You may have heard that there is a special diet that you should follow when you are pregnant. While it is true that there are some foods that are best avoided, generally speaking you don’t have to make any big changes to what you eat or drink as long as you are getting a variety of healthy foods. It is important that you get enough nutrients and fluids to support your health and your growing and developing baby.
What foods do I need to avoid?
When thinking about foods to avoid during pregnancy, it is important to think about food safety. There are certain foods that are more likely to contain harmful bacteria; these foods might make a healthy person feel unwell, but can cause more severe effects in someone with a compromised immune system or a pregnant person or developing fetus. These foods include:
- Raw or undercooked meat or fish such as sushi, sashimi, or poke made from raw fish, raw oysters, meat such as steak or hamburger cooked rare or medium rare, carpaccio, tartare.
- Undercooked or raw eggs such as in cookie dough
- Cold hot dogs and deli meat; these are fine to eat as long as they have been heated to steaming
- Raw sprouts; these are also fine as long as they have been cooked thoroughly. Pay attention to the news or sign up for FDA alerts to learn about fruit or vegetables that may have been recalled due to a bacteria outbreak.
- Raw or unpasteurized dairy products such as raw milk, soft raw cheese (check the Nutrition Facts Label to see if a cheese was made using pasteurized milk)
Make sure to pay attention to general food safety guidance as well while you are pregnant, such as washing your hands before eating, keeping perishable foods at a safe temperature, and cooking fish and meat to a safe internal temperature.
The other category of food to pay attention to during pregnancy is fish. Certain types of fish that tend to live lower in the water naturally have higher levels of mercury. These fish to avoid when pregnant include shark, swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, orange roughy, and tilefish.
What should I be eating?
While pregnant, try to eat a variety of food including plenty of colorful fruits, vegetables, and a variety of whole grains, protein foods, and fat sources. Variety means that you are getting different foods for each meal and it is changing daily. This gives your body a chance to get lots of diverse, important nutrients. For example, for protein instead of having chicken for dinner each night, you might have fish one night, tofu or beans another night, pork the next night, etc. For whole grains one night might be whole wheat pasta, the next night quinoa, the next night brown rice.
Folic acid, found in green leafy vegetables and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, is especially important during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Iron, calcium, and vitamin D are also important nutrients during pregnancy and can be found in a variety of foods in addition to a prenatal vitamin.
A pregnant person has increased caloric needs, and you may be hungrier during this time, especially during the second and third trimesters. Calorie needs increase by around 350-500 calories/day during the second two trimesters.
What should I be drinking?
Fluid intake is important to stay hydrated during pregnancy. Getting enough water can also help prevent or alleviate symptoms of some common pregnancy related side effects like heart burn and constipation.
Any amount of alcohol and high levels of caffeine should be avoided during pregnancy.
What if I feel sick?
As your body’s hormones fluctuate, it is normal to feel aversions to certain foods as well as feeling nauseous or having heartburn, reflux, or other symptoms that affect appetite. Depending on your symptoms and what appeals to you in the moment, try to ensure that you’re getting enough food and fluids without worrying too much about the nutritional breakdown. Generally, foods that are easier to digest such as plain crackers, rice, bananas, toast, and applesauce can help an upset stomach. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you’re unable to keep any food or fluids down.