What Your Pregnancy Diet Should Consist of - A Prenatal Nutrition Guide

June 6, 2023

Nutrition during pregnancy is important for helping your baby grow and develop appropriately. You should eat a balanced diet with lean meats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy while limiting added sugar, high-sodium foods, and saturated fats. Some important nutrients to get during pregnancy includes carbohydrates, protein, Vitamins A, C, E, and D, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Other essential nutrients for pregnancy, called 1-carbon nutrients, include folate, vitamins B6 and B12, and choline. Below shows why these nutrients are important for you and your baby, what food sources these nutrients come from, and how much of these nutrients you should be getting each day.

What Are Some Essential Nutrients Needed for Pregnancy?

Carbohydrates

Your body uses carbohydrates as fuel. When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose, which goes into your placenta to help your baby grow and develop.[18] The amount of carbohydrates needed can vary with each person, but you should get about 175 to 210 grams of carbohydrates each day.[19] This may change if you have been diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes. If you have Gestational Diabetes, a Registered Dietitian can help with finding the right amount of carbohydrates for your body. Carbohydrate foods include cereals, breads, pastas, potatoes, fruits and crackers.[18]

Protein

Protein is an important part of prenatal nutrition, it will help your body make cells for your baby to allow for growth and development of their organs, especially the brain. It will also help your baby’s immune system by forming their DNA. Protein helps your body produce collagen, which helps your uterus grow appropriately for your baby. Some studies have shown that getting the right amount of protein may decrease your risk for swelling later in your pregnancy. Protein also helps with your blood sugar and keeps you fuller longer. Protein needs can vary by weight and activity, so it’s important to speak to a Registered Dietitian if you have any questions. [16] In general, it’s recommended to eat 75 to 100 grams of protein each day. Protein is found in meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt and legumes. [17]

Folic Acid

Folic acid (sometimes referred to as folate) is a B vitamin and is an essential nutrient to help prevent brain and spinal defects in your baby. It also helps your placenta grow to nourish your baby. It’s vital for women who are thinking of becoming pregnant to get enough folic acid as major congenital disabilities generally form early on in pregnancy.[1] It is found in fortified cereals, bread, and pasta, as well as green leafy vegetables, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans, fruit, and fruit juice. High levels of folate are found in spinach, liver, and asparagus.[2] You should be getting 600 micrograms each day. Sometimes it’s hard to get this nutrient through food alone; because of this, you should talk to your provider about taking a prenatal supplement.[3]

Iron

When you’re pregnant, you have extra blood in your system to support you and your baby. Iron is important to make the extra blood you need and ensure your baby gets oxygen to their red blood cells. If you have iron deficiency, your baby is at risk of being born prematurely, with low birth weight, low iron, or decreased cognitive development.3 Lean meat and seafood are richer sources of iron; however, other sources include beans, green leafy vegetables, lentils, and fortified bread and cereals.[4] You should be getting 27 milligrams of iron each day.[3]

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a key part of nutrition during pregnancy, as it helps develop your baby’s gums, teeth, and bones; in addition, it has antioxidant properties and supports your immune system. Vitamin C will also help you absorb plant-based sources of iron. The best sources of vitamin C come from fruits and vegetables. Some examples include peppers, oranges, grapefruit juice, broccoli, potatoes, strawberries, and cantaloupe.[5] You should be getting 85 milligrams each day.[3]

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps develop your baby’s bones and teeth as well as make sure they have healthy skin and eyes. It also helps your body absorb calcium.[6] Vitamin D is primarily from sunlight but is also in food sources like fortified milk, salmon, sardines, fortified cereals, and egg yolks. You should be aiming for 600 international units each day.[3]

Calcium

Calcium is important for building your baby’s bones and teeth. Most of the calcium in your body is in your bones and teeth. Food sources such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are rich in calcium. If you don’t eat dairy, you can still get some calcium from food like dark leafy greens, salmon with bones, sardines, tofu, fortified juice, and cereals. You should be getting about 1000 milligrams of calcium per day. [7]

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for your baby’s skin, eyes, and bones to develop. In addition, it’s also important for your immune system and to keep your organs healthy. It is found in green leafy vegetables, orange foods like carrots and sweet potatoes, dairy products, liver, fish, and eggs.[8] You should be getting 770 micrograms each day.[3]

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another vitamin with antioxidant properties and supports your immune system. It helps make red blood cells and muscle tissue for your baby.[9] Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, sunflower seeds, tree nuts, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals. You should be getting 15 milligrams of vitamin E daily.[10]

