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What foods should I eat or avoid when pregnant?

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 8, 2020.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com

Good nutrition is an important part of pregnancy. Eating a range of nutrient-rich food supports the development and growth of your baby and will help you maintain a healthy weight.

A healthy, balanced diet provides the nutrients you need to help you through the extra demands your body faces during pregnancy. In addition to getting plenty of the right foods, there are also foods that should be avoided.

Foods to eat when you’re pregnant

Vegetables, fruits, breads, cereals, dairy products and foods that contain protein foods should be part of your daily diet. Suggested foods to eat when you’re pregnant include:

Food group Recommended daily servings Benefits
Fruits and vegetables (includes well washed fresh, frozen, canned and dried) 4 servings of vegetables, such as:
  • 1 medium root vegetable (potato, sweet potato)
  • ½ cup of cooked vegetables (swiss chard, broccoli, corn)
  • ½ cup of salad or mixed veg
  • 1 tomato

2 servings of fruit such as:

  • 1 piece of fruit (apple, pear, banana or orange)
  • ½ cup fruit salad
  • ½ cup stewed fruit (fresh, frozen or canned)
  • 2 tablespoons of dried fruit
  • 1 cup fruit juice

Canned fruit should be low sugar and low salt

  • Carbohydrates for energy
  • Fibre
  • Vitamins - folate,
  • Vitamin A (from yellow and green vegetables)
  • Vitamin C (from dark green vegetables, fruits, potatoes)
  • Minerals - magnesium, potassium
Breads and cereals (includes pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, breads and other grain products, preferably wholegrain) 6 servings such as:
  • 1 roll or muffin
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 cup cornflakes
  • ½ cup muesli
  • ½ cup cooked oatmeal
  • 1 cup cooked pasta or rice
  • Carbohydrates for energy
  • Fibre to help prevent constipation
  • Protein
  • Vitamins B (except B12) and E
  • Minerals - (from whole grain breads and cereals) magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and selenium
Milk and milk products (includes milk, yoghurt, cheese, ice-cream) and alternative dairy. Make sure all products are pasteurized. 3 servings such as:
  • 1 glass milk
  • 1 pottle yoghurt
  • 2 slices cheese
  • 2 scoops ice-cream
  • 1 glass calcium-fortified alternative dairy such as soy, almond, oat
  • Protein
  • Vitamins A, B12 and D
  • Minerals - calcium, phosphorus, zinc and iodine
Protein (includes lean meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, eggs, legumes)

2 servings such as:

  • 2 slices cooked meat
  • ¾ cup cooked mince or casserole
  • 1 egg
  • 1 fillet of cooked fish (eg. salmon, sardines, flounder, white fish)
  • ¾ cup cooked dried beans, peas or lentils
  • 2 cooked drumsticks or chicken legs
  • ½ cup nuts or seeds
  • Carbohydrates for energy
  • Protein
  • Vitamins B12, niacin, thiamin
  • Minerals - magnesium, potassium, copper, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium, iodine (in seafood and eggs)


Foods to avoid when you’re pregnant

Food-borne illnesses pose a greater risk when you’re pregnant. They can make you unwell and in severe cases result in a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

During pregnancy your immunity is lowered, putting you at increased risk from bacteria like salmonella, listeria and campylobacter, as well as parasites like toxoplasma, which can be present in some foods. It is advised that you don’t eat the following foods while pregnant.

  • Processed meats - salami, ham, pate, luncheon,deli meats or hot dogs
  • Rare or underdone meat or poultry
  • Cold pre-cooked meat or poultry
  • Unpasteurized milk and milk products
  • Soft pasteurized cheese - brie, camembert, feta, blue, mozzarella and ricotta. These cheeses can be eaten if they are heated until hot, above 150°F (70°C).
  • Pre-prepared or unrefrigerated salads
  • Hummus and dips containing tahini - baba ganoush and halva
  • Raw, smoked or pre-cooked seafood and fish - including sushi, smoked salmon and shellfish
  • Raw egg - any food with raw egg such as smoothies, mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce or mousse
  • Soft-serve ice-cream
  • Custard or cream - especially in pre-made cakes and pastries. Home made or pre-packaged cream or custard can be eaten within 2 days of opening.
  • Fish with high levels of mercury - such as tilefish, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, bigeye tuna, marlin, orange roughy. Also limit fish such as white (albacore) tuna, snapper, and grouper to just 6 oz a week.
  • Raw sprouts

In addition to avoiding some foods, it’s also recommended that you limit foods and beverages with high sugar and fat contents, such as soft drinks, sweets and fried snacks.

