What Can Pregnant Women Eat?

by Natalie on June 19, 2014

what can pregnant women eat

Now that you’re pregnant, eating is a bit different, right?

When I was pregnant with my daughter a few years ago, I remember worrying all the time about what’s safe and not safe to eat.

I’m a nutritionist and still had these thoughts, so you’re not alone if you feel frustrated about picking the “right” foods.

Thankfully, there’s so much food a pregnant woman can eat, it’s often easier to discuss foods to avoid first.

Foods To Avoid When Pregnant

1. Alcohol

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been associated with physical and mental abnormalities, as well as low birth weight, and early birth. Most of these outcomes are associated with heavy drinking, but researchers are unsure exactly how much alcohol has this effect. That’s why is recommended to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy. Plus, what’s the benefit?

2. Foods With Potential To Cause Food-Borne Illness

  • Deli meat and hot dogs. These have the potential to harbor the dangerous bacteria, listeria.
  • Soft cheeses. Their high moisture content makes it easier for listeria to grow. Examples include: brie, camembert, feta, and blue cheese. The CDC’s food safety service states that pasteurized soft cheeses are safe to eat.
  • Raw fish and shellfish (i.e oysters, sushi).
  • Raw meat. Steaks can be safely eaten with a pink middle, but ground beef should be browned all the way through.

3. Foods Containing Trans Fats

Partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans-fats) have negative effects on the growth and development of your baby. These fats should be avoided beyond pregnancy as they are linked to several other health concerns. Tran-fats are found in fried foods, margarine, and many packaged chips, cookies, and crackers. Check the food label, and avoid any food with partially hydrogenated oils.

4. Caffeine

In one study released by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women who consumed 200mg caffeine or more, had twice the risk of miscarriage. So while it doesn’t need to be eliminated completely, is wise to keep intake as low as possible, or less than 200mg per day.

5. Artificial Sweeteners

I don’t recommend artificial sweeteners period. It’s not so much about the research, more so that it doesn’t fit with my philosophy of eating a diet based on whole foods, that are minimally processed. If I don’t feel comfortable recommending fake sweeteners to adults, there is no way I would recommend them during pregnancy.

6. Fish with high levels of mercury and other contaminants

Babies exposed to mercury in the womb may suffer brain damage, or have ailments to their hearing or vision. The ‘Super Green’ list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, names fish high in omega-3’s and low in contaminants.

So, What Can Pregnant Women Eat?

 

1. All Fruits

Berries are a great choice because they are high in antioxidants and lower in sugar than other fruit. Fresh oranges, kiwi, and papaya are also good options because they are high in Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps our bodies absorb iron – an essential mineral for pregnancy.

2. All Vegetables

Focus on the greens! Greens are rich in folate – a vitamin crucial for normal spinal cord development. A general rule of thumb – the more rich in color, the more nutrients that vegetable contains. Oh and remember – french fries don’t count as a vegetable.

3. Protein-Rich Foods

Protein is essential during pregnancy. In fact, your needs go up immediately upon becoming pregnant. The general rule is 70-80 grams of protein per day.

Healthy Protein-Rich Foods For Pregnancy

  • Turkey and Chicken. Don’t shy away from the dark meat – it contains higher amounts of iron. 3 ounces = 21 grams protein. Choose organic and/or pasture-raised poultry when possible.
  • Grass-fed beef and lamb. Red meat is high in zinc and iron, two nutrients important for pregnancy. Meat from grass-fed cows and lambs, is higher in healthy fats than its grain fed counterpart. Organic is another bonus! 3 ounces = 21 grams protein.
  • Eggs. Keep those yolks ladies! Yolks are rich in several nutrients significant for pregnancy. Look for eggs from pasture-raised hens, they will be more rich in the nutrients you’re looking for. Each egg has around 7 grams of protein.
  • Unsweetened yogurt and kefir. Cultured dairy products are easy to digest, and contain high amounts of probiotics. They are also high in calcium, a mineral crucial for skeletal growth. Greek yogurt varieties are usually higher in protein. Look for organic dairy products when possible.
  • Beans and Lentils. Rich in protein and several nutrients you need for pregnancy including iron and folate. 1 cup cooked = 15 grams of protein. Soaking your beans overnight before cooking will improve their digestibility. If buying canned beans, look for BPA free cans. I like the brand Eden Organics, which can be found at most health food stores or Whole Foods.

**Remember that deli meats can be a source of bacteria. When pregnant, always heat deli meat before eating.

4. Whole grains

Think grains like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, as well as 100% whole grain crackers, bread, and pasta. Refined grains like white bread, pasta, and crackers can be helpful when dealing with nausea – just don’t make them part of your long-term strategy.

5. Healthy Fats

Just like protein, healthy fats are critical during pregnancy. The outer portion of most of our body cells is made up of fats. As your baby grows, you want to make sure that their body cells are being created with the healthiest of fats available.

Healthy Fats For Pregnancy

  • Avocado.
  • Nuts, seeds. Especially hemp, chia, walnuts, pumpkin, and sunflower.
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil.
  • Coconut products: unsweetened coconut flakes, full-fat coconut milk, and coconut oil.
  • Butter from grass-fed cows.

6. Low Mercury Fish and Seafood.

Some fish are high in omega-3 fats. These fats have been proven to assist in brain and eye development, as well as so much more! A great list of high omega-3, low contaminant fish is available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

7. Sweets On Occasion!

It’s best not to eat a lot of sugar and refined carbs when pregnant, since it can lead to rapid weight gain and blood sugar problems. I think a sweet treat a couple times a week is okay. Here’s a few ideas for healthier sweet treats:

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