What to Eat During Pregnancy

We're going to tell you what the key points of diet for pregnant women are. This will achieve optimal development of the fetus.
What to Eat During Pregnancy
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 08 June, 2023

The gestation period is especially critical when it comes to diet. You need to optimize your nutritional intake to ensure the correct development and growth of the fetus. If not, the child and mother’s health could be jeopardized. In this article, we’ll show you what to eat during pregnancy.

Before starting, we need to emphasize that one of the pillars of a healthy diet is variety. This is also true during pregnancy, and you must ensure a wide spectrum of food in your diet. Of course, certain types of food will be restricted by their microbiological risk or their negative interactions with the fetus.

Energy requirements are increased

In pregnancy, it isn’t necessary to eat for two, but it is necessary to increase caloric intake, since the requirements increase. During the first trimester, it may be enough to eat of 200-300 calories more than usual, but you’ll have to continue making adjustments to this.

It’s important to know where this energy comes from. It isn’t about eating whatever calories you can find. It’s always best to prioritize the consumption of fresh food over that of industrial ultra-processed foods, ensuring the presence of high-quality proteins and cis-type fats.

Another fact that should always be taken into account is that it’s key to eat more protein. This is evidenced by research published in the journal Nutrients. These elements are essential in order to ensure the growth and development of new tissues.

Similarly, it’s recommended to limit the presence of trans fats. We’re talking about an inflammatory compound that has been shown to generate negative effects on health in the medium term. This class of elements is found in industrial ultra processed food.

Fresh foods are characterized by having good-quality fatty acids. Among all of them, it’ll be necessary to emphasize the consumption of those of the omega 3 series, as they have benefits for the baby’s brain development. This is evidenced by a study published in the journal Nutrients.

Sources of omega 3 fatty acids in pregnancy.
The consumption of sources of omega-3 fatty acids is recommended for the development of the fetal brain.

There are certain foods that women shouldn’t eat during pregnancy

During pregnancy, you’ll need to avoid the consumption of certain foods, as they’re considered to have a microbiological risk. At this time, the body is more susceptible to poisoning. Also, certain bacteria could cause brain damage in the baby.

We’re talking about raw animal products. Eggs, meat, and fish must be thoroughly cooked before being eaten. Milk also has to undergo a sterilization process, making it a safe bet for pregnant women.

It’s important to note that many farm animals can have a bacterium known as Listeria spp., which causes listeriosis. This infectious pathology is very dangerous for the fetus, as pointed out by research published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Fortunately, this is avoided with heat treatment.

Similarly, it’s essential to restrict your intake of certain sausages. Serrano ham, for example, can contain toxoplasma, a microorganism that puts the baby’s health at risk. It’s also true that if the woman has antibodies to this disease, the risk is reduced.

Sushi, dishes made with raw fish, and fish likely to contain anisakis shouldn’t be consumed by pregnant women. Even large fish can be harmful, as they have greater amounts of heavy metals inside.

Micronutrient needs are increased in pregnant women

During pregnancy, not only is there an increased energy requirement, but the woman also has additional requirements in essential micronutrients. For example, a folic acid supplement is often prescribed to meet the recommended daily allowance of the vitamin, preventing the development of neural tube defects. This is evidenced by a study published in Annals d’Endocrinologi.

In the same way, it’s usually advisable to take extra iron. This mineral has a low absorption rate, and a deficit of it causes anemia. The result is a feeling of fatigue and chronic tiredness that conditions the well-being of the pregnant woman.

However, it’s also key to ensure that vitamin D levels are in adequate ranges. This will reduce the risk of the fetus developing serious health problems early in life.

In addition, it’s important to prevent a micronutrient deficit in general. Both vitamins and minerals perform very different tasks within the human body. If an adequate supply isn’t ensured, then the fetal development and the health of the pregnant woman could be put at risk.

Can you drink infusions during pregnancy?

Another critical point in the diet of pregnant women has to do with the possibility of including herbs and infusions. Many of them are discouraged, as they could increase the risk of miscarriage or malformations in the fetus.

In principle, it’s recommended to reduce the dose of caffeine, according to an article published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. Tea should be consumed in moderation, as it contains an analogous alkaloid. The maximum tolerable dose of caffeine during pregnancy is postulated to be 200 milligrams per day.

The infusions that can be consumed without any problem are orange blossom, passionflower, lemon balm, chamomile, and raspberry leaves. Valerian can also be included in the diet in moderation. With the rest, you’ll have to be careful.

Likewise, it’s essential to first consult with the doctor if you’re taking medication. Interactions between infusions and medications are high. Some combinations could reduce or increase the effects of medicine.

Should we include supplements in the diet of pregnant women?

As we have mentioned, folic acid and iron supplements are usually given to all pregnant women to prevent anemia and problems in fetal development. Beyond this, the inclusion of any other supplement on a regular basis isn’t recommended, unless there’s a lack of a specific nutrient.

In the context of a varied diet, it shouldn’t be necessary to take any more products. The intake of an extra supply of omega-3 could be considered. Even vitamin D if exposure to sunlight isn’t optimal. But it is best to always consult a specialist.

Of course, you should be careful with sports supplements. Women who engage in physical activity should avoid the consumption of these ergogenic aids, as there’s a lack of evidence about their safety during the gestation period.

Only high-quality whey protein could be ingested. However, it’s recommended to be careful with it, due to its additives. There’s also the risk that sports supplements could contain doping substances.

What to eat during pregnancy.
The use of supplements in pregnant women should always be prescribed by a professional.

Intermittent fasting and pregnancy

There’s no perfect diet for pregnant women. The principle of individualization must be respected, as far as possible. Therefore, the mechanics shouldn’t be limited to creating a 5-meal schedule. There are other options. However, there has been much debate about whether an intermittent fasting protocol is positive or negative.

The most recent research confirms that this dietary mechanism should not harm the health of the fetus, as long as it does not entail a restriction of calories and daily nutrients. As long as the requirements are met, there should be no problem.

Anyway, there’s still plenty of research needed, and so the best advice in this case is caution. It’s best to plan for between 3 and 5 meals that will meet daily needs. You should prioritize fresh products, and limit simple sugars and trans fats.

It is necessary to find out what to eat during pregnancy

It’s important to watch what you eat during pregnancy, in order to prevent health problems and allow a correct development of the fetus. In this way, the baby should be born healthy.

However, there are other lifestyle habits that must be monitored, apart from diet. It’s best to carry out physical exercise on a regular basis, at least within the possibilities of each woman. It’s also important to get adequate rest at night. Toxic items, such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, must be restricted.

  • Mousa, A., Naqash, A., & Lim, S. (2019). Macronutrient and Micronutrient Intake during Pregnancy: An Overview of Recent Evidence. Nutrients11(2), 443. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11020443
  • Valenzuela, C. A., Baker, E. J., Miles, E. A., & Calder, P. C. (2019). Eighteen‑carbon trans fatty acids and inflammation in the context of atherosclerosis. Progress in lipid research76, 101009. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plipres.2019.101009
  • Devarshi, P. P., Grant, R. W., Ikonte, C. J., & Hazels Mitmesser, S. (2019). Maternal Omega-3 Nutrition, Placental Transfer and Fetal Brain Development in Gestational Diabetes and Preeclampsia. Nutrients11(5), 1107. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051107
  • Madjunkov, M., Chaudhry, S., & Ito, S. (2017). Listeriosis during pregnancy. Archives of gynecology and obstetrics296(2), 143–152. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00404-017-4401-1
  • 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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ando.2017.10.001
  • Qian, J., Chen, Q., Ward, S. M., Duan, E., & Zhang, Y. (2020). Impacts of Caffeine during Pregnancy. Trends in endocrinology and metabolism: TEM31(3), 218–227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tem.2019.11.004

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