Eating Well in Pregnancy

It is well known that what you eat during pregnancy has an impact on the future health of both you and your baby. Having said that, you may find it hard to eat the perfect diet when you are struggling with nausea or strange cravings. Even the smell and look of some of your favourite foods, may prove to be hard to stomach at times. You may even find that food you would never normally eat suddenly becomes an absolute daily must!

Listen to Your Body

Your body is very clever and by listening to its signals you can really help yourself and your baby. For example; it is very common to crave sweets during pregnancy but what is your body really telling you? It maybe that you haven’t eaten enough calories, or you’ve gone too long between each meal or snack and your blood sugars are too low. Instead of grabbing that bag of sugar, E numbers and goodness knows what else, try eating a banana and see how your body responds to the natural sugar. A craving for meat could be your body asking for more zinc or protein. When you crave a food, try to think what your body is really asking for or seeking out.


When you are pregnant your blood volume increases and you have a lot more fluid on board. Drinking water is extremely important for helping your body cope with the demands of pregnancy. You should not to get to the point of thirst and your urine should be a clear straw colour. Water is important for lactation so if you are intending to breastfeed you will need to keep well hydrated.

Eat Little & Often

Try not to go more than 3 hours between meals and snacks. As your baby grows you will find eating a large meal more difficult. By eating frequently you will be keeping your blood sugar levels balanced. You do not need to eat for two! Gaining too much weight in pregnancy can increase your chances of complications. Most women typically need just the equivalent of an extra snack during pregnancy (around an additional 200 calories)

Pregnant womanDiet – Foods to Include and Enjoy

1. Fruit and Vegetables. Aim to have some fruit with your breakfast, salad with your lunch and vegetables at dinner. Fruit and vegetables are providing vital antioxidants to protect against cell damage. They also contain both soluble and insoluble fibre helping to keep your digestion healthy. Green leafy vegetables contain folate (or folic acid) which is essential to prevent birth defects. Choose a variety of colours and aim to eat a rainbow a day. Aim for half of your plate to be from this food group at each of your main meals.

2. Complex Carbohydrates. Replace any white foods (simple carbohydrates) with brown and wholegrain foods. This will give you a big increase in nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium. Complex carbohydrates release the sugars slowly in to your body helping to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. Simple carbohydrates are void of nutrients and only provide your body with sugar very quickly. If you struggle to eat wholegrain foods try mixing half and half with the white stuff. Choose brown rice, wholegrain pasta, oats, rye and wholegrain or wholemeal bread. Keeping the skins on potatoes will increase the nutrient levels and always save the water from boiling potatoes to make gravy or stock as the water will be rich in vitamin C. Aim for ¼ of your plate to be from this food group at each of your main meals.

3. Protein. The amino acids in protein are vital for growth, repair and development. Foods such as meat, fish, beans and pulses, lentils, dairy foods, soya and eggs are all rich in protein. Aim to have ¼ of your plate from your this food group at each of your main meals. Use lean protein in place of foods high in saturated fats. Go easy on the cheese as it contains high levels of salt and saturated fats. Fruit flavoured yoghurts are also extremely high in sugar so opt for natural yoghurt and add your own fruit.

4. Phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are chemicals found naturally in certain plants and can help to balance hormones. Try to include foods such as beans, lentils and pulses at three meals a week. Soya is also a food containing phytoestrogens. Simple ways to incorporate these foods include swapping mayonnaise for hummus, adding beans to any stews or pasta dishes and using red lentils to thicken soups or casseroles.

5. Oily Foods. Certain fish, seeds, nuts and oils contain essential fatty acids. These important nutrients are involved in the development of the brain and eyes. These foods also contain good levels of other essential nutrients including zinc. Add pumpkin seeds to your salad and ground flaxseed to your breakfast. Eat a few nuts everyday and aim to have 2-3 portions of fish per week. Some fish contain high levels of mercury and other heavy metals due to contamination. For this reason it is recommended that you avoid shark and swordfish and limit tuna (either canned or fresh) to one portion a week.

In Summary

You need to try to incorporate plenty of fruit and vegetables, a good supply of healthy protein and complex carbohydrates and moderate amounts of dairy foods together with some oily fish.

Important Nutrients

1. Folic Acid & B vitamins are essential during pregnancy to ensure the genetic codes are intact. The best way to ensure a good intake of B vitamins is to eat a whole food diet particularly whole grains and green leafy vegetables.

2. Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells for both you and your baby. Iron rich foods include red meat, pulses, dried apricots, spinach and green vegetables.

3. Selenium protects against birth defects and miscarriage. Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium and you only need eat three to get the required intake.

4. Essential Fatty Acids and crucial for your babies brain and vision. EFA’s are found in fish, nuts and seeds.

5. Vitamin C decreases the risk of miscarriage. Vitamin C is found in many fruits.

6. Vitamin A is essential for a healthy pregnancy but must be taken as beta carotene and not retinol. Sweet potato and any orange coloured vegetable or fruit contain good levels of beta carotene.

7. Vitamin D is important for so many reasons it would warrant a report on its own! Vitamin is obtained from the sun but because of our weather it has been reported that as many as 96% of pregnant woman are low in this essential nutrient. Supplementing is highly recommended.

Foods and Drinks to Limit or Avoid

1. Avoid unpasteurised dairy products such as blue cheese and mould ripened cheese. This is due to the small risk of listeriosis which can cross the placenta and may be fatal for the baby.

2.  Avoid liver and pates due to the high levels of vitamin A present.

3. Avoid raw and undercooked eggs. Always choose organic eggs when pregnant.

4. Avoid raw seafood such as sushi as they carry a risk of hepatitis and intestinal parasites.

5. Avoid shark, marlin and swordfish due to the heavy metal poisoning present. Tuna is fine if kept to one portion per week. Other fish such as trout and salmon are all ok.

6. Limit caffeine ideally to no more than 3 cups of tea per day and 4 cups of coffee per week! Caffeine is also present in chocolate, cola drinks and energy drinks.

7. Limit or avoid alcohol.


by Julie Clark – Nutrionist


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