What to Eat (and Avoid) During Pregnancy for Optimal Health

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When it comes to overall wellness, few factors are as influential as diet. During pregnancy, diet becomes even more important because a healthy pregnancy requires that the body be supplied with an appropriate balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. It is essential that pregnant women, or those who plan to become pregnant soon, adhere to a highly nutritious diet. Read on to learn about the importance of proper nutrition during pregnancy and the elements of pregnancy-focused diet.

Why is Diet so Important During Pregnancy?

When a woman becomes pregnant her nutritional needs change significantly. This is because besides providing quality nutrition for herself, she must acquire all the nutrients needed to support her growing baby. Eating nutrient-dense foods while avoiding potentially damaging substances helps limit the risk of common pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and anemia.

Gestational diabetes is a condition described as an excess of sugar delivered to the baby via the mother’s placenta. This can cause various outcomes including a larger birth weight, higher risk of uterine rupture and necessity for c-section, vaginal lacerations, and other complications such as birth abnormalities, hypoglycemia, obesity, and cardiovascular issues. Gestational diabetes is more common among overweight women. However, studies show that pregnant women with poor nutrition may develop gestational diabetes regardless of their weight. Fortunately, most cases of gestational diabetes may be resolved through nutritional improvements.

Another major concern for pregnant women is anemia or low iron levels. A lack of iron can contribute to serious health issues in the mother, including preeclampsia, bleeding, and infection. Sometimes, anemia may even cause the child to be iron deficient at birth, which can be dangerous for their health. Studies show that iron deficiency in the first trimester can result in prematurity, inhibited growth, and low birth weight. Again, anemia and other nutrient deficiencies may be avoided by following an appropriate diet.

The Basics of a Pregnancy Diet

pregnancy diet: vegetables

Some incorrectly believe that a pregnancy diet means increasing caloric intake. However, studies show that women rarely need to increase their caloric intake after becoming pregnant. Rather, experts say that pregnant woman should focus their dietary efforts on consuming high quality and nutrient-dense foods while avoiding substances that could be potentially damaging to them and their child. Below are some of the best foods and worst foods for a pregnancy focused diet.

What to Eat When You’re Pregnant

Folate, also known as vitamin B9, it plays a critical role in DNA production, making it an important part of any pregnancy diet. Quality food sources of folate include asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, legumes, eggs, beets, nuts and seeds, and leafy green vegetables.

Choline is another highly beneficial nutrient during pregnancy because it supports fetal neurological and spinal cord development. Foods rich in choline include meats such as chicken and pork, eggs, navy beans, milk, mushrooms, and green peas.

Other nutrients such as calcium, vitamins A, C, E, K, and B also become more important during pregnancy. The best dietary source for this collection of nutrients is fresh leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, beet greens, arugula, etc. These nutrient powerhouses also contain an impressive deal of fiber which helps maintain healthy gut function and blood sugar balance.

During pregnancy, the body needs more healthy fats. Part of the reason for this is that most healthy fats contain omega-3 fatty acids. These beneficial acids support central nervous system function and development. Some excellent sources of omega-3s are flax and chia seeds, walnuts, fresh seafood such as shrimp and oysters. Although not as rich in omega 3s, other healthy fats to consider including in your diet are avocados, olives, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, and coconut butter.

pregnancy diet: healthy fat

Foods to Avoid When Pregnant

Although fruits are not inherently harmful, in fact far from it, they contain a high amount of sugar. Specifically, fruit juices often contain an exorbitant amount of sugar. Excess sugar consumption, even natural sugars, can exacerbate factors that contribute to gestational diabetes and other pregnancy complications. Therefore, during pregnancy it is best to limit fruit consumption to no more than three servings a day while also focusing on eating low sugar varieties such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, pears, and green apples.

Refined carbohydrates are foods that can swiftly increase blood sugar levels. Eating too many refined carbs can lead to a blood sugar imbalance, increasing the risk of gestational diabetes and other pregnancy complications. Therefore, it’s best to avoid blood-sugar-spiking refined carbs such as white breads and pasta, candy, agave, juice concentrates, instant oatmeal, instant rice, cereals, and sugary baked goods or other confections.

