Healthy eating tips
Please note: if your BMI is 18.5 or under, click here for more relevant information
You don’t need to eat for two
Now that you’re pregnant, friends and family may encourage you to eat for two. This can be very tempting, but you don’t need to eat any extra food during the first 6 months of pregnancy. After that, you only need an extra 200 calories a day.
Not all calories are equal, though. If you choose healthy options, such as plain, low-fat yoghurt with banana, it will provide you with around 200 calories of food containing nutrients for you and your baby. However, 200 calories worth of crisps (40g bag) will give very few nutrients.
When such a small amount of food can add so many calories, it's important to keep an eye on the amount of food on your plate. Trying to eat in moderation, eat regularly and avoid skipping meals will help you avoid overeating and, possibly, morning sickness. Find out more about food portions.
The most important thing is to make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet, which will help make sure you and your baby have all the nutrients you need.
Find out more about fun and healthy 200 calorie snacks.
What is a balanced diet in pregnancy?
Everything you eat and drink reaches your baby in some way and influences their health, so try to eat good range of healthy foods. This means eating foods from the four main food groups, which will give you and your baby the nutrients you need.
The Eatwell guide shows the main four food groups. Don’t worry about getting the balance right with every meal, just try to do it over a day or even a week.
The main food groups are:
Fruits and vegetables
Aim for five portions a day and choose a variety from fresh, frozen, canned (without sugar or salt) dried and pure fruit juice (choose only one portion of juice daily).
Starchy carbohydrate foods
This includes things like bread, potatoes, brown bread, rice and pasta. Choose high fibre, wholegrain varieties, such as as wholewheat pasta and wholegrain cereal.
Milk and dairy foods
Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are good sources of protein. Try to have low fat and low sugar products where possible.
Pulses, fish, eggs and meat
These foods are also good sources of protein. Try to choose lean cuts of meat and eat less red and processed meat like bacon, ham and sausages.
Foods to avoid
Try to avoid foods high in fat, salt and sugar. This includes chocolate, cakes, biscuits, sugary soft drinks, butter and ice cream. You don’t have to cut them out completely, just try to have them as an occasional treat instead.
Remember to be kind to yourself – you’re pregnant! If you have a bad day, don't give yourself a hard time. Just try and get back on track the next day.
Find out more about the different food groups.
Eating to keep your blood sugar levels stable in pregnancy
It's important to eat regular meals and snacks, if you can. This will help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system that shows how quickly each food affects your blood sugar levels. Low and medium GI foods release their energy slowly, and high GI foods are broken down quickly by your body and cause a rapid increase in your blood sugar levels.
Choosing low and medium GI foods may help you feel fuller for longer. This should help control your appetite and may be useful if you’re trying to manage your weight.
Foods that release their energy slowly include:
- multigrain, rye, and granary bread
- new potatoes in their skins and sweet potato
- basmati, long grain and brown rice
- porridge, muesli, most oat and bran-based cereals lentils, beans and peas
- fruits and vegetables.
Avoid foods that release their energy quickly, such as:
- sugar and sugary foods
- sugary soft drinks
- white bread
- white rice.
If you work, you may find it helpful to keep a few long-lasting snacks, such as dried fruit and nuts, in your desk drawer or locker, so you don’t get caught out by the hunger pangs.
Start right with breakfast now you're pregnant
Studies have shown that women who have breakfast are more likely to be able to control their weight than those who don’t. Your body fasts while you're asleep and if you don’t eat in the morning you'll feel tired, hungry and you’re more likely to overeat later.
Making sure you eat breakfast can be difficult if you’re busy. You could try making something the night before to take out with you, or even keeping something at work if suitable, such as cereal.
If you’re struggling with morning sickness, you could try eating something like dry toast or plain biscuit before you get out of bed.
If you’re not used to having breakfast, have a look at these 5 easy breakfast ideas.
Healthy eating when you have morning sickness
Listen to your body and eat when you can manage it, and try to remember that pregnancy sickness, or morning sickness doesn't last forever! There is no scientific evidence to back any of the following suggestions but they have helped some women so you could try them:
- eating ginger or foods containing ginger
- not eating and drinking at the same time
- avoid food that make you feel sick
- drink plenty of fluids (sipping little and often). You’re recommended to drink six to eight medium (200ml) glasses of fluid a day.
Be smart with food shopping during pregnancy
Whatever you do, don't go shopping when you're hungry. You're more likely to reach for biscuits, chocolate or crisps. Instead, go to the shops after you've had a meal or snack.
If you have junk food in the cupboard at home, they can be an easy, quick option so avoid temptation and don't put the high fat, sugary food in your shopping trolley in the first place.
Try to plan your meals and go shopping with a list. If you shop online rather than going to the supermarket you may be less likely to be tempted by junk food.
NICE Guidelines (2010) Weight management before, during and after pregnancy National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph27
NHS Choices. The Eatwell Guide. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-eatwell-guide/ (Page last reviewed: 16/03/2016. Next review due: 16/03/2019)
NHS Choices. What is the glycaemic index (GI)? https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/what-is-the-glycaemic-index-gi/ (Page last reviewed: 23/07/2018. Next review due: 23/07/2021