Food is a part of life. During pregnancy, though, eating a healthy, balanced diet is more important than ever to support the proper development of your baby.
The natural hormone surges, weight gain, and side effects associated with pregnancy can make it challenging to eat smart. Morning sickness can curb your desire to eat. Cravings can fill you with empty calories and sugar. Sensitivity to smells can make your favorite foods downright nauseating. Of course, there are also foods, and beverages, that you simply need to avoid.
Your doctor should be your ultimate source for advice on foods and supplements that are best for your individual needs. Nevertheless, embracing your body’s changes and navigating an often-confusing menu of foods to enjoy and foods to avoid can be easier than you think.
Here’s a quick guide that will keep your palette and tummy satisfied – and your body and baby healthy:
What to Enjoy
Healthful choices in foods include unprocessed vegetables and fruits, dairy, eggs, and lean meats and poultry that are cooked through. If you eat fish, wild salmon, pollock, trout, catfish, anchovies, and canned light tuna (not albacore white) are good choices because they are low in mercury. Whole grain breads, rice, and pasta are better choices than white. Almonds are great for a quick snack or garnish; nut butters, hummus, and guacamole are perfect for sparking up a chip or cracker. Watch for extra fat, and go with low-fat and skim milk rather than whole.1 And stick with hard cheeses including cheddar, Parmesan, and Havarti that generally don’t harbor bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
What to Limit
Moderation is a good thing, particularly when it comes to foods and beverages that fill you up, but don’t provide any nutrients. Potato chips, candy, and soda all contain empty calories. Moreover, some, including chocolate and colas, along with coffee and tea, also contain caffeine. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it increases your blood pressure and heart rate. Caffeine also is a diuretic and increases the frequency of urination, causing a reduction in your body fluid levels that can lead to dehydration. Awareness of caffeine sources can help you manage your intake, which is important, since too much caffeine can lead to low birth weight in babies and even miscarriage. Always check with your doctor for advice that’s specific to your body, health, and pregnancy – but in general, caffeine should be limited to 200 mg per day – about one 12-oz cup of coffee.2 For further reference, a can of cola contains 40 mg of caffeine. A mug of tea contains 75 mg.3
What to Avoid
When it comes to avoiding foods, some are more obvious than others. For instance, it is well-known that pregnant women should avoid both alcohol and smoking since research has shown that these impact fetus development and can have lasting impacts for your baby. Lesser-known risks involve foods including soft or unpasteurized cheeses (feta and brie), deli meats, and smoked fish (unless it’s hot-smoked using heat). All can be sources of the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium that can cause listeriosis, an infection that can lead to miscarriage, early delivery, or stillbirth. Raw and undercooked meats, fish such as sushi, and eggs may contain parasites, salmonella, and E. coli, which also can lead to infections with serious complications especially for pregnant women. Canned white albacore tuna, swordfish, and shark may contain higher levels of mercury – an element known to cause birth defects – than other types of fish, and should be avoided.4
The information included in this article and on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation.