Diet During Pregnancy: Advice and Recommendations

Taking care of your diet during pregnancy is considered a determining factor in achieving good health. Keep reading to learn more.
Diet During Pregnancy: Advice and Recommendations
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 10 July, 2023

Taking care of your diet during pregnancy is essential to maintain good health and for the fetus to develop optimally. There are several key points that must be taken into account, which we’ll explain little by little to improve eating habits during this important period.

In any case, keep in mind that promoting healthy lifestyle habits, in general, will be crucial throughout pregnancy. Eating well is one of them, but physical activity shouldn’t be neglected, even if it’s adapted to individual conditions. Getting a good night’s rest will also help ensure hormonal balance and complete recovery processes.

Energy and protein intake during pregnancy

The first thing to be clear about is that caloric and protein intake during pregnancy must be increased. Although it’s true that the requirements won’t increase excessively in the first trimester, they will do so in the following 6 months. Therefore, it’s important to satisfy them to avoid abnormalities in the development of the fetus.

According to a study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics, it’s crucial to maximize the supply of macronutrients in order to ensure that new tissues are formed correctly. The truth is that increasing energy intake by 300-400 calories is enough. If it’s increased much more, you could run the risk of experiencing a negative alteration of the state of body composition.

Getting to optimize your protein intake is also important. Half of the proteins must be of high biological value, that is, with all the essential amino acids and a good score in terms of digestibility. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to plan a vegan diet at this time in life, as it puts the correct supply of quality proteins at risk.

The best option is to carry out a varied nutritional diet during pregnancy that reduces the risk of experiencing nutritional deficits that affect the health of the mother and the fetus. Foods such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy should appear daily. Of course, always be sure to cook them completely or sterilize them in the case of dairy products and derivatives. Otherwise, you could get harmful poisoning.

Micronutrient requirements also increase

A woman holding 2 pills in the palm of her hand.
Although a pregnancy can progress satisfactorily without supplements, these are important to prevent malformations due to deficiency of essential micronutrients.

Studies have shown that it’s essential to provide a folic acid supplement during pregnancy to avoid defects in the closure of the neural tube of the fetus. However, it’s not the only micronutrient that’s required in greater quantities. Special attention must be paid to iron, which is also characterized by its low availability.

As a general rule, the consumption of a mineral supplement is also recommended, although in this case, it’s combined with vitamin C. The combination of both elements seems to increase the intestinal absorption of iron, reducing the risk of a deficit that may generate anemia. This is evidenced by an investigation published in the journal JAMA.

At the same time, it’s important to ensure through food that there are no deficiencies of other essential nutrients, such as vitamin D, calcium, or even omega-3 fatty acids.

The latter are essential in order for the central nervous system of the fetus to develop correctly, according to a study published in the journal The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews . The risk of premature delivery will also be lower.

At the same time, vitamin D is obtained through exposure to sunlight. Radiation stimulates the endogenous synthesis of the nutrient, allowing its subsequent accumulation in the body’s adipose tissue. This way, deficits in the medium term that may impact the state of health will be avoided.

Avoid microbiological risks in your diet during pregnancy

During pregnancy, you’ll have to be especially rigorous with the subject of cooking food. Any poisoning at this time in life could be especially harmful to the baby, causing miscarriages or malformations. A clear example is that of listeriosis, which may not be dangerous for the mother but has been shown to be capable of damaging the baby in the medium term.

The good news is that these risks are drastically reduced when foods of animal origin are subjected to cooking methods that ensure that the temperature of the food is above 65 degrees inside. Most pathogens won’t survive under these conditions, so the products can be safely ingested later.

Of course, it’s important to practice some caution with cross-contamination. In this regard, you should never use the same utensil to handle raw and cooked foods. Special care must also be taken when defrosting edibles, always keeping them in the refrigerator throughout the process.

Likewise, you’ll need to limit the contribution of large fish, as these can contain excessive amounts of heavy metals that reach the fetus through the placenta, generating problems in development. Although there’s nothing wrong with consuming them once a week, it’s best to prioritize those of small size such as sardines, trout, anchovies, mackerel, etc.

The importance of eliminating toxins from your diet during pregnancy

Another key point in eating during pregnancy is the need to restrict the consumption of any toxic compound. The greatest exponent of all of them is alcohol. Avoiding the intake of this substance completely is essential, as the damage to the fetus will be irreparable. This is confirmed by research published in the journal Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Tobacco and other drugs must also be removed from the diet. Although they’re harmful in all circumstances, the risks are even greater during pregnancy. You’ll even need to be careful with caffeine. Experts recommend that the daily dose does not exceed 200 milligrams in any case, although it’s prudent not to consume more than one cup of coffee a day.

