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Nutrition During Pregnancy: What You Should and Shouldn't Eat

Posted January 23, 2023 by Phillip Dayley, D.O.

Pregnant woman wearing yellow eating a salad

You’re pregnant, so you can now “eat for two,” as the popular saying goes, right? Not quite. While pregnancy increases your body’s need for extra calories and nutrition, eating double the calories could cause you to gain an excessive amount of weight.

To maintain a healthy pregnancy, you only need about 350 extra calories each day — and maybe slightly more during your third trimester. That’s roughly the number of calories in a half a sandwich and glass of skim milk.

It’s not just about how much you eat during pregnancy, but also what you eat. Good nutrition is essential for a healthy mom and growing baby. That’s why these extra calories should come from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while keeping sweets and fats to a minimum. In fact, studies show what you eat can directly impact your developing fetus.

So as your hunger and cravings increase, Summa Health offers guidelines on what you should and shouldn’t eat during pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy diet not only promotes your baby’s growth and development in-utero, but also can set the stage for healthy eating after your baby is born.

Foods to eat during pregnancy

While pregnant, the principles of healthy eating remain the same: a diet full of fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy. However, there are a few nutrients that deserve extra attention, including folic acid for brain and spinal health; calcium and vitamin D for strong bones; protein for growth; and iron for red blood cell production.

So during pregnancy, make sure you’re eating a variety of:

  • Vegetables for vitamin A, potassium, calcium and folic acid: good choices include carrots, sweet potatoes, red sweet peppers and green leafy vegetables, including spinach, kale and arugula.
  • Fresh fruits for potassium and folic acid: good choices include cantaloupe, mangos, prunes, bananas, apples, oranges, grapefruit and berries.
  • Low-fat dairy for calcium, vitamin A and D, and potassium: good choices include low-fat yogurt, skim milk or soymilk, and cheese.
  • Whole grains for iron and folic acid: good choices include oatmeal, brown rice, whole grain pasta and breads.
  • Lean proteins for amino acids and iron: good choices include beans, chicken and turkey, lean red meat, nuts and seeds, eggs, salmon and trout.

Most providers recommend a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy to ensure your nutritional needs are met. Just remember, the prenatal vitamin does not replace a healthy diet.

Food to avoid during pregnancy

During pregnancy, it’s a good idea to limit foods and beverages that are higher in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium. In addition, there are certain foods you should avoid because mom and baby are more susceptible to the effects of foodborne illnesses.

So while pregnant, stay away from:

  • Unpasteurized milk, including foods made with unpasteurized milk, such as soft cheeses (feta, brie and blue cheeses).
  • Hot dogs and deli meats. However, there is an exception if these meats are heated until steaming hot.
  • Raw or undercooked meat and seafood, including uncooked sushi. Meat should be cooked to the recommended safe minimum internal temperature. Also, avoid foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs, including mousse or cookie dough.
  • Pâté, meat spreads and smoked meats.
  • Some types of fish that have higher levels of mercury, which has been linked to birth defects, such as bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, swordfish and shark.

Eating well is one of the best things you can do for your baby — and you. Making nutritious choices also strengthens your body to handle the extra demands on it as your pregnancy progresses.


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