Supplement

Sources

Amount Needed Each Day

Carbohydrates

Cereals, Breads, Pastas, Potatoes, Fruit, Crackers

175-210 gm*

Protein

Meat, Poultry, Seafood, Eggs, Cheese, Milk, Yogurt, Legumes

75-100 gm**

Folic Acid

Fortified cereals, Breads, Pastas, Green leafy vegetables, Seafood, Eggs, Nuts, Beans, Fruit, Fruit Juice

600 mcg

Iron

Lean meat, Seafood, Beans, Green leafy vegetables, Lentils, Fortified breads & cereals

27 mg

Vitamin C

Peppers, Oranges, Grapefruit juice, Broccoli, Potatoes, Strawberries, Cantaloupe

85 mg

Vitamin D

Fortified milk, Salmon, Sardines, Fortified cereals, Egg yolks

600 IU

Calcium

Milk, Yogurt, Cheese, Dark leafy greens, Salmon w/ bones, Sardines, Tofu, Fortified juice, Cereals

1000 mg

Vitamin A

Green leafy vegetables, Carrots, Sweet potatoes, Dairy products, Liver, Fish, Eggs

770 mcg

Vitamin E

Vegetable oils, Sunflower seeds, Tree nuts, Green leafy vegetables, Fortified cereals

15 mg

Iodine

Seaweed, Iodized salt, Seafood, Dairy, Eggs, Enriched breads

220 mcg

Vitamin B6

Fish, Beef liver, Chickpeas, Starchy vegetables, Fortified cereals

1.9 mg

Vitamin B12

Beef liver, Milk, Beef, Salmon, Fortified cereals, Cheese, Strawberries, Bananas

2.6 mcg

Magnesium

Green leafy vegetables, Legumes, Dairy, Whole Grains, Seeds, Nuts

350-400 mg

Zinc

Meat, Seafood, Poultry, Eggs, Dairy, Beans, Nuts, Whole grains

11 mg

Choline

Meat, Beef Liver, Eggs, Dairy, Fish, Poultry, Beans, Nuts, Seeds, Whole grains

450 mg

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Salmon, Sardines, Shrimp, Flaxseed, Chia seeds, Canola oil, Walnuts, Beans, Eggs

8-12 oz 2x/week

*Varies based on weight, activity levels and if you have gestational diabetes. 

**Varies based on weight and activity levels 

What Are Other Nutrients to Include in Your Prenatal Nutrition Plan?

Iodine

Iodine is important for developing your baby’s brain and helps prevent intellectual disabilities. It’s also important for the regulation of your thyroid hormone.3 Previous studies have shown that pregnant women do not consume enough iodine sources, putting them at risk for iodine deficiency. If you are iodine deficient, adverse effects are not able to be reversed. Some of these risks include developmental deficits, low growth, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Seaweed has very high amounts of iodine. Other food sources are iodized salt, seafood, dairy, eggs, and enriched bread.[11] You should be getting 220 micrograms of iodine each day.[3]

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps make your baby’s red blood cells, helps you use energy from carbohydrates, protein, and fat and may help with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It’s also important to support your cognitive development and your immune system. Food sources with vitamin B6 include fish, beef liver, chickpeas, starchy vegetables, and fortified cereals. You should be getting 1.9 milligrams each day.[12]

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 also helps create your baby’s red blood cells, helps their nervous system to function properly, and helps their DNA form. Vitamin B12 is also important to support your central nervous system. Foods include beef liver, milk, beef, salmon, fortified cereal, cheese, strawberries, and bananas. You should be getting 2.6 micrograms each day. [13]

Magneseum

A recent study has shown that magnesium supplementation may prevent complications in your pregnancy and may prevent intrauterine growth restriction. The same study also showed that it might help prevent preeclampsia.[21] Magnesium helps maintain your muscles, nerves, blood sugar and blood pressure. It is best to get most of your magnesium from food sources instead of supplements, as too much from supplements may cause diarrhea. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, legumes, dairy, whole grains, seeds and nuts. You should be getting 350 to 400 milligrams of magnesium each day.[20]

Zinc

Zinc helps your baby grow and develop and may help prevent a low birth weight. [22] It also builds DNA and produces new cells for your growing baby. [23] Zinc may also help prevent preeclampsia. Zinc is rich in meat, seafood and poultry. It is also in eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and whole grains. If you are a vegetarian, you may have a lower intake of zinc as you aren’t eating meat. You should be getting 11 milligrams of zinc daily.[22]

