potentially cause harm during pregnancy. It’s best to play it safe and avoid alcohol entirely.

  • Soda. When you're pregnant it’s best to reduce your consumption of soda, if not eliminate it altogether. Regular soda is packed with sugar, and diet soda can be filled with aspartame or other artificial sweeteners, none of which is good for you in large amounts. If you absolutely love soda, having it occasionally isn't going to hurt you; however, a better approach is drinking plain or seltzer water and adding a little fruit juice for flavor.

Tips for Vegetarians and Vegans

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you can still get the nutrients you and your baby need. You may need to adjust your eating habits for a healthy vegetarian or vegan pregnancy diet, but plenty of nonmeat and nondairy food sources can satisfy your nutritional needs.

  • Protein. You can choose from a variety of high-protein foods for a vegetarian pregnancy diet, and you can easily add them to meal plans and menus. For example, you can get your protein with three servings per day of 1/2 a cup of cooked, dried beans, peas, or tofu; 1/4 cup of nuts and seeds; 2 tablespoons of peanut butter; and one egg or two egg whites (if not vegan).

  • Calcium. Be sure to stock up on calcium-rich foods during your pregnancy. For vegetarians, these can include dairy products like fortified milk, cheese, and yogurt. Other nondairy sources of calcium include plant-based milk, dark leafy green vegetables, tofu, dried beans, and peas.

  • Iron. Even on a vegetarian diet, you can get the 27 milligrams needed from three servings of iron-rich foods like eggs, enriched grain products, leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, raisins, prunes, peanuts, dried beans, and peas. If you’re concerned about getting enough iron, consult your healthcare provider about whether you need any supplements.

  • Vitamin B12. This is one of the few vitamins found only in animal products (like eggs and dairy), so if you’re vegan, you may need to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or obtain it from an alternative source like nutritional yeast or a supplement.

Pregnancy Diet Plan: How Many Extra Calories?

The amount of calories you'll need each day will increase during your pregnancy. However, prenatal nutrients needed in your first, second, and third trimester will likely stay about the same. A good approach is to eat twice as healthy rather than twice as much. So, when creating a pregnancy diet plan with healthy eating and portion balance at the forefront, heed the advice above, ignore the outdated “eating for two” adage, and consider the following calorie increases:

  • Second trimester: about 340 additional calories per day.

  • Third trimester: about 450 extra calories a day in the third trimester.

  • Twins. If you're carrying twins, you'll probably need 600 extra calories a day throughout pregnancy.

These general guidelines are based on someone with a body mass index (BMI) in the “normal” range. If you have questions about pregnancy weight gain, or if your BMI is considered “underweight,” “overweight,” or “obese,” it’s best to consult your healthcare provider.

Dealing With Those Quirky Hankerings

No one really knows why pregnancy cravings occur, but they’re not generally thought to be caused by food deficiencies. If anything, pregnancy hormones could be the culprit, as cravings tend to be particularly strong during the first trimester and pass after that. There’s no reason to avoid foods you crave if you eat in moderation. You might find yourself craving non-food items, such as laundry starch or clay. This is a condition called pica. If you crave nonfood items, be sure to consult your healthcare provider.

The Bottom Line

There’s a lot to think about when maintaining a healthy pregnancy diet, but don’t stress too much if you don’t quite hit your iron or calcium quota one day or if you’re craving ice cream and decide to treat yourself. Just try to have balanced meals and consult with your healthcare provider about how to get all those nutrients you and your baby need. We hope our guide and list of the best 21 foods to eat while pregnant will help inspire your diet during this exciting time. Feel free to get creative with your meal plans and have a little grace with yourself when cravings occur. Remember that a healthy pregnancy diet will help you bring your little one into the world!