A balanced diet in pregnancy

Eating well means eating a range of different kinds of food from the main food groups every day.

Eating a balanced and varied diet makes sure you have all the nutrients you and your baby need during your pregnancy. This advice is important for everyone – including your family and partner!

There are some important things you need to know about which foods are good for you and your baby and which foods you should avoid. 

Download Your guide to a healthy diet in pregnancy here.

Try to avoid eating food that has lots of sugar and salt, and choose foods from each of these groups every day – they are all important for your health now and after your baby is born.

Fruit and vegetables

Eat plenty of these, at least five portions a day. Each portion should be the size of a good adult handful, but preferably more. Choose vegetables and fruits that are different colours - orange, red, green, yellow, white and purple fruit and veg all have different nutrients so aim to 'eat a rainbow'!

Whether fresh, frozen, tinned or dried, fruit and vegetables have lots of healthy vitamins and minerals. They are also a good source of fibre, which helps prevent constipation.

Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, nuts, seeds, tofu and other meat alternatives provide protein and the important nutrients iron and zinc. Protein builds new tissue for bones, muscles and organs, so it's vital for your baby's growth.

Eggs are a very good source of nutrients and are cheap and easy to prepare. While pregnant women have until now been advised to avoid eating raw or under-cooked eggs, new research suggests that they are safe to eat in pregnancy as long as they are of Red Lion standard. The Foods Standards Agency still advises pregnant women against eating raw or under-cooked eggs but they are currently reviewing this advice.

Oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and fresh tuna, have Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be helpful for the baby’s brain development.But you should have no more than two portions a week.

Aim to eat protein foods twice a day.

Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods

This group also includes foods such as couscous, polenta, yam and other grains and starchy roots. Starchy carbohydrate foods are packed with energy and they should make up the main part of every meal alongside fruit and vegetables.

Choose wholegrain, wholemeal or multigrain versions of foods such as bread, rice and pasta. These will give you more fibre and other nutrients and fill you up more.  You can leave the skins on potatoes when you cook them as well – easier and more nutritious!

Milk and dairy foods

These include milk, cheese and yoghurt. Dairy foods are a good source of calcium, which, along with vitamin D, is important for strong bones and teeth. Choose low or reduced-fat versions and, if you are pregnant, make sure any cheese or milk you have has been pasteurised.

 Tips for getting your five a day

  • Have fruit for breakfast - slice a banana or sprinkle berries into your breakfast cereal, for example.
  • Cook a variety of vegetables, blend them in a food processor and add them to tomato-based sauces or stews.
  • Have a salad with your midday or evening meal.
  • For a snack, choose a piece of fresh fruit, a handful of dried fruit or raw vegetable sticks with some hummus for dipping.

What if I don't like vegetables?

Try some raw vegetables, such as carrots and peppers, or sweeter vegetables, such as sweetcorn. You could also add a little chopped or blended veg into sauces or stews made with tinned tomatoes – you probably won't even notice it and if you keep trying different vegetables you will probably find you, and your family, learn to like them more.

Did you know?

Potatoes, yam, plantain and cassava don't count towards your five a day because they are starchy foods.

Fruit and veg don't have to be expensive

Eat fruit and vegetables when they're in season as they'll be cheaper, and look out for offers at the supermarket or your local greengrocer. Loose fruit and vegetables are often cheaper than pre-packed, and market stalls can offer great value for money as can local vegetable and fruit box schemes and farmers markets.

 Download the Eatwell Guide here

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Sources

  1. Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J (2012) Mayes’ Midwifery, 14th edition, London, Ballière Tindall
  2. Public Health England (2013) ‘The eatwell plate: how to use it in promotional material’: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-plate-how-to-use-it-in-promotional-material [accessed 18 January 2015]
  3. Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, Mindell J S (2013) ‘Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data’, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 68 (9): 856–62: http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2014/03/03/jech-2013-203500.full [accessed 18 January 2015]; BDA (2014)
  4. ‘Food Fact Sheet: Fruits and vegetables – how to get five-a-day’, Birmingham, British Dietetic Association: https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/FruitVeg [accessed 18 January 2015]
  5. ‘Other vitamins and minerals’, NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Other-vitamins-minerals.aspx#zinc [accessed 18 January 2015]
  6. Coletta JM, Bell SJ, Roman AS (2010) ‘Omega-3 fatty acids and pregnancy’, Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology 3 (4): 163–71.
  7. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-care-cg62 [accessed 18 January 2015].
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Last reviewed on August 1st, 2016. Next review date August 1st, 2019.

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