We’re always hearing about the foods we can’t eat during pregnancy, but what about all the foods we can and actually should eat?
As a Registered Dietitian with a practical approach to eating, I teach my clients how to create a positive relationship with their food – focusing on what foods to include rather than what to avoid or restrict. This is a more enjoyable and sustainable way of eating, plus when you focus on those foods that will energize and nourish you – those “not as healthy” foods will be reduced simply by default.
Keeping with that positive attitude, today I want to talk about the top 10 pregnancy superfoods you should be adding to your diet. I always recommend eating these healthy foods the way YOU like them (cooked, steamed, raw, etc.) because that is going to be how you’ll enjoy them and keep coming back for more.
If you’re not already – make sure you start incorporating these foods into your regular routine:
1) Eggs. Eggs are a nutritional powerhouse. They contain high quality protein, are filling (so necessary when you’re a busy mama-to-be!), and are one of the best food sources of choline, an essential nutrient for baby’s development. Choline is a recently discovered nutrient that is similar to a B-vitamin that plays an important role in baby’s brain and memory development. Your needs for choline increase during pregnancy and postpartum. One egg provides about 25% of your daily choline needs. Eat the whole egg to ensure you’re getting all of the nutritional benefits and choose organic, omega-3 fortified eggs whenever possible for maximum nutrition.
2) Leafy Greens. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and swiss chard provide several key antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and potassium that help regulate blood pressure, improve the immune system, and assist in skin and tissue development. The fiber present also helps with digestion and reduces constipation, which is a very common side effect of pregnancy. Enjoy greens in your morning smoothie, add to eggs, as a side, or salad base.
3) Liver. Liver is the #1 iron source in your diet. A lot of times we think of spinach as the best iron source, but liver is the ultimate source. The iron contained in meat like liver is absorbed way more efficiently than from plant sources like spinach, so you really only need to have a couple ounces twice a week to meet your iron needs. If you are having trouble getting over the fact that you’re eating liver, try pureeing it and sneaking it into chili, meatballs, and meatloaf which helps mask the taste. Many women who eat liver regularly during pregnancy do not have to take iron supplements – which can be really constipating! Let that be great motivation for you to try it.
4) Greek yogurt. Plain Greek yogurt is low in added sugar and is a great source of protein and Vitamin D – a vitamin many of us are deficient in. Your Vitamin D requirements also increase during pregnancy. Yogurt also contains probiotics which are key to a healthy gut and microbiome (i.e. increases the number of good bacteria in your body) both for you and your baby. Some studies have shown women who consumed probiotic-rich foods regularly during pregnancy birthed babies that had a reduced risk of allergies, eczema, colic, and spitting up. There also is a potential link to a reduced risk of preterm birth and preeclampsia – a condition that results in high blood pressure and protein spilling into your urine. Preeclampsia increases your need to be induced early as it can put you and baby’s health at risk.
5) Salmon. Fatty fish like salmon are rich sources of DHA, a type of omega-3 that is crucial for baby’s brain and vision development. Many women are hesitant to eat fish during their pregnancy for fear of overdoing it on mercury. Rest assured – salmon is considered a lower mercury fish. The benefits of consuming salmon during pregnancy far exceed the minimal risk from the small amount of mercury present. Aim for 3oz of wild, sockeye salmon 2x/week. Salmon is delicious poached, broiled, or seared on a cast iron pan.
6) Nuts. Nuts like walnuts, almonds, and cashews are a healthy and convenient snack. They contain fiber, protein, and important vitamins such as vitamin E which helps reduce inflammation and support a strong immune system. Add a handful to your smoothie, yogurt, or as a snack on it’s own. A small handful is all you need – it’s easy to overdo it on nuts and they are a high calorie food. Almonds have also been shown in some studies to improve blood sugar control in diabetes, a great snack choice if you have gestational diabetes.
7) Avocados. Did you know avocados are actually a fruit, not a vegetable? Avocados are full of healthy fats, fiber, and critical pregnancy nutrients such as folate which help prevent neural tube defects. The healthy fats (called monounsaturated fats) in avocados help build the brain, skin, and tissues of your fetus. Pretty amazing! Plus, avocadoes are so filling and delicious. Avocados go great with eggs, in a smoothie, in a salad, or made into guacamole.
8) Legumes. Legumes such as black beans, chick peas, and lentils are another great folate source as well as fiber and plant-based protein. The fiber and protein contained in legumes help regulate your appetite and hold you over longer so you have less cravings and fatigue. The high fiber content also helps reduce constipation. There are so many easy ways to add beans to your meals. Add to your quesadilla or taco, in your rice, salad, or in a soup or chili.
9) Berries. Berries such as blueberries, strawberries, and rasberries are jam packed with antioxidants like vitamin C which help improve iron absorption in your body. Berries are also considered a lower glycemic index fruit which may result in less blood sugar spikes in gestational diabetes. Add to your oatmeal, in smoothies, yogurt, or as an energizing snack on its own.
10) Whole grains. As opposed to refined grains like white bread, pastries, and donuts, whole grains are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and beneficial plant nutrients that support a healthy gut. Many whole grains nowadays are fortified with many of the nutrients you need more of during pregnancy such as folic acid and B-vitamins to help make it easier to meet your requirements. Look for this on the nutrition label. Examples of whole grains are steel-cut oats, quinoa, and whole wheat bread (look for “whole wheat” or “whole grain” as the first ingredient on the nutrition label).
Include these foods regularly in your diet if you’re currently pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant in the near future. These foods are delicious, filling, and contain really important nutrients for baby’s development. Do not think of your prenatal vitamin as a substitute for real food, but as a supplement to it. It is ideal to get most of your nutrients directly from your food as it is more readily absorbed. However, if you are struggling with nausea or indigestion, do your best to choose foods from this list that are more tolerable for you. I know especially during the first trimester, morning sickness can be a real challenge and it may be difficult to be able to eat all these foods during this time. Do the best you can but most importantly, listen to your body.
What is your favorite food from this list? Let me know!
Have questions or need more guidance with your diet? Reach out to me to schedule your FREE nutrition strategy call – I would love to help guide you on your motherhood journey!