Do I need to eat more during pregnancy?

Energy needs increase as your pregnancy progresses. During pregnancy most women need between 2,200 to 2,900 calories a day.

No extra calories are required during the first trimester, but an additional 340 calories a day may be recommended during the second trimester, increasing the 450 calories a day during the third trimester.

How many calories you need during pregnancy and how much weight gain you should gain varies from woman to woman and can depend on your body mass index (BMI) before pregnancy, as well as the number of babies you are carrying and other factors. If you’re carrying twins or triplets, for example, you might need to consume an extra 600-900 calories a day.

Keeping your weight in a healthy range helps reduce your risk of problems during your pregnancy. Excess weight puts pregnant women at increased risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, preeclampsia and other complications. Obesity also increases the risk of birth defects (such as neural tube defects), cesarean delivery and birth injury and more. A well-balanced diet and exercise can help maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.

Other key points

  • If you experience possible symptoms of food poisoning during pregnancy or are concerned about something you have consumed then contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
  • It can be difficult to get enough folic acid from foods. A daily prenatal vitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended from 1 month before pregnancy and during the first trimester. This helps prevent neural tube defects.
  • In some situations other supplements may be required. Check with your healthcare provider about what supplements may be recommended for you.
  • Consult your healthcare professional if you have any concerns about your diet.
  • Keep hydrated - drink about 9 cups of fluid a day. Water or low-fat milk is best.
  • Practice safe food preparation and cooking to prevent food poisoning
  • Limit caffeine - too much caffeine can stop the absorption of iron and also reduce the baby’s birth weight. Try and drink no more than two small cups of coffee a day - aim for no more than 200mg of caffeine. Substitute with decaffeinated coffee or water instead.
  • Avoid tea with meals - tannin in tea prevents the absorption of iron. Some teas are not suitable for pregnant women. Check the labels before consuming.
  • Avoid alcohol - if at a celebration substitute with a mocktail, fruit juice or sparkling water.
References
  1. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Nutrition in pregnancy. June 2020. Available at: https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy. [Accessed 9 December 2020].
  2. Eat right, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eating right during pregnancy. 8 January 2019. Available at: https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/what-to-eat-when-expecting/eating-right-during-pregnancy. [Accessed 9 December 2020].
  3. Kaiser LL, Allen L; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: nutrition and lifestyle for a healthy pregnancy outcome. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(10):1479-1490. doi:10.1016/s0002-8223(02)90327-5 
  4. Ministry of Health New Zealand. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: A background paper. Published April 2006. Revised November 2008. Available at: https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/food-and-nutrition-guidelines-preg-and-bfeed.pdf [Accessed 9 December 2020].
  5. Plunkett NZ. Pregnancy nutrition. Available at: https://www.plunket.org.nz/being-a-parent/preparing-for-your-baby/health-and-care-during-pregnancy/pregnancy-nutrition [Accessed 9 December 2020].
  6. What to expect. Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy. 2 December 2020. Available at: https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/your-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy.  [Accessed 9 December 2020].
  7. U.S Food and Drug Administration. Advice about eating fish For Women Who Are or Might Become Pregnant, Breastfeeding Mothers, and Young Children. 31 August 2020. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish. [Accessed 9 December 2020].
  8. Eat right, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Healthy Weight during Pregnancy. Published 9 July 2019. Reviewed August 2020. Available at: https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/prenatal-wellness/healthy-weight-during-pregnancy [Accessed 9 December 2020].

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