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Pregnancy Diet 101: How To Eat Your Way Through A Healthy Pregnancy

9 minute read

Congratulations! You’re now eating for two! At no other time in life is nutrition as important as it is during pregnancy. You are probably considering your pregnancy diet and the foods you eat now more than any other time in your life.

And while it may be easiest to eat foods that come in a box or order pizza when you don’t have time to cook…. Making healthy food choices keeps you feeling good and gives your baby the essential nutrients they need in the womb.

When there are SO many things about your pregnancy that are out of your control — what sex your baby will be or what your birth experience will be like — nutrition is one very important element of your pregnancy that you CAN control.

Here’s what you need to know about pregnancy nutrition so that you can start making healthy choices for you and your baby TODAY. 

How Does Nutrition Affect Pregnancy? 

a mom holding a coffee and eating a healthy meal as part of her healthy pregnancy diet

Your eating habits during pregnancy directly affect your baby! That’s why eating a well-balanced diet is one of the best gifts you can give your little one. Eating nourishing, nutritious foods has many benefits like: 

  • Preventing and reducing pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness
  • Having more energy!
  • Helping you and your baby be healthier and more resistant to illness in pregnancy and the first year of life
  • Preventing pregnancy risks like preeclampsia and premature births.
  • Supporting proper development of your babies brain, body, organs and eyes
  • Reducing the risk of many birth defects
  • Establishing essential building blocks of growth and overall health for your child.

On the other hand, when you eat an unhealthy diet during pregnancy… You may be putting your baby at risk of developing long term, irreversible health issues including obesity and higher levels of cholesterol and blood sugar. 

But what does a healthy pregnancy diet really mean?

When you think about your “diet” during pregnancy, this doesn’t mean restricting calories or trying to lose weight. It also does not mean obsessing over a number on a scale. In fact, what’s right for you and your baby in regards to weight gain, is deeply personal and individual.

Pregnancy Diet: How Many Calories Do You Need

Most women will need approximately 300 extra calories each day while you’re pregnant.

But your energy requirements will gradually increase as you enter your 2nd and 3rd trimester. This means that most moms will need 340-452 extra calories as you near the end of your pregnancy. 

This could look like:

  • 1,800 calories during the first trimester
  • 2,200 calories during the second trimester
  • 2,400 calories during the third trimester

But there’s no “one size fits all” approach. Your energy requirements will vary significantly depending on your age, body mass index (BMI), and activity level. 

And getting the right calories, doesn’t always mean you are getting the right nutrition. A pregnancy diet is about getting a well rounded whole food diet with lots of variety. We’ll explore that in just a moment.

Weight Change During Pregnancy: 

a pregnant mom looking radiant and happy with proper nutrition during pregnancy

Some moms are worried about their pregnancy diet because they are worried about gaining too much weight during pregnancy. Other moms actually want to lose weight during pregnancy. The point, is, the goals that you have for your pregnancy diet are personal, valid and should be respected.

Gaining too much or too little weight during your pregnancy can have health consequences either way. Not gaining enough weight, can sometimes mean your baby won’t get enough nutrients to grow properly.

But, on the other hand, a diet full of empty calories that are best avoided, or one that has a lot of sugar, white flour, fried foods, and other unhealthy fillers can lead to problems in your birth and predispose your little one for chronic illnesses throughout life.

Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, I really encourage moms to consider if they are getting enough nourishment – by eating whole foods and listening to their own hunger cues.

Where Does The Pregnancy Weight Go?

Have you ever wondered what your body does with all the extra calories your are eating? It’s true, if you’re gaining the typically suggested 30 to 40 lbs. with your pregnancy diet, a lot of it will fall right off, because it’s all supporting your baby. Here’s where the weight goes in your body.

Your Baby

Your baby will weigh about 6-10 pounds at the time of birth. This is where a good portion of your weight gain will go.

