What to eat and what to avoid when pregnant.
An informative guide by a Dietitian.
Written by Rebecca Gawthorne – Dietitian & Nutritionist
Healthy eating during pregnancy is important for the growth and development of your beautiful baby, as well as keeping mum healthy too.
When you are pregnant, there are a lot of do’s and don’ts, especially when it comes to food and nutrition. This, combined with pregnancy symptoms like nausea, fatigue, food aversions, cravings, heartburn, early satiety, hormones and growing pains, and not to mention the general busyness of life and work, can make eating healthy during pregnancy difficult.
To help you with your eating and nutrition during this time, I’ve created a pregnancy eating guide for you. It includes simple recommendations on what to eat and what to avoid eating when you are pregnant, as well as tips and tricks for managing common food and eating related symptoms during pregnancy.
What to eat when pregnant.
During pregnancy when your gorgeous little bub is developing inside you, your needs for certain nutrients increase. These include:
- Other vitamins and minerals
To help you meet these increased nutrient needs, aim to eat a mix of the following everyday:
- Vegetables and legumes (lentils, beans, peas)
- Breads and cereals - preferably wholegrain, high fibre
- Dairy or dairy alternatives (e.g. soy)
- Fish, legumes, eggs, tofu, meat, poultry, nuts & seeds
Depending on your eating habits prior to falling pregnant, you may or may not need to change too much with your eating. For example, if you ate a healthy balanced diet before falling pregnant, meeting all your nutrition needs, then you may only need to slightly increase the amounts you eat as your bub grows.
However, if your eating was not healthy and balanced and you were not meeting your nutrition needs prior to falling pregnant, it is now time to focus on eating healthy, both for bub and for yourself. You can do this by including a variety of foods every day from the food groups above.
It should also be noted that pregnancy is not a time to try fad diets or crash diets, diet pills, detoxes or cleanses; just balanced nutritious eating.
Fluids during pregnancy.
Staying hydrated is essential during pregnancy and water is your best option. Water is needed to help absorb and transport the essential nutrients to your baby through the placenta. Drinking enough water can also help manage and prevent common conditions during pregnancy like constipation, fatigue, headaches, urinary tract infections, hemorrhoids, swelling, overheating, heartburn and nausea.
Your water requirements increase during pregnancy and will differ for each mum-to-be, but as a rough guide you can aim for at least 8-10 cups per day. To help meet this requirement, try sipping on water throughout the entire day and even during the night if needed. It can be handy to carry a drink bottle around with you or leave fresh cups of water around the house. If you’re unsure how much you are drinking, you can track your water intake for a few days to see how much you consume.
What not to eat when pregnant.
While it is important to eat a healthy balanced diet during pregnancy, it is also recommended that you avoid certain foods during pregnancy.
When you are pregnant, your immune system can be lowered and you have a higher risk of developing food borne illnesses caused by listeria, campylobacter and salmonella, which can be dangerous to the health of your baby. Mums to be need to be more cautious about their food choices to keep their baby safe.
The following is a list of foods that it is recommended not to eat when you are pregnant. Note that it is your personal choice as to what you eat when you are pregnant; these are recommendations and they may also differ from country to country.
- Alcohol - there is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy, so it is recommended to avoid all alcohol when pregnant.
- Processed meats - cold deli meats & packaged/ready-to-eat meats like ham, salami, luncheon, chicken meat etc. Note – meat such as ham can be consumed if cooked and eaten hot, however is not recommended to be consumed on a regular basis.
- Paté, meat spreads or smoked seafood e.g. smoked salmon
- Raw or undercooked eggs - including raw egg in foods like mayonnaise, aioli, chocolate mousse, cake batter, pancake batter etc
- Raw or undercooked meat
- Soft cheeses - unless cooked over 75C & eaten straight away.
- Chilled or raw seafood e.g. raw oysters, sashimi, sushi and cooked, chilled prawns or smoked salmon. Note that this recommendation does differ across numerous countries with some recommending the consumption of safely prepared raw fish.
