Sometimes pregnancy can make the unhealthiest of eaters want to completely change their diet. Not only do tastes change, but the thought of being responsible for baby’s proper growth and well-being is just the mental boost they need to eat healthy foods. But if you’re new to a healthy diet, you may be confused about what foods to eat. Many women know all about dieting and cutting calories, but may have never focused on the health and nutrients of their food.
Not only are nutrient-dense foods going to help you to feel your best and bounce back more quickly post-partum, but you’ll be setting your baby’s good health up from the get-go. Later in pregnancy, baby is “tasting” all the foods you eat (in the amniotic fluid), and therefore you could help to develop his or her healthy eating habits by getting them accustomed to healthy foods.
Here are the top 10 foods to eat as often as possible during pregnancy, that will give you and your baby the best nutrition. At the end of the article, I’m giving you a bonus 7 day meal plan for pregnancy, full of the foods listed here.
All leafy greens are ideal vegetables during pregnancy, but raw spinach is especially awesome because it has one of the highest amounts of folate found in any food. Folate (folic acid), as you may know, is super important for the unborn baby, and an adequate amount decreases the chance of birth defects, preterm labor, and pre-eclampsia. Spinach also contains just about every vitamin and mineral that you need for pregnancy, even calcium, which is why it’s considered a superfood. Throw a handful of raw spinach in a smoothie every morning (add frozen fruit and you’ll never taste the spinach, I promise), have a spinach and strawberry salad for lunch, or steam it as a side with your dinner, but try to get some in every day.
Eggs are an almost perfect food in that for very few calories and a low cost, you receive a relatively high amount of high quality protein and healthy fat (omega-3 eggs are best). Eggs also contain nutrients like iron, choline, and folate that keep your amniotic membranes strong and help prevent birth defects. Aim for 2 eggs every day WITH the yolks or you’ll miss out on the choline.
While I don’t eat much dairy, I am a huge fan of this versatile, fermented, high-protein, low calorie food and eat it twice a day at least. Aside from the fact that it can be made to sub for just about anything (sour cream, ranch dressing, alfredo sauce) greek yogurt promotes gut health for both you and your baby and is high in the all-important protein, which is building your baby cell by cell. It also provides a serving of calcium, important for bone health of you and baby. Enjoy greek yogurt with fruit and raw honey as a treat, in your morning smoothie, or as a topping for chili or tacos instead of sour cream.
Because of the higher demand for energy during pregnancy and greater oxygen use, our pregnant bodies produce more “free radicals”, which can be harmful to both you and baby. Berries and other foods high in antioxidants will remove the free radicals from your system, protecting you both. Studies show that these protective foods can prevent birth defects , so load up on the blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries every single day.
Brightly Colored Vegetables
To make sure you’re getting the most nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, all of which are important to your health and your baby’s health in different ways, eat a wide variety of colors when you choose vegetables. Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, asparagus, collard greens, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, kale, etc. can all rotate as a side dish to your lunch and dinner each day so that you’re getting a wide variety of color. Eat at least 5 servings of veggies per day, with 2 of those being dark green and leafy. Sound difficult? Throw spinach in your morning smoothie (1 serving), have a leafy green salad with tomatoes for lunch (2 servings), red peppers and hummus for a snack (1 serving), and a side of broccoli or other steamed veggie every night at dinner (1 serving).
Salmon or Fish Oil
I can’t stress the importance of the Omega-3 fats DHA and EPA during pregnancy enough. Aside from making your baby smarter, these healthy fats have been found to decrease inflammation in your body, lower the risk of post-partum depression, lower the risk of pre-term labor and pre-eclampsia, and even lower your baby’s chance of developing allergies later in life . Wild-caught salmon is an excellent source of Omega-3’s during pregnancy because of it’s low mercury content and high amount of protein . I also supplement with Cod Liver Oil daily, you can read about my choice and why it’s the only one I would recommend during pregnancy here.
Sweet Potatoes are high in fiber, which our bodies truly need during pregnancy as our intestines are being squashed and crowded. But they also contain carotenoids, which convert as needed to Vitamin A in our bodies. Sweet potatoes are also high in Vitamin C, which helps you to absorb iron and prevent anemia, a common diagnosis during pregnancy. Another benefit is the high amount of potassium, even higher than a banana, an electrolyte that will prevent leg cramps.
Protein is so important during pregnancy as it is the building block of life, literally building your baby inside of you. Lean meats are not only an excellent source of high-quality protein, but also contain other vital nutrients like choline, iron, and CLA, a healthy fat. The best lean meats are grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, turkey (NOT deli turkey or any deli meat for that matter), salmon, and lean pork.
Walnuts or Chia Seed
If you don’t like fish or want to take fish oil, you can still get a nice serving of omega-3 fats by consuming walnuts and chia seeds. While all nuts and seeds are excellent sources of fat and fiber during pregnancy, walnuts and chia seed should be included as often as possible because of this. I add chia seeds to my smoothie every morning, and throw walnuts on my salad anytime I have one.
*IMPORTANT NOTE* The original version of this article listed flaxseed instead of chia seed. As some commenters pointed out, there is a small body of research that showed flaxseed to have a negative impact on some animal pregnancies because it acts as estrogen in the body. While this has never been researched in human pregnancy and I myself took flaxseed throughout my 4th pregnancy with no problem, I removed it from the list. Whether or not the benefits of flaxseed outweigh the possible risks will have to be your own decision.
Beans and Lentils
Beans are a great plant-based source of protein, as well as fiber and other nutrients needed for pregnancy (iron, folate, zinc). They’re cheap and easy, and one type of bean, edamame (which is an immature soybean) even has a complete amino acid profile, the only plant-based food of it’s kind (make sure you buy organic, non-GMO). Zinc-rich foods like beans have been shown to prevent pre-term labor, pre-eclampsia, and low-birth weight babies.
Pregnancy Meal Plan Bonus
To give you a better idea of how to eat these foods in your daily meals, I’ve put together a free bonus for you. Download your free 7 day pregnancy meal plan by clicking here.