Many forms of seafood are safe and even beneficial to eat during pregnancy. However, larger types of fish such as tuna, salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, and others contain elevated levels of mercury. For the general population, this poses minimal threat. However, pregnant woman should avoid eating these larger fish as even small amounts of mercury can inhibit fetal brain development and damage neurological function.

Proper Supplementation During Pregnancy

Often women cannot reach optimal nutrition through their diet alone. Fortunately, it is possible to resolve gaps in the diet through effective supplementation. Two of the most common forms of nutrient supplementation for pregnant women are prenatal vitamins and vitamin D.

Health experts broadly agree that prenatal supplements are an important part of a healthy pregnancy. Typically, it is recommended that a prenatal supplement regiment start prior to becoming pregnant and continue all the way through delivery. This helps ensure that the mother and fetus get all the vitamins and nutrients they need to ensure a successful and complication-free pregnancy.

Some women may also benefit from supplementing with vitamin D. Studies show that expectant mothers deficient in vitamin D are far more likely to develop gestational diabetes and other pregnancy complications. If you are unsure if you are getting enough vitamin D from your diet, talk to your doctor about supplement options.

pregnancy diet: vitamin D

Building a Nutrient-Rich Diet That’s Right for You

There is no single diet that fits every pregnancy. However, as a general rule, if you are pregnant, focus on eating only high-quality whole foods including but not limited to vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, eggs, grass-fed meats, organic poultry, and fresh seafood. Additionally, you should avoid sugary or overly processed foods as much as possible. Try replacing them with complex carbohydrates and fruits with high fiber content and a low glycemic index. You can help to ensure your body and baby are getting the nutrients they need by using prenatal vitamins and other supplements. Following the nutritional recommendations discussed above will help you create a healthy and nutritious diet plan that’s right for your pregnancy!

We’re here to help. Ask a specialist at Holtorf Medical Group by calling 877-508-1177 to learn more about the steps you can take towards a healthier, and happier, pregnancy.

Resources
1. Dodd, Jodie M et al. “Screening for gestational diabetes: the effect of varying blood glucose definitions in the prediction of adverse maternal and infant health outcomes.” The Australian & New Zealand journal of obstetrics & gynaecology vol. 47,4 (2007): 307-12.

2. American Diabetes Association. “13. Management of Diabetes in Pregnancy: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2018.” Diabetes care vol. 41,Suppl 1 (2018): S137-S143.

3. Abu-Ouf, Noran M, and Mohammed M Jan. “The impact of maternal iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia on child’s health.” Saudi medical journal vol. 36,2 (2015): 146-9.

4. Kominiarek, Michelle A, and Priya Rajan. “Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation.” The Medical clinics of North America vol. 100,6 (2016): 1199-1215.

5. Moses, Robert G et al. “Can a low-glycemic index diet reduce the need for insulin in gestational diabetes mellitus? A randomized trial.” Diabetes care vol. 32,6 (2009): 996-1000.

6. Greenberg, James A et al. “Omega-3 Fatty Acid supplementation during pregnancy.” Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology vol. 1,4 (2008): 162-9.

7. Yessoufou, Akadiri et al. “Beneficial effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated Fatty acids in gestational diabetes: consequences in macrosomia and adulthood obesity.” Journal of diabetes research vol. 2015 (2015): 731434.

8. Pitkin, Roy M. “Folate and neural tube defects.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 85,1 (2007): 285S-288S.

9. Shah, Prakesh S et al. “Effects of prenatal multimicronutrient supplementation on pregnancy outcomes: a meta-analysis.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne vol. 180,12 (2009): E99-108.

10. Zhang, Cuilin et al. “Maternal plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations and the risk for gestational diabetes mellitus.” PloS one vol. 3,11 (2008): e3753.

About Jason Dobruck

Jason is a freelance writer with experience covering health, food, nutrition, and supplementation for NAHIS, HoltraCeuticals and other wellness outlets. He has been writing medical and health related content for over three years. Jason enjoys covering everything from general health tips to comprehensive condition overviews and treatment options.