- Unpasteurised milk products & juices
- Pre-prepared & pre-packaged fruits, fruit salads, vegetables salads. Includes buffets, salad bars and sandwich bars.
- Raw sprouts - alfalfa sprouts, broccoli sprouts, onion sprouts, sunflower sprouts, clover sprouts, radish sprouts, snow pea sprouts, mung beans and soybean sprouts etc. This is due to bacteria like listeria being able to enter into the sprout seeds through the cracks and contaminate them.
There are also some foods that are recommended you reduce or limit your intake of during pregnancy. These include:
- caffeine – limit to 200-300mg a day. This included caffeine from coffee, tea, energy drinks, soft-drinks and cocoa.
- foods high in saturated fats, added salt and added sugars – this includes many takeaway foods, deep-fried foods and processed snack foods.
- fish high in mercury which include shark/flake, broadbill, marlin, swordfish, orange roughy/sea perch, catfish. See next section for more information.
Fish in pregnancy.
Fish is a valuable source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, vitamin B12 and iodine, all of which are important during pregnancy Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for the development of your baby’s central nervous systems before and after birth.
Mercury from fish is generally not a health issue for most people, however it is a consideration for pregnant and breastfeeding women as too much mercury can harm the developing nervous system of your baby.
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and accumulates in the aquatic food chain. Most fish in Australian waters are very low in mercury. However some are higher Mercury. Mercury content is not reduced by processing techniques such as canning, freezing or cooking.
The following fish are low in mercury & can be eaten up to 2 to 3 times per week:
- Silver Warehou*
- Atlantic Salmon*
- Canned salmon and canned tuna in oil*
- All prawns, lobsters and bugs
- All squids and octopus
- Salmon and trout
*These fish are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s generally safe for all population groups, including pregnant women, to consume 2-3 serves of any type of tuna or salmon a week, canned or fresh. Canned tuna usually has lower mercury levels than other tuna because tuna used for canning are smaller species that are caught when less than 1 year old.
Fish higher in mercury include:
- Shark (flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish should only be eaten once per fortnight with no other fish during that fortnight
- Orange roughy (sea perch) and catfish should be eaten no more than once per week, with no other fish that week.
If you are concerned about your mercury levels, your doctor can order a blood and/or urine test.
Managing morning sickness during pregnancy.
If you are suffering with morning sickness or food aversions during your first trimester (or longer), it may be difficult to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. Firstly, don’t stress about this; just aim to do your best and chat to your obstetrician, midwife and dietitian if concerned. You can also ask about a pregnancy multivitamin.
Try to eat smaller amounts of food more frequently and take advantage of the times you are feeling well enough to eat and choose nourishing foods, particularly protein rich foods. This may mean you need to eat whenever you can, not at traditional meal times (i.e. breakfast, lunch, dinner).
You can also try the following strategies to help manage your morning sickness:
- snack on plain dry foods – the longer you go without food, the worse the nausea can get, so regularly snacking or grazing on plain dry foods may help symptoms subside.
- lemon – a squeeze of lemon on your food, lemon tea or even the smell of fresh lemon may reduce symptoms
- ginger – including ginger in your meals may help with nausea
- sipping slowly on water
- avoid cooking smells / the kitchen when possible
- try getting some fresh air, going for a short walk and slowly moving your body
- ask your health care professional for morning sickness tablets
Managing heartburn during pregnancy.
When acids from your stomach leak out and move up your oesophagus, this is known as reflux. This can cause a burning sensation called heartburn in your upper abdomen, oesophagus or throat. Reflux and heartburn can be common during pregnancy, especially as your baby grows.
To help manage heartburn, you can try the following:
- avoid large meals
- avoid your trigger foods – certain foods can trigger heartburn and reflux in individuals. These could include fatty foods, spicy foods, carbonated drinks and caffeine.
- avoid lying down/going to bed straight after eating
- eat slowly and chew your food well
The above is to be used as a guide only. Always check with your obstetrician, midwife, dietitian and GP for individualised advice during pregnancy.