What to Eat in the First Trimester — A Food & Nutrient Guide for Pregnancy
Pregnancy places increased demands on your body as it works to support both you and your growing baby. Eating correctly throughout pregnancy is vital to ensure you’re providing the nutrients needed for your baby’s growth and development, and your first trimester is the perfect time to get started on a healthy pregnancy diet.
First Trimester Nutrition: Essential Nutrients
Wondering what to eat in the first trimester of pregnancy? Take a look at our list of the best first trimester foods, and read on for ways to ensure you’re getting the calories and nutrition you need as you begin your pregnancy.
Calorie needs don’t change much in the beginning of a healthy pregnancy; most women in the first trimester need the same number of calories as non-pregnant women. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise the following calorie intake during pregnancy:
- 2,000 kcal/day for women ages 19–30
- 1,800 kcal/day for women ages 31–50
Focus on eating lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy foods. It’s also wise to limit added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, and alcoholic beverages.
Before and during pregnancy, prenatal supplements are recommended because they contain nutrients in the levels needed to support your baby’s growth and development. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine which prenatal supplement is best for you.
Choline is one of the most important nutrients for a healthy pregnancy because without it, your baby’s brain, spinal cord, and nervous system can’t develop properly.
Choline is known as a one-carbon nutrient. Other one-carbon nutrients that play key roles in fetal development include betaine, methionine, folate, and other B vitamins. One carbon-nutrients are critical for the formation of your baby’s DNA, nerve cells, and cell membranes.
How Much Choline Do You Need?
The Dietary Guidelines advise pregnant women to consume 450 milligrams per day of choline. Choline is found in meat, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, and some prenatal supplements.
Top Food Sources of Choline
Folate is a B vitamin and one-carbon nutrient essential for the formation of your baby’s brain and nervous system. Inadequate folate intake by mothers during pregnancy places their babies at higher risk of the neural tube defects spina bifida and anencephaly.
While folate is important throughout pregnancy, the most critical period for adequate folate intake is during the first six weeks of your baby’s development, when the neural tube is forming. Fortification of foods with folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies.
How Much Folate Do You Need?
The recommended daily intake (RDI) of folate during pregnancy is 600 micrograms. You can find this nutrient in dark leafy green vegetables, fruit, fruit juice, nuts, beans, seafood, eggs, dairy, meat, and poultry.
Top Food Sources of Folate
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women planning to become pregnant consume at least 400 mcg of folic acid per day, through either food or supplements, for the following reasons:
- You need to build your body’s stores of folate before your baby starts growing.
- The neural tube completes its development around the sixth week of conception, at a stage when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant.
Your blood volume increases during pregnancy, requiring more dietary iron to support greater production of red blood cells.
How Much Iron Do You Need?
The recommended daily intake of iron during pregnancy is 27 milligrams. Iron is found in meat, seafood, beans, lentils, whole grains, vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals and breads.
Top Food Sources of Iron
Iodine supports healthy thyroid function. In the first trimester, your baby’s thyroid isn’t fully developed, and your thyroid also supports your baby. Iodine also helps your baby’s brain, central nervous system, and bones develop properly.
How Much Iodine Do You Need?
Throughout pregnancy, you need to consume 290 micrograms of iodine each day. Iodine is fairly widespread in foods; you can find significant amounts in iodized table salt, dairy, eggs, and seafood.
Top Food Sources of Iodine
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid, and it plays key roles in your baby's brain and eye development.
How Much DHA Do You Need?
Aim for about 200 milligrams of DHA per day from either food or supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood, flaxseed, chia seeds, and fortified dairy and eggs. When eating seafood while pregnant, avoid high mercury fish such as king mackerel, shark and swordfish. DHA supplements are a safe way to make sure you’re getting enough of this essential fatty acid without the possibility of high mercury levels.
Top Food Sources of DHA
The Bottom Line About Nutrition in the First Trimester
Proper nutrition during pregnancy is vital for your baby’s development and your health. It’s important to know what to eat in the first trimester, as it’s a short but critical window of time to make sure you and your little one are off to a great start with the right nutrients in the proper amounts.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S Department of Health and Human Services (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans-2020-2025.pdf
- Mayo Clinic. Prenatal Supplements: Why They Matter, How to Choose. (2022, April 19). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-vitamins/art-20046945
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Nutrition During Pregnancy and Lactation: Exploring New Evidence: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington (DC): National Academies Press. (2020, Jul 31). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562637/
- Mayo Clinic. Pregnancy Week by Week. (2022, June 3). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-care/art-20045302
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 17). Key Findings: Folic Acid Fortification Continues to Prevent Neural Tube Defect. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/features/folicacid-prevents-ntds.html
- National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2021). Folate. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
- Mayo Clinic. Folate (Folic Acid). (2021, February 23). https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-folate/art-20364625
- National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2022). Iodine. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/
- National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements (2022). Omega-3 Fatty Acids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
- Coletta, Jaclyn M., Bell, Stacey J, and Roman, Ashley S. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Pregnancy. (2010). Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 3: 4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3046737/
- Federal Drug Administration (2021). Advice about Eating Fish. https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish