Healthy eating tips

Now you're pregnant, people may tell you to have second helpings or to eat more treats '...because you're eating for two'. It’s not true and is likely to lead to extra weight gain.

Box of fresh vegetables

Please note: if your BMI is 18.5 or under, click here for more relevant information.

You may be surprised to hear that you don't need any extra calories for the first six months of your pregnancy, unless you were underweight to start with.

In the last three months, you may need around 200 extra calories a day, which isn't very much - around two slices of wholemeal toast and butter.

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. Family and friends might offer you large portions, but it is important to eat in moderation, eat regularly and avoid skipping meals.

What is a balanced diet in pregnancy?

Everything you eat and drink reaches your baby in some way and influences their health, so you need a good range of healthy foods. Having a balanced diet means making sure you include foods from the four main food groups, which will give you and your baby the nutrients you need.

The Eatwell plate shows the main food groups and your diet should have most foods from the biggest groups, medium portions from the middle size groups and only a very small amount from the smallest group.

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, such as bread, potatoes, rice and pasta and low sugar breakfast cereals (wholegrain versions are best) - try to have these at every meal.
  • Foods that are high in protein, such as meat, fish, eggs and pulses (beans, peas and lentils) - aim to eat these twice a day.
  • Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt - aim to have three portions a day – lower-fat versions have the same amount of calcium as regular.                          
  • There is a fifth group, which consists of fatty, sugary foods such as spreads and cooking fats, biscuits, sweets, cakes, crisps and fizzy drinks. Try not to have them too often, and if you do choose them, have small portions.

 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.  It is also wise to choose foods that release their energy slowly, rather than foods that convert quickly to sugar in the blood. This may help you feel fuller for longer. It should help control your appetite and may be useful if you’re trying to manage your weight.

Foods that release their energy slowly include:

  • wholemeal bread, such as multigrain or granary
  • basmati rice
  • boiled potatoes, including the skin
  • broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and sweet potatoes
  • foods made from oats – porridge, oatcakes and oatbreads
  • Peas, beans and lentils
  • Plums, peaches and apples

Avoid foods that release their energy quickly, such as:

  • sugar and sugary foods
  • sugary soft drinks
  • white bread
  • white rice

Start right with breakfast now you're pregnant

Lots of people skip breakfast because they think they don’t have time for it, but 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 has been fasting while you've been asleep and if you don’t eat in the morning you'll feel tired and hungry and be more likely to overeat later.

If you’re not used to having breakfast, have a look at these 5 easy breakfast ideas.

If you feel too sick to eat first thing in the morning, or you’re really pushed for time, try making a packed breakfast the night before to take to work.

Be smart with food shopping during pregnancy

Whatever you do, don't go shopping when you're hungry. Instead, go to the shops after you've had a meal or snack. If you're in the supermarket and you haven't eaten, you're more likely to reach for biscuits, chocolate or crisps. If you have them in the cupboard at home, they can be an easy, quick option so avoid temptation and don't put them 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.

Healthy eating when you have morning sickness

Listen to your body and eat when you can manage it. 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 a little as soon as you wake up, before getting out of bed
  • eating ginger or foods containing ginger
  • not eating and drinking at the same time
  • getting more rest
Find out more about reading food labels

Read more

  • Bowl of bran flakes

    Breakfast with benefits

    If you’re struggling with morning sickness, or finding it hard to get up in the morning, breakfast is probably way down your list of priorities in pregnancy. We look at why it’s worth getting up for.

  • 200 calorie pregnancy snacks

    How much should you eat in pregnancy? During most of your pregnancy you do not need to take in extra calories (over the recommended 2,000 a day for women). In the third trimester you should eat an extra 200 extra calories a day.

  • A portion of pizza.

    What is a portion?

    Choosing healthy foods is very important but the amount you eat is important too.

  • Swap sweet drinks for water.

    Food swaps for a healthy pregnancy

    In pregnancy it's important to eat well. If you are used to eating foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, you can make a few changes that will be good for you and your baby.

  • Hard boiled egg and whole meal toast.

    10 super snacks to help your baby grow

    During pregnancy eating small more frequent meals can help with sickness. If you want a snack, there are lots of healthier options.

  • Vegetable curry

    6 delicious dinner recipes

    These healthy pregnancy recipes are great for your main meal of the day, when you have a little more time to prepare, cook and eat food.

Sources

  1.  NICE (2010)  Dietary interventions and physical activity interventions for weight management before, during and after pregnancy, Public health guidance 27, 2010
  2.  NHS Choices [accessed 30 March 2015] What is the glycaemic index (GI)? http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1862.aspx
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Last reviewed on February 1st, 2015. Next review date February 1st, 2018.

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