The same happens with tea because it has an analogous alkaloid inside. Despite being considered a beneficial drink due to its concentration of antioxidants, it’s best to limit its intake. Of course, you’ll need to consult with the doctor before introducing other infusions into the diet, as some of them could increase the risk of spontaneous abortions.

Likewise, there are herbs that are consumed in infusions that interact with correctly prescribed pharmacology. When we talk about healthy people, there’s usually no problem with drinking these kinds of liquids frequently. However, in pregnant women and medicated people, it’s important to make sure that there are no problems in terms of compatibility.

It’s best to plan a 5-meal diet during pregnancy

A pregnant woman chopping carrots and broccoli.
Organizing in advance and meeting daily energy requirements is the goal of any meal plan, including that of pregnant women.

At this stage, it’s not advisable to be restrictive in terms of calories. For this reason, intermittent fasting protocols don’t make much sense during pregnancy. Until a few years ago, they were strongly discouraged. At present, experts are beginning to discuss if they have any application in the context of gestational diabetes.

Now, what’s clear is that proposing a scheme of 5 meals that aren’t very copious but are nutritionally dense is very appropriate. This will also reduce the risk of digestive or intestinal discomfort, which is quite frequent during the gestation period. For this, it’s necessary to ensure a correct supply of fiber through the presence of vegetables in the diet.

Having an optimal hydration strategy will also make a difference. Water’s the vehicle through which nutrients are transported within the body. It’s essential to ensure that all physiological reactions develop in a satisfactory way. Furthermore, a state of dehydration would be life-threatening.

To avoid reaching such a point, you’ll have to drink water on a regular basis. This is the best tool to guarantee the water balance. It’s crucial to limit the presence of sugary soft drinks and juices in the diet. These contain too many simple sugars, which increases the risk of suffering from gestational diabetes and other metabolic problems.

Don’t forget about physical activity

Pregnancy can’t be synonymous with a sedentary lifestyle. It’s still necessary to promote good lifestyle habits, and among them is physical activity. Obviously, this has to be adapted to the circumstances. High-intensity efforts and impact exercises should be avoided. However, movement will be positive for both the health of the mother and the fetus.

For this reason, you’ll have to choose between the many activities that are available during this period. You can walk, ride a bike, swim, do yoga… There are plenty of options. Sports will also improve the feeling of satisfaction through the secretion of endorphins, which will translate into a lower risk of postpartum depression.

It’s crucial to improve nutrition during pregnancy

Following a good diet during pregnancy is considered crucial to maintaining good health. Both the mother and the fetus will benefit from a nutritional guideline that manages to satisfy the daily requirements. It’ll even be necessary to supplement with certain supplements in order to avoid deficits.

Just the same, if you have doubts about it, you can always consult with a nutrition professional. They’ll adapt the diet to individual circumstances. This way, it’s easier to cope with pregnancy if you suffer from complex or chronic diseases. An example could be pregnancy in cases of celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease.

  • Danielewicz, H., Myszczyszyn, G., Dębińska, A., Myszkal, A., Boznański, A., & Hirnle, L. (2017). Diet in pregnancy-more than food. European journal of pediatrics176(12), 1573–1579.
  • Valentin, M., Coste Mazeau, P., Zerah, M., Ceccaldi, P. F., Benachi, A., & Luton, D. (2018). Acid folic and pregnancy: A mandatory supplementation. Annales d’endocrinologie79(2), 91–94.
  • Li, N., Zhao, G., Wu, W., Zhang, M., Liu, W., Chen, Q., & Wang, X. (2020). The Efficacy and Safety of Vitamin C for Iron Supplementation in Adult Patients With Iron Deficiency Anemia: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA network open3(11), e2023644.
  • Middleton, P., Gomersall, J. C., Gould, J. F., Shepherd, E., Olsen, S. F., & Makrides, M. (2018). Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews11(11), CD003402.
  • Madjunkov, M., Chaudhry, S., & Ito, S. (2017). Listeriosis during pregnancy. Archives of gynecology and obstetrics296(2), 143–152.
  • Dejong, K., Olyaei, A., & Lo, J. O. (2019). Alcohol Use in Pregnancy. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology62(1), 142–155.

Este texto se ofrece únicamente con propósitos informativos y no reemplaza la consulta con un profesional. Ante dudas, consulta a tu especialista.