“Don’t eat soft cheese!”
“Umm… are you allowed to eat that ham sandwich?”
“I’ve heard eating fish during pregnancy is dangerous. Doesn’t it contain mercury?”
“Yikes, are you sure that soft serve ice cream is safe?”
“Aren’t you supposed to stop drinking coffee?”
Don’t eat this, don’t drink that, take this vitamin, try this supplement – there are so many rules in pregnancy!
Well, yes and no.
Sure, there are things we know we need to avoid, such as alcohol and undercooked meats, but what exactly are we supposed to eat?
Here are 5 nutritious, healthy foods every pregnant woman needs to eat:
#1: Avocados – Healthy Fat Is A Must
Wait, isn't it important to watch fat intake during pregnancy?!
Well, if you grew up in the 80s or 90s, you were probably taught about the importance of a low fat diet. With the advent of processed foods, we saw a rise in the number of westerners being overweight or obese. In response to this, we were taught a low fat diet was the way to stay or get healthy.
Fortunately, we now know what really happened: the sugar industry paid scientists to point the finger at fat, distracting us from the fact that sugar is the cause of many health problems which are in abunance today.
Unfortunately, we weren’t taught the difference between good fat and bad fat, and how our bodies need good fats, especially during pregnancy.
Avocados are chock full of potassium, folate, fibre, and lots of healthy fats. It also helps you to feel full, unlike the empty carbohydrates found in processed and sugary foods. Reproductive specialist and nutritionist Dr. Andrew Orr says, “You can’t really eat too many avocados! They are full of good fats (omega oils), protein, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and more”.
You can read more about the benefits of avocados in BellyBelly’s article Eating Avocados During Pregnancy – Study Finds Huge Benefits.
#2: Nuts And Seeds – Healthy Fats and Protein
Nuts are great sources of protein and healthy fats. Be sure to stick with raw, non-roasted, or natural nuts.
With the rise in tree nut and especially peanut allergies, we’ve heard a variety of theories about preventing allergies. For a brief period, some experts believed avoiding or limiting tree nuts or peanuts during pregnancy might prevent allergies in babies.
Based on evidence, we now know the opposite is true. Women who consume tree nuts and/or peanuts during pregnancy are less likely to have a child with a severe peanut or nut allergy than women who avoid tree nuts and peanuts.
A handful of nuts makes for a great snack between meals, helping you to feel full and providing a good supply of nutrients.
If you're watching your carb intake or hoping to prevent or avoid Gestational Diabetes, opt for the lower carb Brazil, macadamia and pecan nuts – they're so low carb that it's difficult to eat too many carbs. Peanuts, hazel nuts, walnuts and almonds are a little higher carb, but the next best choice.
#3: Healthy Oils – More Good Fat
As mentioned above, it isn’t a low fat diet that we need, but rather a diet high in good fats, and low or devoid of unhealthy fats (processed trans fats).
Eating healthy fats during pregnancy helps your baby to develop properly. They are especially essential to brain development. For you, they are necessary for building healthy fat stores to aid breastfeeding, and for the healthy function of your brain, metabolism, and nervous system .
Olive oil (best used cold), coconut oil and some nut oils (e.g. macadamia oil), are all sources of healthy fats and aren’t highly processed. You should look for oils that are cold pressed and not hydrogenated, as these contain trans fats. Typically, the more processed a product is, the less beneficial it is for your health, and it could even be harmful to your health.
Pure butter (made from cream and without added oils) or ghee is perfectly fine too. It's a great way to add flavour to veggies.
If you’ve stocked up on extra virgin coconut oil during pregnancy, and find you have an abundance, you can even use it for many other purposes once baby arrives.
Check out BellyBelly’s article Coconut Oil – 5 Great Uses For Coconut Oil For Your Baby.
#4: Fish – Omega 3s And Protein
Sensing a theme here? Healthy fats really are vital for pregnancy (and baby's brain development). As are protein, vitamins and minerals.
Fish contains healthy fats such as Omega 3s. It's also a great source of protein and contains iodine, which is an essential part of the human diet. Studies have shown many pregnant women are not getting enough iodine, which can impact baby's IQ.
When concerns about mercury became well known, many pregnant women decided to avoid consuming fish altogether. We now know that low mercury fish can actually be an excellent component of a healthy pregnancy diet. Avoiding fish completely means losing an easy source of protein, omega 3s, and iodine.
Be aware that most of the salmon in Australia is farmed in an unhealthy way. Some are fed cheap food which they wouldn't normally eat in the wild, as well as cheap, processed oil, so it's not good for fish and not good for you. Look for wild caught salmon. You may have to resort to tinned salmon – just read the labels and make sure it's ethically sourced.
Vegetarian or vegan? Well, you’ll be avoiding fish, of course, regardless of mercury content. The good news for you is that there are several other sources of Omega 3s, including flax seeds, chia seeds, seaweed and nuts.
Worried about not getting enough Omega 3s, iodine, and protein while on a vegetarian/vegan diet during pregnancy? Speak with a nutritionist familiar with these diets during pregnancy. There are many excellent non-animal products chock full of these nutrients.
#5: Leafy Greens – Folate, Calcium And Fibre
Ahh, you see? Healthy fats aren’t the only component of a healthy pregnancy diet. We also need lots of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients during pregnancy. They are vital for our health, as well as for the development of our babies.
We all know we need to have a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, but at least one serving (preferably more) should include leafy greens. Kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, and other dark, leafy green vegetables contain calcium, iron, fibre, folate, and vitamins A, C, and K. And they are delicious in salads!
Vegetables in general are excellent during pregnancy, but some vegetables have more nutrition than others. Also, above ground vegetables (like cauliflower, zucchini, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli) are often lower carb than below ground (especially potatoes). Corn is higher carb too.
One great way to try to have a variety of nutrition in your diet is to attempt to ‘eat a rainbow' every day, with 1 serving of fruit and 4 servings of vegetables, but even more veggies are better! Make sure you're getting enough protein to keep yourself full too – aim to have protein with every meal or snack.
Darker fruits and vegetables tend to have more antioxidants and greater nutritional value. Berries are a great source of antioxidants and are lower carb, espcially raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Limit yourself to 0-1 servings of fruit per day, especially if you're conscious about blood sugar levels and avoiding gestational diabetes. Fruit is not essential – you can get all the nutrients you need from vegetables, without the sugar.
Why Is Diet During Pregnancy So Important?
Nutrition is always important. However, when you’re growing a human being, your diet can greatly affect your health, as well as the health and development of your baby – now and for the rest of her life. No pressure, huh?
It can sound overwhelming, but adding in a few healthy items, and dropping some unhealthier items can actually be quite simple, and will have lasting benefits for you and baby.
Take the time to plan a healthier diet now, and you can also reduce your risk of gestational diabetes (which means a much higher likelihood of type 2 diabetes after the birth) and other pregnancy complications. Around 1 in 10 pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, but some doctors believe the number is actually much higher.
Oooh wait, there’s more! Science has recently discovered that your diet can affect up to three generations. By making healthy choices during pregnancy, you'll be supporting the health of not only your children, but your grandchildren too.