Your Breasts

During pregnancy, as your body is preparing to breastfeed, your breasts will grow and get bigger. Your breasts will gain about 1-3 pound on their own!

Your Uterus

Your uterus is the muscle that surrounds your baby, placenta and the amniotic fluid. By the end of pregnancy, this muscle will have grown by about 2 pounds.

Your Placenta

The placenta is the organ that moves nutrients from you to your baby. You grow this organ from scratch during pregnancy. It weighs about 1 1/2 pounds when you give birth. You will also give birth to this organ, so you will lose this weight immediately after your baby is born.

Amniotic Fluid

Amniotic fluid is a clear liquid that surrounds your baby and helps protect them during pregnancy and birth. You will carry about 2 pounds of amniotic fluid inside your uterus -again, this weight will be gone immediately when you give birth.

Increased Blood Volume

Now that you and your baby are growing, your body needs a more complicated nutrient delivery system. Your blood volume typically doubles during pregnancy – meaning you gain about 3-4 pounds of blood.

Increased Fluid Volume

Other fluids in your body increase as well, causing you to gain another 2 to 3 pounds. Some of this fluid will be held by your body to start making breast milk when your baby is born!

Fat Stores And Muscle

I know – nobody wants to gain more fat, but the reality is that most moms will gain about 6-8 pounds of fat and muscle to support your new needs. Unfortunately, pregnancy fat typically goes to thighs and hips. The good news is – this is the first weight to fall off after giving birth. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

How Much Weight Should I Gain During Pregnancy?

a pregnant mom eating a salad as part of her best pregnancy diet

You may be surprised the women don’t typically gain weight little by little throughout pregnancy. It’s normal to have weeks where you gain a lot, even if it seems like nothing in your pregnancy diet or exercise routine changed. And other weeks where you gain nothing.

Generally most women gain a few pounds each week. For many people this looks like: 

  • First trimester: 1-4.5 pounds
  • Second trimester: 1-2 pounds per week
  • Third trimester: 1-2 pounds per week

The best way to ensure that you are putting on the right amount of weight is to focus on eating a healthy foods during your pregnancy. If you’re having a hard time eating anything because you feel nauseous all the time, check out our morning sickness tips here.

Here’s how to get started:

What To Eat While You’re Pregnant — Pregnancy Diet Recommendations: 

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated! It’s actually pretty easy to get started. Simply focus on incorporating foods into your daily life from the 5 main food groups. These include: 

  • Vegetables: carrots, brussels sprouts, artichoke, broccoli, mushrooms pumpkin, spinach, cooked greens, tomatoes and red sweet peppers
  • Fruits: apples, berries, cantaloupe, honeydew, mangoes, prunes, bananas, apricots, oranges, and red or pink grapefruit
  • Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, cream soups, and puddings
  • Complex Carbohydrates: whole breads and grains. This section also contains starchy vegetables and mots of your fruits.
  • Proteins: beans and peas; nuts and seeds; lean beef, lamb and pork; salmon, trout, herring, sardines and pollock

There are so many different types of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals found in the foods listed in these categories. (And these categories could easily contain hundreds of more items.) That’s why it’s important to try to eat a variety of foods throughout the day and mix up the types of foods you have each week. This will help you get a wide variety of nutrients that you and your baby need. 

What Is The Best Pregnancy Diet Plan?

a plate of food with half salad, other healthy well rounded foods as an example of the best pregnancy diet foods

The best “pregnancy diet” isn’t really a diet at all… Lisa Nichols teaches a surprisingly simply and very effective way to get the nutrients you need in her book Real Food For Pregnancy ..Just keep it simple, with the plate method.

