Healthy Eating

Everything you need to know about having a healthy pregnancy.


If you're like many pregnant women, you vowed to eat healthier the minute you found out you were expecting. You may have even started making a mental list of nutritional do's and don'ts: Eat more calcium-rich foods, get more protein, cut out the caffeine and junk foods. Healthy eating habits on your part will set the stage for your baby to grow into a strong child and adult and ultimately reduce his risk for certain diseases. Scientific research continues to show that a prenatal diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is key in preventing heart disease, diabetes, obesity and many types of cancer. Here's advice on what to eat—and what to avoid—for a healthy pregnancy.

DO choose foods that do double duty. "Eat nutrient-dense foods," says Heidi Reichenberger, M.S., R.D., a Boston-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "They will end up meeting more than one nutritional need at a time." For example, milk provides calcium and plenty of protein. Lean pork and beef offer protein, along with B vitamins, iron and zinc. Orange juice fills you with folate plus vitamin C; and vitamin C helps you to absorb iron from foods such as fiber-rich black beans. Whole grains are filled with fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc.

DON'T fill up on empty calories. Candy, cake, cookies and ice cream definitely don't count as double-duty, nutrient-rich foods. It's OK to have them during pregnancy—but in moderation, says Reichenberger. "If you're eating an excessive amount of sweets during pregnancy, you are either replacing nutrient-dense foods or getting too many overall calories," she says.

DO remember that you're not really eating for two. "The old adage that you're eating for two is not accurate," says Scott Logan, M.D., an OB-GYN at Lake Forest Hospital in Chicago. "One of the major problems we see with pregnant women is overeating." Indeed, many moms-to-be don't realize that they need only 300 extra calories a day—and only in the second and third trimesters. "But many women eat more than the additional 300 calories a day during that time," Logan says. And most end up gaining more than the recommended 25 to 35 pounds.

DON'T forget to take your prenatal vitamin. A daily prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement acts as a safeguard, providing nutrients—vitamins, folate, iron and more—beyond what you'll get from meals and snacks. "Iron is especially important, since it combats anemia," says Reichenberger. "And since blood volume increases significantly during pregnancy, more iron is needed."

DO focus on food groups. Along with taking your prenatal supplement, the best way to ensure that you'll get all the right nutrients is to eat the following daily:

  • 9 servings from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group
  • 6 ounces of animal protein or its equivalent from the meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts group
  • 4 servings from the vegetable group
  • 3 servings from the fruit group
  • 3 servings from the milk, yogurt and cheese group

DON'T forget water and fiber-rich foods. Drink plenty of liquids—at least eight glasses daily—to help support your increased blood volume, Reichenberger says. These extra fluids can also help prevent constipation, as can high-fiber foods. That means eating whole-wheat and whole-grain breads and pastas, and lots of fruits and vegetables.

"I suggest snacks that are filled with fiber, such as a bowl of cereal," Logan says. Aim for at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber every day (3¼4 cup of bran cereal, for example, equals 5 grams).

DO avoid uncooked and unpasteurized foods. Stay away from uncooked, unpasteurized cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, feta, blue-veined and Mexican-style cheeses. These products can harbor listeria, a bacterium that can cause food-borne illness. Deli meats may also pose a risk, so buy prepackaged cold cuts rather than those from the deli counter.

In addition, never eat raw or undercooked meat, sushi, seafood or eggs during pregnancy. Also steer clear of fish that may contain excessive amounts of mercury, such as shark, king mackerel, tilefish, swordfish and tuna. Limit shellfish and canned fish to 12 ounces a week. And avoid alcoholic beverages altogether.