Making healthy choices is especially important while you are pregnant. Eating well gives your baby the nutrients she needs to grow and develop. It also helps lower your risk of having health problems such as low iron or high blood pressure. Here are answers to some common questions about eating for a healthy pregnancy.
What should I eat while I am pregnant?
- Aim to eat three meals a day with healthy snacks in between.
- Get your energy from healthy foods like vegetables and fruit, whole grains, lower fat milk, cheese and yogurt, lean meats and legumes (beans, peas and lentils).
- Limit foods high in fat, salt and sugar like chips, salted pretzels, candy, sweetened beverages, cakes and cookies.
- Drink water regularly to satisfy your thirst.
What healthy eating tools can I use for healthy eating during pregnancy?
- Use Canada’s Food Guide to help you eat the right amount and types of foods for your age group. Learn how many Food Guide Servings you need from each food group.
- Add an extra two to three Food Guide Servings a day during the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy to provide the extra energy (calories) needed for your baby’s growth.
Bonus! Create a seven day meal plan using our Eating for a Healthy Pregnancy Menu Plan to make healthy food choices easy.
Should I take a prenatal multivitamin when I am pregnant?
Yes. While you are pregnant it is difficult to meet your needs for folic acid and iron through healthy eating alone. Prenatal multivitamins are also lower in Vitamin A. Too much vitamin A may cause birth defects, especially during the first trimester. Choose a prenatal multivitamin that has:
- 0.4 mg (400 mcg) folic acid. Do not take more than 1mg (1000 mcg) per day.
- 16-20 mg of iron. Some women may need more. Talk to your health care provider about the amount of iron you need.
- Vitamin B12.
Ask your health care provider to help you find a prenatal multivitamin that is right for you.
What nutrients are important during pregnancy?
There are many nutrients that you and your baby need to be healthy. Some nutrients, like folate (folic acid), iron, calcium and omega-3 fats are especially important during pregnancy.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps build new cells. Folic acid is the form found in vitamin supplements while folate is the form found in food. Getting enough of this nutrient can help lower the risk of birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects. To meet your folic acid/folate needs, especially in the first trimester, take a daily prenatal multivitamin. Try these meal and snack ideas that are rich in folate:
- Add spinach, collards and mustard greens to soups and stews.
- Use green vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, okra and Brussels sprouts in a stir-fry.
- Enjoy beans and lentils more often. Try chili, bean curries and dals, hummus and lentil soups.
- Have a handful of edamame (fresh soy beans), sunflower seeds or peanuts as a snack.
Iron helps build new red blood cells and helps them carry oxygen. The amount of blood you have while you are pregnant increases to meet the needs of you and your baby. Getting enough iron helps your baby store iron for when she is born. To meet your iron needs throughout pregnancy take a daily prenatal multivitamin. It is also important to get iron from foods:
- Our bodies absorb heme iron best, which usually comes from animal foods. Choose foods high in heme iron like meat, poultry, fish and shellfish.
- Non-heme iron can be found in plant foods, but is not absorbed by our bodies as well as heme iron is. Plant foods that have iron include beans and lentils, whole grain and enriched breads and pasta, fortified breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, tofu and eggs. Include foods rich in vitamin C to help your body use non-heme iron. Try these meal and snack ideas:
- Add beans or lentils to a tomato-based pasta sauce.
- Toss pumpkin seeds, cashews or pine nuts into salads or a stir-fry.
- Try bean tacos. Top with tomatoes, spinach and red peppers.
- Top whole grain cereal with strawberries and kiwi.
Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth for your baby. It also helps the heart, nerves and muscles grow. If you do not get enough calcium from food or supplements, it is taken from your bones to help your baby develop. To meet your calcium needs throughout pregnancy:
- Eat two Food Guide servings of Milk and Alternatives every day. One serving is equal to:
- 250 mL (1 cup) of milk or fortified soy beverage. Choose lower fat options most often (skim, 1% or 2%).
- 50g of cheese (about the size of two thumbs). Choose lower fat options most often (20% M.F. or less).
- 175g (3/4 cup) of yogurt or kefir. Choose lower fat options most often (2% M.F. or less).
- Choose other calcium-rich foods.
It is best to get your calcium from foods. High calcium foods provide many other important nutrients that are not found in calcium supplements.
Omega-3 fats are important for your baby’s brain and eye development. Omega-3 fats are found in only a few foods such as fish and seafood. There are also some plant sources of omega-3 fats like nuts, seeds and soy. To meet your omega-3 fat needs throughout pregnancy:
- Eat at least two Food Guide servings of fatty fish per week. One serving is equal to 75g (2 ½ oz). Fatty fish include salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, Arctic Char and trout. Choose fish that is low in mercury more often.
- Choose other food sources of omega-3 fats like walnuts, ground flax seeds and flax seed oil, chia seeds, soy products and canola oil.
- Some foods in the grocery store have added omega-3 fats. Look for the words “omega-3”, “ALA”, “EPA”, or “DHA” on the nutrition labels of foods like eggs, margarine, cow’s milk, yogurt, soy beverage, bread and cereal. The amount of omega-3 fats in these foods varies.
If you do not eat fish, you can safely take fish oil supplements while you are pregnant. Do not take more than 3000 mg per day. If you already eat fish twice a week, taking fish oil supplements has not been shown to have any extra benefits for your baby.
Where else can I find more information about healthy eating and pregnancy?
Visit the Public Health Agency of Canada to:
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Last Update – January 20, 2022