Eating well during pregnancy is easy. Moreover, most women will not have to upset their diet. Some adjustments are however indicated. They are described here.
It is important to eat well during pregnancy because the body of the pregnant woman provides the future baby with all the elements he needs to develop well : proteins, good fats, sugars, vitamins and minerals. Needs for energy and nutrients are higher during pregnancy. Women who eat well during pregnancy contribute to the health of their unborn baby.
Eat well is also very important for the woman herself. Women who eat well usually have less fatigue and lower energy levels. They are generally healthier, which makes their pregnancy better. They suffer less from pregnancy diabetes, and control it better if they have it.
Moreover, they more easily take the recommended weight (without exceeding it) and, subsequently, they find with less difficulty their pre-pregnancy weight. To learn more, read our fact sheet Weight gain during pregnancy.
Here are the most important tips for meeting your nutritional needs and those of your unborn baby:
- Eat three meals a day, respecting your hunger. Make each meal the image of the plate presented in Canada's Food Guide.
- Take two or three snacks a day in case of hunger. A snack is, for example, a fruit, a small bowl of yogurt or applesauce, a glass of milk or a handful of almonds.
- Consume a variety of foods among vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Make sure to see more colors on your plate as the days go by.
- Eat regularly. In this way, you prevent energy drops during the day because your blood sugar (also known as glucose) is more stable. Also, avoid long periods (over 12 hours) without eating.
- Avoid unnecessary deprivation and dieting. It could hurt your baby's development and make you tired.
- Avoid highly processed foods, usually too rich in fat, sugar and salt.
- Favor water when you are thirsty.
- Follow the precautionary measures to avoid food infections, like listeriosis and toxoplasmosis. To learn more about these two infections, see our fact sheet Pregnancy and Food Infections: Listeriosis and Toxoplasmosis.
For the pregnant woman, "eating for two" does not mean eating twice, but twice as much. It is true that caloric needs increase during pregnancy, but the difference is not huge. Above all, you must pay attention to the quality of the food you consume. Variety and color must be on the menu.
Calorie needs are greater at the end of pregnancy than at the beginning. In fact, calorie requirements for a day increase from 0 to 100 calories during the first trimester, then about 340 calories during the second trimester and 450 calories in the third trimester.
As the caloric needs increase very little at first, you may not feel the need to eat more for a few weeks. In this case, do not force yourself. The important thing is to eat a variety of foods, as fresh as possible.
On the other hand, the need for vitamins and minerals is very high, even in early pregnancy. In fact, "making a baby" requires at least 50 nutrients, such as iron, folic acid, calcium and vitamin B12. For this reason, it is important that you adopt a quality diet.
Canada's Food Guide lays the foundation for healthy eating. This is a good guide to follow, both before and during and after pregnancy.
Canada's Food Guide is easy to use because it shows what a balanced meal is like using a plate image. It is divided into three parts, each occupied by a food category. Vegetables and fruits occupy half of the plate. The second half is shared between whole grain foods and protein foods (eg, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, fish, dairy products). According to the guide, fruits and vegetables as well as other plant-based foods are the foods that must be on the plate most of the time.
However, the food guide does not recommend no quantities or portions that he should eat. Rather, it emphasizes that each person must learn to recognize the feeling of hunger and satiety in order to know how much food to eat.
For pregnancy-specific advice, Health Canada has developed The Practical Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should count for about half of the food you eat each day. If they top the list, it's because they contain a lot of essential nutrients (eg: minerals, vitamins and fiber) and water.
Fruits and vegetables bring color, in addition to giving flavor and "crunch" to the dishes. In addition, they help to take the recommended weight during pregnancy, but without exceeding it because they provide relatively few calories.
Ideally, eat vegetables of different colors over the days: green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, green beans), orange vegetables (carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes), purple vegetables (beets, eggplants), white or beige vegetables ( mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes), etc. It's better to steam or bake vegetables that you do not eat raw, or blow them up in a little olive oil or canola to better preserve their nutritional value.
Wash fruits and vegetables well with a brush under running water to reduce their pesticide content and possible microorganisms. If you can, buy some organic fruits and vegetables. Those to be prioritized are those that contain the most pesticide residues when grown with conventional agriculture. The Environmental Working Group publishes each year a list of the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables. Organic or not, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
To pay less, you can buy seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables and local. You can also buy frozen and canned (without salt). Also, opt for whole fruits rather than juices, which contain too much sugar and little fiber. Juices are also not very satisfying.
Whole grain foods
Whole grain foods include grain products and other grains, including bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, homemade muffins, etc. They should occupy about a quarter of your plate at meals.
Choose whole grain products because they give energy and contain many vitamins and minerals. In addition, the fibers they contain facilitate digestion, help prevent constipation and feed the good bacteria of your microbiota.
Biscuits and pastries are other sources of grain, but they contain a large amount of fat and sugar, and are usually made from white flour. So eat cookies and pastries in moderation. You can also prepare them yourself for more nourishing versions. In this way, you control the quality and quantity of the ingredients that compose them.
This food group includes chickpeas, lentils and other legumes, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, beef, chicken and other meats, salmon, sardines and more. fish, milk, soy beverage, cheese and yogurt.
It is suggested that they occupy about a quarter of your plate at each meal. Give pride of place to plant foods such as legumes.
This family of foods provides protein, good fats (fish) and many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Oils and fats
Use at least two different oils in the kitchen to obtain different types of fat. For example, opt for olive oil in your vinaigrettes and for canola oil to return the food to the pan. You can also use butter in moderation.
Prevent allergies: is it possible?
