You can optimize your own health and your baby’s future health by eating a nutritious, balanced diet throughout pregnancy.

Eating regular nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day is vital during pregnancy to keep your energy levels up, and to provide your growing baby with all he needs to develop well.

In recent years, much has been learned about what constitutes a healthy diet in pregnancy. In addition to the importance of nutrients such as folic acid, there is mounting evidence that a person’s health may be influenced by the mother’s diet in pregnancy, including whether particular nutrients were received at certain times. Current thinking is that good nutrition in pregnancy may reduce a baby’s future risk of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

In addition to influencing your baby’s health, good nutrition in pregnancy also optimizes your health, helping you to deal with the demands of pregnancy.

A healthy diet

Getting the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in pregnancy is simple, since the ratios are the same in pregnancy as at other times: 45–65 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates; 20–35 percent from fats; and 10–35 percent from protein. The components of these nutrients don’t need to be in this exact ratio for each meal, or even every day, but you should aim to achieve this balance over the course of a week. A diet that includes plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and good proteins and fats will automatically contain the proper mix of nutrients.


Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel for you and for your baby since they are broken down into glucose, which passes easily across the placenta. Try to get six servings a day, a serving being equivalent to a slice of bread, 2 oz (60 g) of cereal, or five crackers.

Carbohydrates are divided into two subgroups: refined and unrefined. In general, white is bad when it comes to carbohydrates, since refined foods such as white rice and white breads are rapidly broken down and enter the bloodstream in the form of a spike of glucose. It is thought that this spike may have health risks for mother and baby, producing larger babies with a subsequent risk of obesity later in life.

Unrefined carbohydrates are less processed, so they break down more slowly in the bloodstream and release glucose steadily. They are also a good source of fiber, which helps prevent constipation. These are a healthier choice, and at least half, if not all, of your carbohydrates should come from unrefined (whole grain) sources. such as whole-wheat or multigrain bread; brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and cereals.


Protein is essential for the growth of the baby and the placenta, as well as for your health. Pregnant women need around 6-61/2 oz each day. Aim for two to three servings of protein-rich foods a day, a typical serving being 3 oz (85 g) red meat, or 5 oz (150 g) fish. Since most adults get about 31/2 oz (100 g) of protein daily, there is usually no need to increase your intake, especially if you have protein at each meal. If you’re vegetarian, in addition to protein at each meal, you should have a protein-containing snack. If you’re having twins or more, ask your doctor how much protein to consume and when breast-feeding, 61/2 oz (185 g) daily.

Choose protein sources that contain less saturated fat, such as skinless chicken, lean beef and pork, tofu, low-fat cheese and yogurt, and skim milk. Fish, nuts, and seeds contain healthier unsaturated fatsalthough your intake of some fish should be limited since they contain mercury, which could be harmful to your baby (see Dietary precautions).


Fats contain vitamins and contribute to the healthy development of cells. However, although fats make a useful contribution to overall nutrition, their intake needs to be limited. Choose healthier unsaturated fats, found in foods such as fish and some types of oil, over unhealthy saturated fats found in whole milk dairy products, meat, or trans fats found in processed foods.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Studies suggest that the development of the baby’s nervous system may be boosted by omega 3 fatty acids, the richest source of which is found in fatty fish. Avoid fish that are high in mercury (see Dietary precautions) and opt instead for salmon and anchovies, which are good, safe sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Wild salmon is very rich in omega 3, but farm-raised salmon is also a good source. Other sources include omega 3-enriched eggs, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, and omega 3 supplements and prenatal vitamins containing omega 3 fatty acids.

Dairy products

These are an important component of the diet since they provide a good supply of proteins and fats, as well as calcium and some vitamins. Calcium is essential for the healthy development of bones and teeth. Opt for low-fat dairy products and low-fat or skim milk. Aim for 2–3 servings each day, a typical serving being 1 oz (30 g) of hard cheese, or 1 cup (200 ml) milk.

Vitamins and minerals

In pregnancy, you need to ensure a rich supply of vitamins and minerals, since these are important for your own health and for your developing baby. They support the healthy functioning of body systems and contain antioxidants, which protect the body against the effects of harmful chemicals called free radicals. Good sources of the most important vitamins and minerals are given below. As long as you eat a varied diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, you should be getting all you need, with a couple of exceptions. It can be hard to get enough iron in your diet to meet the demands of pregnancy. Your iron levels will be checked during pregnancy and supplements may be recommended. You’ll also need a folic acid supplement before conceiving and in early pregnancy (see Folate and folic acid).

Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will help optimize your health during pregnancy because your body will be equipped with all the essential vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin A

This is important for healthy eyes, skin, and hair; it’s found in orange fruit and vegetables, such as apricots, peppers, carrots, and tomatoes.

Vitamin B

This contributes to the healthy functioning of body systems, and helps the body fight infection. Good sources include bananas, milk, whole grains, cheese, and cabbage.

Vitamin C

This aids the absorption of iron and helps fight infection. Rich sources include citrus fruits, kiwis, peppers, broccoli, and spinach.

Vitamin D

This helps the absorption of calcium. Food sources include eggs and dark leafy green vegetables, and it is also obtained from sunlight. Women with limited exposure to sunlight, who are housebound, predominantly covered when outdoors, or from Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, or the Caribbean should take a 10 mg vitamin D supplement daily.

Vitamin E

This vitamin contains antioxidants and keeps skin, hair, and muscles healthy. Good sources of vitamin E include nuts and seeds.

Folate and folic acid

Studies have shown that sufficient amounts of the B vitamin folic acid, or its natural form folate, can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, by up to 50 percent. In these defects, the embryonic neural tube fails to close properly during the first four weeks of pregnancy, leading to incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord. Folate helps the neural tube close and pregnant women are advised to eat a folate-rich diet. Foods high in folate include green leafy vegetables, legumes; and fortified cereals. It may not be possible to get sufficient folate through diet alone, so women are also advised to take a folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms before conception and during the first trimester.


This is needed for hemoglobin production in red blood cells. Sources include meat, fish, chicken, eggs, dried apricots, spinach, and broccoli.


This is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Sources include dairy products, eggs, fortified cereals, and leafy green vegetables.


This helps maintain a healthy immune system. Sources include seafood and nuts.

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