What to eat when pregnant

What to eat when pregnant

Whether you are planning pregnancy, already pregnant or breast feeding, healthy eating patterns are important for you and your baby. Although there will certainly be some nutrients you need more of, generally the key to eating well is including a variety of nutritious foods from the five major food groups each day to make sure you get a wide range of essential nutrients and energy. Remember that although some supplements like folic acid and iodine are recommended during pregnancy, most of the nutrients you and baby need will come from a balanced diet full of healthy food choices.

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Below is a list of food groups, and a guideline for how many serves you should aim for every day from the New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines serving advice for pregnancy.

Fruit

During pregnancy aim to eat at least two servings of fruit per day. Whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned (in juice, rather than syrup), choose a variety to provide different vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre.  Slice a pear over your morning muesli, throw a banana in your handbag for a mid-morning snack, or a mandarin for afternoon tea, and treat yourself to grapes or strawberries for dessert.

Vegetables

Eat at least five servings of vegetables per day. Have some carrot sticks for a snack, have a tomato or salad vegetables (washed and home prepared) in your lunch, include three different serves of vegetables with your dinner. Eating a variety of colourful veggies gives you and your baby a range of nutrients.  Frozen vegetables can be a great option – they are easy to store and always on hand and can offer seasonal variety.

Grain foods (e.g. breakfast cereals, breads, rice and pasta) 

Aim to eat eight and a half servings per day, choose mostly wholegrain and those naturally high in fibre. One serve is about the same as one slice of wholegrain bread, ½ medium wholegrain roll, 3 wholegrain crackers, or ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles, or 2 wheat biscuits. Simple staples like wheat biscuits, porridge and natural muesli are great way to start every day - they’re great value, filling and a wholegrain choice! Try grainy breads, brown rice or wholemeal pasta instead of white. Look at the ingredients and nutritional panel on the label and choose one with wholegrains and a higher fibre content, this is a better option than refined grains and also to help prevent the dreaded pregnancy constipation!

Protein foods – legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry and/or lean red meat

Aim for three and a half servings per day. One serving is about the same as 2 large eggs, or 1 cup of canned legumes, or 80g cooked chicken, or 30g nuts, seeds or nut butter, or 100g cooked fish, or 65g cooked lean red meat. These protein foods contain zinc, iron and other minerals which are important for baby’s development.  Look for lean meats with the fat trimmed off, and remove the skin from chicken for a lower fat option. For food safety in pregnancy avoid raw, cured and undercooked meat, including deli meats.

Cooked fish is an excellent food to eat while you are pregnant and breast feeding as it’s low in saturated fat, a source of protein, and certain varieties like salmon and tuna can provide omega-3 fatty acids. However, to be on the safe side, you’ll need to stick to canned or fresh cooked fish during pregnancy, rather than raw or smoked. In New Zealand recommended servings for different types of fish have also been developed for when you are pregnant to minimise mercury intakes. 

Legumes like beans and lentils are a source of protein and fibre. Try adding them to homemade rice dishes, curries or salads.

Milk and milk products (e.g. milk, cheese, yoghurt) 

Eat at least two and a half servings per day of low fat milk and milk products like yoghurt and cheese; these are great sources of calcium and protein. Within the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s bones will start to form so it’s important you have plenty of calcium stores in your body. Calcium is also important to help your baby’s muscle, heart and nerve development. If you like milk, try mixing with fruit to make smoothies, or yoghurt makes a great snack too. Choose pasteurized milk and hard cheeses like Edam or Cheddar or soft cheeses like cottage or cream cheese when you’re pregnant, and buy smaller blocks so you’re sure to be using it up while it’s still fresh.  Stay away from softer varieties like brie, camembert, blue, ricotta and mozzarella for the next 9 months, as these may contain listeria, a bacterium which can harm your unborn baby

If you don’t eat cow’s milk products, choose plant-based milk alternatives that are fortified with calcium and vitamin B12.  Fortified soy milk is recommended over other plant based milks because it is higher in energy and protein.

Other tips

Unless you have a pre-existing food allergy, there is no evidence that pregnant women need to avoid foods associated with allergies to prevent your baby from developing a food allergy.

Good calories – these are the ones that matter most! If you make up the bulk of your diet from nutritionally dense food it can help you keep your weight in check. It means you’re eating just what you need to, and not a load of extras.

Hollow victories – empty calories are simply that. These come from foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar, without much else in the way of nutrients. Examples include sugary drinks, biscuits, chocolate, chips and cakes.  So while you still need to burn them off, your body doesn’t get the benefit of a good range of nutrients.  Making these occasional treats, not regular snacks will help you maintain a balanced diet and appropriate weight gain.  Also prepare foods and drinks that are low in fat (especially saturated fats), and with little or no added sugar and salt.

Fluids

Drink plenty of water to keep well hydrated, in pregnancy aim for least nine cups of fluids (including plain water and milk) each day if you can.

Caffeine - too much caffeine can increase the risk of a low birth weight baby, and it’s also been linked with miscarriage. During pregnancy limit your caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day, and do not drink energy drinks.  This is roughly equivalent to 1 cappuccino or 4 cups of black tea.

Herbal teas – use these with caution as some can be harmful and should be avoided during pregnancy.  For further information on herbal tea varieties speak to your lead maternity caregiver. 

Avoid unpasteurized or raw milks or juices.

Alcohol – stop drinking alcohol if you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant.

References:

Ministry of Health.  2020.  Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults. Updated 2020. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

The materials published on this website are of a general nature and have been provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your medical practitioner or a qualified health provider for any further advice in relation to the topics discussed.

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