Women's Healthcare Topics

What is a Healthy Diet During Pregnancy?

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Balanced Meals for Healthy Weight Gain

During pregnancy, proper nutrition and a balanced diet is essential to the well being of your baby and basic to your health. The added nutritional demands that pregnancy places on your body requires you to start, if not already, making good food choices like choosing the correct nutrients and healthy weight gain.

If you already have good eating habits then eating a proper balanced diet will take little effort, just add a few calories.

If you are just now starting to eat a well balanced meal to help ensure proper health and growth of your baby, we can help by showing you correct food choices, which nutrients are essential and how much weight gain is necessary.

What is a healthy diet during pregnancy?

A healthy diet during pregnancy includes all of the essential nutrients that will help your growing baby. Let's begin by looking at MyPlate Food Guide to ensure that you are eating a balanced diet. The food guide plate is a guide to help you choose the correct servings of the major food groups. Although it is not designed for pregnancy, it will give you an idea of the types and servings that are required from each group.

What are the MyPlate Food Groups?

MyPlate Food Groups in Pregnancy.

The Food Guide MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet using a familiar image—a place setting for a meal. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. The following five food groups included in the MyPlate are:

1. Grain Food Group
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to make sure that the word "enriched" is included in the grain name. Recommended daily amounts of grain should be 5 to 6 equivalents. Most Americans consume enough grains, but few are whole grains. At least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains.

2. Vegetable Food Group
Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the MyPlate Vegetable Group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed. Make half your food plate with fruits and vegetables.

3. Fruit Group
Fruits are rich in A and C vitamins and potassium, as well as high in fiber. Make sure you drink fruit juice and not fruit drinks that contain mostly sugar. In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the Fruit Group. Make half your food plate with fruits and vegetables.

4. Dairy Food Group
All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Recommended daily amounts of food from the Dairy Group you need to eat is 3 cups daily. In general, 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk (soy beverage), 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the Dairy Group.

5. Protein Food Group
peas are also part of the Vegetable Group. Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. The advice to consume seafood does not apply to vegetarians. Vegetarian options in the Protein Foods Group include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods. Recommended daily amounts are 5 to 5 1/2 ounces.

Pregnancy Health Section

What are the key nutrients and their recommended daily allowance during pregnancy?

  • Calcium is a key nutrient needed to form strong bones and teeth for your baby. If your daily amount of calcium is inadequate then the baby will remove the calcium from your bones. This can cause consequences to you and you may develop osteoporosis, a disorder causing weak and fragile bones, in the future.

    During pregnancy the recommended daily amount of calcium depends on your age. If you are less than 19 years old, you require 1300 mg of calcium and 1000 mg if older. The best additional sources for calcium are dairy products, such as milk and cheese. Three glasses of milk each day will satisfy this nutritional need.
  • Iron is a key nutrient that is needed to develop a healthy baby. Iron is used to make the hemoglobin in your red blood cells that carries oxygen. When you become pregnant, you will need extra iron to keep up with the increased production of red blood cells seen in pregnancy.

    If you do not have adequate intake of iron, you will develop anemia and fatigue. You need 27mg of daily iron in your diet during pregnancy. Make sure you eat more foods that are rich in iron such as lean meat, beans, dark leafy greens and whole grains. If you think you need a supplemental iron pill speak with your physician. Iron can cause constipation and may require a stool softener to also be taken.
  • Folic Acid is a very important nutrient needed before and during the first trimester of pregnancy. Not having enough folic acid can lead to birth defects (neural tube defects). Folic acid is of such importance before pregnancy that it is added to many foods to help prevent your risk of neural tube defects.

    Before pregnancy you should take 0.4 mg of folic acid each day. During pregnancy, it is recommended that you increase your folic acid to 0.6 mg each day. Higher doses of folic acid are recommended if you have had a prior child with a neural tube defect. You are recommended to take 10 times the normal dose or 4 mg each day for 30 days before conception and 3 months after.

  • Vitamins are important to you and your baby’s development. Your normal prenatal vitamin has all the vitamin A, B and C that is required. No other supplemental vitamins are needed. Keep in mind that some vitamins such as vitamin A and D can be harmful in large concentrations. So don't think that more is better.

How many extra calories should I eat each day during pregnancy?

Most women, who are not pregnant, will eat about 1800 to 2200 calories every day. During pregnancy you will need to add about 300 additional calories to your daily intake. Three hundred calories can be added by eating an extra apple, a glass of skim milk, and cup of yogurt. Be careful when eating for two, it does not mean you can eat twice as much.

Proper nutrition, a balanced diet and avoding food cravings are necessary in pregnancy. After your baby is born you will want to continue the good nutrition practices that you have developed. This will help you with nursing, recovery, and you will have more energy. Maintaining healthy habits will promote lifelong health for you and your baby.