With the ideal pregnancy diet you should aim to have:

  • 1/2 your plate non starchy vegetables
  • 1/4 of your plate proteins and fats
  • 1/4 of your plate complex carbohydrates

If you prefer to count your food:

  • 5-9 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables (including at least one serving of a dark orange vegetable, two servings of dark green leafy vegetables, and one serving of citrus fruit) The more the better!
  • 6 servings of complex carbohydrates (this could include fruit from above, whole grain sourdough bread or more starchy vegetables).
  • 3 servings of full fat dairy (milk or cheeses)
  • 2-3 servings of meats (fatty parts included) such as, chicken, fish, or ground beef(1 serving = approximately 3 ounces/size of a deck of cards)
  • 2 servings of legumes (1 serving = approximately ½ cup)
  • Eight glasses of water

This simple framework gives you the flexibility to create a meal plan that works for your unique tastes, preferences, and needs. But if you’re wondering where to begin, let’s take a look at what a daily meal plan could look like. 

Sample Daily Menu For A High Quality Pregnancy Diet:

A good rule of thumb when it comes to planning out your meals for the day is to aim for three small, but balanced, meals and three light snacks throughout the day. 

This will help to ensure that you and your baby’s nutritional needs are met and that you can eat a wide variety of foods throughout the day.

Here’s a sample menu of what this could look like: 

  • Breakfast: 2 eggs with a slice of cucumber avocado toast or sautéed lemon garlic spinach and a clementine orange
  • Snack: 1 cup of whole fat Greek yogurt + blueberries and almond slivers
  • Lunch: Prepared salad, with chicken and black beans
  • Snack: Guacamole with chips or cucumber chips
  • Dinner: Salmon with a side of brussels sprouts + bacon and sweet potato fries
  • Snack: Strawberries and cream

But the options are truly endless! Feel free to mix and match your favorite foods from the 5 main food groups to create a whole variety of delicious meals and snacks that are healthy and satisfying. 

Pregnancy Nutrition Concerns: 

Your baby is relying on you for all the nutrients that their growing body needs. Eating healthy foods should give you all the nutrients that you both need during pregnancy…but it can be difficult to make sure you’re getting enough of all. the. things. 

That’s why it’s a good idea to take a daily prenatal vitamin to help ensure that you get enough iron, folate, and other important nutrients.

(You can take 20% off of our favorite complete prenatal vitamin by shopping with code SBB20.)

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy: 

You may be aware that there are certain foods that aren’t recommended during pregnancy. This can be a real bummer, especially when you’re craving your favorite coffee beverage or sushi roll. 

But certain foods can have harmful effects on your little one while they’re in the womb. 

Here’s a helpful list of foods to avoid while you’re pregnant:

  • Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk (raw milk and soft cheeses, including feta, queso blanco and fresco, Camembert, brie or blue-veined cheeses—unless labeled “made with pasteurized milk”)
  • Hot dogs and luncheon meats (unless they are heated until steaming hot before serving)
  • Raw and undercooked seafood, eggs and meat. Do not eat sushi made with raw fish (cooked sushi is safe).
  • Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood.
  • Fresh-squeezed Juice: Opt for juice that is pasteurized. Fresh-squeezed juice in restaurants, juice bars, or farm stands may not be pasteurized to protect against harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. 

And even though these are a bit of a no-brainer, it’s also a good idea to avoid caffeine and alcohol which can lead to harmful effects for your baby. 

Pregnancy Diets To Avoid

An image of whole what breads with different cheeses and veggies as examples of foods for pregnant women

It’s a good idea to avoid popular diets like Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, The Zone, Raw Food Diet, and so on. Any diet that restricts certain food groups may not supply all the nutrients you need and can be damaging to your health.

One big problem with dieting during pregnancy is that many people begin replacing well rounded meals with food supplements, such as a convenient protein shake or energy bars for a meal instead of, well, real food.

Even though these supplements may have once been a fruit or vegetable (or 50 fruits and vegetables) once it has been processed into a drink or protein shake, it has lost almost all of it’s nutritional value.

Replacing real food with ‘diet’ food limits the variety of nutrients you get and can mean you and your baby will be at a greater risk.

If you need convenience, a meal plan delivered to your door will give you more health, energy and support your pregnancy weight goals much better than a protein shake or bar. (of course, a bar or shake is better than nothing!)