Choline

Choline also helps your baby’s brain and spine development, as well as helps prevent birth defects. Choline supports your brain for muscle control, memory and mood as well.[14] Oftentimes, there isn’t enough choline in prenatal vitamins, so it’s important to have a varied diet. Choline is in many foods and is found in meat, beef liver, eggs, dairy, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grain foods. [14] You should be getting 450 milligrams each day.[3]

If you’re interested in using your genetics to personalize your nutrition during pregnancy, read more about why you should screen before choosing a prenatal.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are made up of many compounds, the most researched being alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Overall, omega-3 fatty acids are an important nutrient for pregnant women and one to ensure you get enough of; however, DHA is very important to help your baby’s brain development and for your baby to grow properly. DHA also helps make other compounds in your body that support your immune system, endocrine system, and much more. 

Some studies have shown that getting a combination of DHA & EPA supplement of fish oil had heavier babies at birth and fewer preterm deliveries. DHA food sources include fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and shrimp. Other omega-3 food sources include flaxseed, chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts, beans, and eggs.[15] You should be eating two servings of 8-12 ounces two times each week.[3]

Best Foods for Prenatal Nutrition

As seen above, many nutrients are important to help your baby grow and develop. The table below summarizes where the nutrients are found and how much you need. The nutrients you need to support your baby’s growth increase from when you aren’t pregnant. Nutrition for pregnant women is highly important, and often it’s hard to get all these nutrients through food, so a prenatal supplement may be beneficial. Prenatal vitamins can vary in nutrients, and some may even make you nauseous. Be sure you talk to your provider about taking a prenatal supplement that will work for you and incorporating the right pregnancy foods into your diet. Get the Genate Test to determine if you have any nutritional deficiencies, and discuss the best pregnancy diet with your healthcare provider or nutritionist.

Citations:

  • Centers for Disease Control. (2022, June 15). Folic Acid. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html.
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 29). Folate. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2022, March). Nutrition During Pregnancy. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, April 5). Iron. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Vitamin C. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 2). Vitamin D. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 2). Calcium. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 15). Vitamin A and Carotenoids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
  • American Pregnancy Association. (no date). Pregnancy Vitamins and Nutrients. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/pregnancy-vitamins-nutrients/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2021, March 26). Vitamin E. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, April 28). Iodine. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 2). Vitamin B6. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB6-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, March 9). Vitamin B12. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 2). Choline. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-HealthProfessional/
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, July 18). Omega-3 Fatty Acids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/
  • CentreSpring MD. (no date). Integrative OB/GYN: Eat more protein for a healthy pregnancy. https://centrespringmd.com/integrative-ob-gyn-eat-more-protein-for-a-healthy-pregnancy/
  • American Pregnancy Association. (no date). Pregnancy Nutrition: Healthy Eating While Pregnant. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/pregnancy-nutrition/
  • AptaNutrition. (no date). The importance of carbohydrates during pregnancy. https://nutricia.com.au/aptamil/parents-corner/becoming-mum/importance-carbohydrates-pregnancy/
  • Food Insight. (2016, July 21). Healthy Eating During Pregnancy. https://foodinsight.org/healthy-eating-during-pregnancy/#:~:text=For%20most%20people%2C%20carbohydrates%20should,grams%20of%20carbohydrates%20per%20day.
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, June 2). Magnesium. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
  • Zarean, E. and Taran, A. (2017). Effect of Magnesium Supplementation on Pregnancy Outcomes: A Randomized Control Trial. Advanced Biomedical Research, 6: 109. 
  • National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, August 2). Zinc. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/ 
  • Harvard School of Public Health. (no date). Zinc. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc 
  • More Articles:

    Benefits of DHA and Phosphatidylcholine in Pregnancy | Genate
    Health Benefits of DHA and Phosphatidylcholine During Pregnancy Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and phosphatidylcholine are two nutrients with multiple benefits, including...
    Are You Actually Pregnant? 5 Symptoms That Mimic Pregnancy
    Are You Actually Pregnant? 5 Symptoms That Mimic Pregnancy By: Jordan Stachel, RDN Medically Reviewed By: Cara Everett, MS, RDN,...
    The Benefits of Betaine for Your Pregnancy
    The Benefits of Betaine for Your Pregnancy  Getting the right nutrition through food and supplements is critical for a healthy...

    Take the Genate Test

    Learn how to tailor your pregnancy nutrition to your unique genetic signature.