Do you have food allergies or is one of your children affected? Perhaps you are wondering if it is possible to prevent them in your unborn baby? At the moment, there is no known way to prevent allergies during pregnancy. It is not avoiding eating peanuts, for example, that your future baby will be less likely to be allergic to it. It is inadvisable to starve yourself during pregnancy to prevent allergies. This deprivation can lead to deficiencies in valuable nutrients.
Most fish offered at the grocery store pose no danger to the health of pregnant women. Some fish may contain contaminants, such as mercury. Mercury can cause damage to the baby's brain.
Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and those who are breastfeeding
fresh or frozen tuna, shark, swordfish and marlin at 150 g per month;
albacore tuna canned at 300 g per week (approximately two canned 170 g). Note that this directive does not apply to canned light tuna, another variety of tuna that does not present any danger.
The following fish and seafood can be consumed
If you eat sport fish in fresh water, consult the consumption guide of the Government of Quebec. Some may contain contaminants.
The consumption of certain foods during pregnancy can be a risk for the pregnant woman and the unborn baby (eg miscarriage, preterm delivery, infections). For this reason, avoid consuming :
raw or barely cooked eggs and all foods containing them (eg, homemade Caesar dressing);
unpasteurized milk products (eg milk, cheese);
soft cheeses (eg brie and camembert) and semi-firm cheeses (eg Saint-paulin) as well as blue, feta and creamy goat cheeses, even if they are made from milk pasteurized because they may also transmit listeriosis;
fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been washed;
raw fish and seafood, including crustaceans and molluscs (oysters, clams). Sushi, sashimi, tartare and ceviche made from raw fish are also to be avoided, as well as fish smoked cold (eg smoked salmon);
meat, poultry, fish, undercooked seafood, including smoked sausages or unheated hot dogs;
undried meats, sliced prepared meats (eg ham for making sandwiches), pâtés and spreads;
raw sprouts, such as alfalfa and sprouted beans;
ready-to-eat foods prepared in grocery stores and placed on the counter (eg, pasta salads, chopped chicken);
unpasteurized fruit juice (eg apple cider);
alcohol. For more information, see our fact sheet Pregnancy and Alcohol Use.
For restrictions on coffee, tea, herbal teas, soft drinks and energy drinks, see our Pregnancy sheet: coffee, tea and herbal teas.
Diet products and sugar substitutes
Sugar substitutes give the products a sweet flavor, but without adding calories. Pregnant women need energy and do not need to replace sugar with sweeteners, except in case of diabetes or if the nutritionist recommends it.
Sugar substitutes added to light products and soft drinks "diet" would be harmless in small amounts : Sucralose (Splenda®), aspartame (NutraSweet®, Egal®) and acesulfame potassium (Ace-K or Sunett®). They are however present in low nutritious foods and do not bring anything of interest to the pregnant woman. So, it is better to limit the consumption.
Sweeteners in powder or tablets such as cyclamates should be avoided (eg: Sucaryl®, Sugar Twin®, Sweet N'Low®, Weight Watchers® Table Top Sweetener).
Aspartame on the hot seat
Following the publication of a Danish study in 2010, French gynecologists and pediatricians asked the government to warn pregnant women about the risks associated with aspartame. The study, which included 59,000 pregnant women, found that those who consumed a can of asparagus-sweetened soda a day saw their risk of premature birth increase by 38%. This proportion was 78% for those who drank four cans a day. Further studies are needed to confirm these results.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can stay with it throughout your pregnancy. However, for your health and that of your unborn baby, Pay special attention to your iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 intake. Do not hesitate to consult a nutritionist to help you plan your vegetarian or vegan diet.
Since vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in foods of animal origin, be sure to eat foods rich in vitamin B12 every day, such as eggs, dairy products and fortified foods (meat substitutes or fortified soy beverages). If you are a vegan, talk to the professional following your pregnancy. He may prescribe a supplement to avoid vitamin B12 deficiencies.
During pregnancy, your iron needs are higher, and your risk of anemia too. Be aware that the
Appetite is the urge to eat while hunger is more like signals that indicate the body needs food (eg, gurgling stomach, low energy).
You may not have much appetite during your pregnancy. This lack of appetite can be caused by fatigue, hormones and, of course, nausea. These are the most common disorder during pregnancy.
When you have no appetite, respect your hunger to know when and how much food to eat. Do not force yourself unless the situation persists.
If you are hungry but have a fragile appetite because of the smells or new dislikes of a pregnant woman, just eat the nutritious foods you want. If you follow the principles of Canada's Food Guide most of the time, you will be well nourished. It's not a meal or even an exceptional day that will put your health and that of your baby in danger.
To learn more about how to reduce the frequency and severity of nausea, check out our Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy.
If you have low income, you may qualify for a food aid program. Do not hesitate to contact the integrated health and social services center (CISSS) in your neighborhood (formerly CLSC). Thanks to the OLO program (for "egg, milk and orange"), poor pregnant women can receive free essential foods (an egg, a liter of milk and a glass of orange juice a day). These foods are enough to meet a lot of the baby's future needs for protein, calcium and vitamins C and D. The program also offers multivitamin supplements to take every day.
The Montreal Diet Dispensary also helps women in financial difficulty. The organization offers Montreal's underprivileged pregnant women regular follow-up with a registered dietitian to increase their chances of giving birth to a healthy baby. Women also receive free milk, eggs and supplements of multivitamins.
Eating well during pregnancy is important for the proper development of the unborn baby, but also for the health of the pregnant woman.
During pregnancy, do not eat for two, but rather eat a variety of foods among fruits and vegetables, protein foods and whole grain foods, while respecting their hunger.
Some foods should be consumed sparingly during pregnancy, while others should be avoided completely.
Photos: GettyImages / Drazen_, Mihailomilovanovic, Georg Tomter Jorn, Dejan_Dundjerski and Barcin