Instead of starting — or continuing — a diet during pregnancy, focus on eating a variety of healthy, whole foods at each meal. Small steps like replacing your refined grains with whole-grain versions, and limiting sugary drinks and snacks, are a much healthier alternative to “cutting out” whole food groups through a certain diet. 

Should I Avoid Fats Or Carbohydrates In My Pregnancy Diet?

Fats and carbohydrates are two food groups that are often bullied and left out completely in fad diets. Both of these strategies can be a problem during pregnancy. You should avoid empty calories, such as fatty fried foods, foods made with white flour that has little to no nutrients or foods that have lots of trans fats – like cookies or highly processed foods.

Fat Naturally Found In Food

However, fats naturally found in foods are good for you. Vitamins A, D, E and K are only found in the fatty part of foods. And you need these nutrients. Vitamin D is supporting your immune system and helping baby build their brain. Vitamin K helps you create red blood cells – which both of you need. More moms than ever are hemorrhaging after birth, and many scientists believe this is a direct result of stripping vitamin K from the diet in no or low fat diets. Go ahead and eat dark meat, peanut butter, salmon and even a little bit of bacon – food high is fat soluble vitamins.

Complex Carbohydrates

Another food group that is routinely completely taken out of rotation during some fad diets are carbohydrates. There is a big difference from removing white flour foods and vegetables, fruits and whole grains that are packed with healthy nutrients. Quinoa, oats, bananas, sweet potatoes, beets, oranges, blueberries, and apples are all carb heavy and good for most moms.

Instead of stripping these from your diet all together because they are ‘carbs’ just eat them in proportion: 1/4 of your plate. Also, many women find that when they pair a carb with a fat, such as apple with peanut butter, they feel amazing because they are getting nutrients that nourish them and long lasting energy at the same time.

How to Make Your Pregnancy Diet Simple

Sometimes you may have the desire to eat well during pregnancy, but you don’t have the time to make it to the store or create a healthy meal plan for the week. 

Here are two wonderful resources to make your life a bit easier so that you can eat well during pregnancy, without driving yourself crazy! 

  1. Instacart

I love using Instacart to shop at my local stores…without having to leave my house! They make it super simple to get exactly what you need, when you need it. Ordering groceries has really simplified meal planning for me. Instead of dealing with the stress of fighting traffic to get to the store, you can spend more time planning and preparing delicious, nutritious meals. 

  1. Real Eats

There are so many meal delivery companies out there…but Real Eats is by far my favorite! I love that you can trust their ingredients and that the meals arrive fresh, not frozen, fully-cooked, and ready to eat. All you have to do is heat and enjoy! Real Eats is perfect for busy moms on the go. And they make it super easy to order as many meals as you need — no subscription required! 

A Deeper Dive Into Pregnancy Diet & Nutrition: 

If you want to dive deeper in the world of pregnancy diet and nutrition, check out this amazing book by Lily Nichols, called Real Food for Pregnancy. As a registered dietician, Lily has really gone above and beyond to find helpful, evidence-based information that can assist you along your pregnancy journey. 

You can even download the first chapter for free! Check it out. 

The Best Advice About Your Pregnancy Diet

A mom enjoying a bite of food that is part of her best pregnancy diet

If there is one thing I’d like moms to know about eating a well rounded and healthy pregnancy diet, is that you do not have to be perfect. Listen to your intuition. Eat when you feel hungry. Let yourself enjoy your cravings. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect.

You can control the food you put into your mouth – but that doesn’t mean you can control everything your body does with it. If you are eating whole, nutritious foods, listening to your hunger cues and not stress eating, then be at peace with the when and where you gain weight during pregnancy. It could be exactly what you need.

Eat well rounded – stress less. It’s not about doing everything one way, but finding the foods that make you feel good. If you can, put the scale away, and focus more on nourishing yourself deeply and wholly.