12 Pregnancy Diet Essentials – The best foods for you and your baby

Peanut butter? Milk? Fish? Find out what foods you should stock your pantry with for the next nine months. Nosh on our list of 12 delectible and healthy goodies to help both you and Baby get the nutrients you need throughout pregnancy.


Why you need it: Protein is essential to the very foundation of your baby’s growth. Eating enough protein ensures that your little one, from the very beginning, is getting adequate food stores to support cell growth and blood production.

Sources: Look for lean cuts of meat (be wary of lunchmeat, unless it is heated to steaming), fish low in mercury, poultry, egg whites, beans, peanut butter, tofu, and nuts (almonds and cashews are especially protein-rich).

Servings: The March of Dimes suggests all pregnant women eat two to three servings of protein daily. That’s equal to two ounces lean meat or poultry, two tablespoons nut butter, 1/2 cup beans (cooked or dried), or two eggs. (The US RDA for pregnant and lactating women is 38 to 45 grams of protein daily.)


Why you need it: To grow strong bones and teeth, and facilitate muscle contraction and nerve function, you and Baby need plenty of calcium.

Sources: Milk, cheese, yogurt, spinach, sardines, and salmon (with bones)

Servings: You’ll need two to three, 1-cup servings of milk or the equivalent (i.e., 1 ounce of cheese, 1 cup plain yogurt, or 1 cup of cottage cheese) every day. According to the US RDA for pregnant and lactating women, you should shoot for 1,200 mg of calcium daily (you can try taking supplements with meals throughout the day in 200- to 300-mg increments).

Fruits and Vegetables Rich in Vitamin C

Why you need it: The old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” holds true! This is especially so during pregnancy. Vitamin C helps you and your baby maintain healthy gums, teeth, and bones; and also assists with iron absorption.

Sources: Broccoli, cantaloupe, Brussels sprouts, honeydew melon, cauliflower, lemons, collard greens, oranges, green peppers, papaya, mustard greens, strawberries, potatoes, watermelon, tomatoes, spinach, and fortified fruit juices

Servings: You should get one to two 1/2-cup servings of fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C each day. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), pregnant women require 85 mg of vitamin C daily.

Fruits and Vegetables Rich in Beta Carotene

Why you need it: Beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, is great for healthy skin, good eyesight, and growing bones.

Sources: Broccoli, apricots, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, nectarines, chard, papaya, kale, peaches, sweet potatoes, watermelon, spinach, pumpkin, and winter squash

Servings: Two 1/2-cup servings from the above list of produce every other day, or one 1/2-cup serving daily. Your recommended daily allowence of beta carotene or vitamin A during pregnancy is 770 mcg.

Note: Excessive vitamin A intake (>10,000 IU/day) may be associated with fetal malformations; speak with your physician to find out just how much you should take in your prenatal and how many beta-carotene rich foods you should incorporate into your diet.


Why you need it: Going carb-free during pregnancy is not a good idea. You and your baby need those hearty grains! Carbs are important for helping you mainatin daily energy production.

Sources: Breads, cereals, rice, potatoes, pasta, fruits, and vegetables

Servings: The ACOG suggests you shoot for roughly six servings of carbs daily (one serving is roughly equal to one slice of bread, 3/4 cup dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal or grains).


Why you need it: Anemia can be a problem for pregnant women. Ensuring that you stay on top of your iron intake can help keep you from becoming anemic (your doctor will check for anemia throughout your pregnancy). Eating iron-rich foods facilitates red blood cell production (too much can make you feel constipated, though, so be sure to speak with your doctor about how much is best for you).

Sources: Lean red meat; spinach; and iron-fortified, whole-grain breads and cereals are all good sources for iron. You may also take a prenatal vitamin with extra iron (speak with your doctor first).

Servings: To get 30 mg, try for 3 to 4 ounces of meat, 1 cup beans, or 1/2 cup tofu or boiled greens daily. If your doctor recommends you take an iron supplement durring pregnancy, ACOG suggests you look for one that offers 27 mg daily.

Vitamin B6

Why you need it: In addition to helping your body manage stress, vitamin B6 also assists in red blood cell formation and effective use of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Sources: Whole-grain cereals and pasta, brown rice, lean meats (such as pork), poultry, fish, avocados, beans, potatoes, corn, bananas, and nuts

Servings: One potato, avocado, or banana; 1 cup of cereal, beans, or rice; 3 to 4 ounces of lean meat, fish, or poultry. The ACOG recommends all pregnant women get 1.9 mg of vitamin B6 daily.

Vitamin B12

Why you need it: B12 is essential in the formation of red blood cells. It also helps maintain your and your baby’s nervous system (which makes it wonderful for managing Mom-to-be-related stress).

Sources: Meat, fish, poultry, milk products, and fortified breakfast cereals

Note: If you’re a vegetarian and don’t eat any dairy products, it is important that you speak with your doctor about regularly taking a B12 supplement.

Servings: You’ll need to take in 2.6 mcg of B12 daily. That’s about 3 to 4 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish; 1 cup yogurt, 1 ounce of cheese; or 1 cup dry cereal daily.

Vitamin D

Why you need it: Both you and Baby need vitamin D to build and maintain healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D also helps the body’s absorption of calcium.

Sources: Only a few foods, like egg yolks, fatty fish, and cod liver oil, naturally contain vitamin D. It is often added to fortify milk, dairy products, breads and cereals, too. Sunlight is another good source of vitamin D.

Servings: In addition to the recommended daily allowance for dairy, breads, and cereals, you can ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D by adding one teaspoon (15 mL) of cod liver oil to your daily diet (you’ll need 5 mcg of vitamin D daily during pregnancy). Or be outside for 25 minutes each day and enjoy sun on your face and hands. These simple tricks can help your body synthesize a sufficient amount of vitamin D.

Folic Acid

Why you need it: The March of Dimes recommends that all women trying to conceive or who are pregnant take folic acid to lessen the possiblity of their babies developing birth defects. Folic acid, a B vitamin, also helps blood and protein production and encourages effective enzyme function.

Sources: Shop for green leafy vegetables, dark yellow fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, and nuts.

Servings: Two cups fresh leafy greens (or 1 cup boiled greens); 1 cup beans, peas, or nuts; and one orange, tomato, or carrot. Doctors also recommend that all pregnant women, as well as those trying to conceive, take a supplement containing 400 mcg of folic acid.

Healthy Fats

Why you need it: Believe it or not, fat should be a part of your pregnancy diet. But make sure it is the right kind of fat (avoid trans fats and look for omega-3s and unsaturated fats).

Sources: Meat, fish, whole-milk dairy products, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, olive and canola oils

Servings: Two servings of fatty fish per week; salmon is a good choice during pregnancy. Be sure to limit fat intake to 30 percent or less of your total daily calorie intake. (If you’re eating about 2,000 calories a day, this would be 65 grams of fat or less.)


Why you need it: Staying hydrated during pregnancy is essential. Water provides your body with a path for transporting nutrients for you and your growing baby. Water feeds your and Baby’s cells, balances your bodies’ acids and salts, and contributes to the cushioning of your cells and organs. Drinking plenty of water also ensures that your baby will have a good level of fluid in which to grow and develop in your womb.

Sources: Although some foods are rich in water (watermelon, for example), drinking water is your best bet.

Servings: You’ll need to drink eight to 12, 8-ounce glasses of water every day.

More Information

Healthy eating is imperative during pregnancy. For more information on how best to nourish yourself and your growing baby, be sure to read:

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