Pregnancy nutrition is so important for both you and your growing baby, yet figuring out what you can and cannot eat may be quite confusing. To help us understand it better are Cassandra Stockwell MS, RDN, LDN, CLC and Mikayla Wright MS, RDN, CLC, the nutritionists behind Mamas Maternal Health LLC, a virtual nutrition counseling business specializing in pregnancy and lactation.
You are so excited to know that you are pregnant, but now you are looking for the best foods to support your unborn baby. At Mamas Maternal Health, we are all about the addition of nutritious foods as opposed to erasing foods under most circumstances. We believe that the addition of foods within the maternal diet brings not only happiness, but sustainability within prenatal nutrition habits. So let’s jump right in!
While we do want to avoid certain foods during pregnancy, i.e. high mercury fish, raw eggs/meat/fish, deli meats, soft cheeses, caffeine, and alcohol—all other foods have a place. We will preach this over and over until we are blue in the face!
Let’s talk about some important nutrients you need during pregnancy and how we can EAT them, and not simply ingest them through a supplement.
Pregnant women need 600 IU of vitamin D a day. You can find it in dairy products, mushrooms, eggs, salmon, and sardines.
Menu Item: Mushroom and potato hash with an egg on top
You need 600 mg a day during pregnancy. Folate is most common in leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts, fortified grains, beans, peas, lentils, and some nuts and seeds.
Menu Item: Asian cabbage slaw with sunflower seeds
Women need 27 mg a day during pregnancy. The most common foods to get iron from include meat (chicken, beef, pork), eggs, beans and peas like soybeans and lentils, pistachios, spinach, fortified cereals, and sardines. Make sure to eat these foods paired with a vitamin C-rich food. This will help to increase its absorption.
Menu Item: Lentil soup with chopped tomatoes and spinach
Women who are expecting need 350 mg a day while pregnant. This is increased from 310 mg a day before pregnancy. Some of the most common foods that contain this important nutrient are: Chia seeds, avocado, kale, bananas, legumes, dark leafy greens, almonds, tofu, seeds, whole grains, and salmon.
Menu Item: Oatmeal with banana and sliced almonds
A woman’s needs increase to 450 mg a day while pregnant from 425 mg day before pregnancy. This is a very important nutrient that is sometimes forgotten. You can get choline from beef liver, eggs, fish, nuts, cauliflower, broccoli (plus other leafy greens), animal protein, dairy, and whole grains.
Menu Item: Chicken stir-fry with brown rice and broccoli
Calcium needs are 1,000 mg a day during pregnancy. Some common foods containing calcium include milk, cheese, and yogurt. However, some less common foods that are packed with calcium include fortified orange juice, fortified milk alternatives, such as almond, soy, or cashew milk, and leafy greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.
Menu Item: Brussels sprouts with garlic and parmesan
Your B12 needs are 2.2 mcg a day while pregnant up from 2.0 mcg a day before pregnancy. You can get B12 from essentially any animal product including meat, eggs, fish, and dairy. Plant-based options for B12 include fortified plant milk, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Menu Item: Vegan Mac and Cheese with whole wheat pasta and nutritional yeast
Iodine paired with Selenium
You need 220 mg (up from 150 mg) of iodine during pregnancy which is found in seafood, seaweed, and iodized salt. You also need 50 mg of selenium which can be found in Brazil nuts (don’t eat more than a few nuts per day due to their high amounts of selenium), fish, and grains. Paired together, these vitamins help with thyroid function—which needs all the help it can get during this hormonal roller coaster of a time!
Menu Item: Shrimp tacos on corn tortillas topped with pineapple
Omega-3s (DHA and EPA)
200 mg a day of DHA and 200 mg a day of EPA is needed while pregnant. These are found in a variety of places such as olive oil and some vegetable oils, avocados, fish (specifically salmon), nuts and seeds like chia and flax seeds, beans like edamame, kidney beans, and seaweed.
Menu Item: Salmon with a lemon olive oil dressing
Although these are all very important vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, there are many more that play equally important roles in both your health, as well as your baby’s development.
We recommend you consume a variety of nutrients and colors during your meals to create a balanced diet. Aim for a balanced plate with at least three colors, whole grains, and proteins. This will ensure that you are nourishing yourself the best that you can. All nutrients are important during this time and you want a little of everything—besides the pregnancy nutritional no-no’s we mentioned initially.
What to do about cravings
It’s okay to honor your cravings. In fact, there is probably a reason for each and every one of them. While cravings during pregnancy are common and at times come off as strange, they aren’t all bad. More often than not, cravings come from a place of mild to moderate deficiency. Essentially, cravings are your body’s way of telling you it needs something such as carbs, protein, and iron.
That being said, if you listen to your body and give it what it wants, it will most likely be satisfied and the cravings will subside. This will decrease binge eating and cases of overeating.
Every food fits. Go for that sweet treat or salty snack you’re currently thinking about as a special treat. You can truly have all foods in moderation, and we want you to enjoy your “delicious” experience while continuing to increase your overall happiness, health, and success during your pregnancy!
Mamas Maternal Health Cassandra Stockwell MS, RDN, LDN, CLC and Mikayla Wright MS, RDN, CLC