Written by: Jessica Diamond, MPH, RDN
It feels like women are always being told what not to have while pregnant, but we’re here to tell you what you can have! While there are some foods to avoid, there are also some foods we should try to incorporate to help boost our nutrition during pregnancy. Good nutrition is critical for a baby’s growth and development in utero, and it can also decrease a baby’s risk of chronic disease later in life. These 10 foods are packed with nutrients and will help keep both you and your baby healthy.
- Avocados: I love avocados all the time but especially during motherhood and pregnancy. They are unique among fruits and vegetables because they contain much higher amounts of key nutrients, like folate, potassium, healthy fats, and fiber, all of which are normally under-consumed during pregnancy. Additionally, nutrients found in avocados have been linked to improved maternal health, birth outcomes, and breastmilk quality. If you haven’t already, give our favorite guacamole a try.
- Brazil nuts: Selenium is a trace mineral that doesn’t usually get a lot of attention, but when consumed in ample amounts, it can affect fertility and a child’s cognitive development later in life. Luckily, Brazil nuts are packed with selenium, and just one has enough to meet your selenium needs. Too much selenium can actually be harmful, so we say to stick to no more than one Brazil nut per day. We love adding one brazil nut to our smoothies 3-4x/week.
- Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are loaded with fiber, protein, omega-3s, and other important nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium, all of which are all needed during pregnancy. Add them to oat balls, oatmeal, smoothies, etc. The more places you can sprinkle chia seeds, the better! Try our Raspberry Chia Pudding for an easy and delicious treat.
- Lentils: Protein needs almost double during pregnancy. While that sounds like a lot, the truth is many of us are already consuming that amount of protein or can easily add some simple protein-rich foods to get there. While protein powders are an option, it’s always best to get protein directly from food sources. While all beans are great sources of protein, lentils are one of our favorites because they have 18 grams of protein per cup and plenty of iron at 6.6 mg per cup! (Check out this lentil taco recipe, it’s our go-to for taco night.) Chickpeas are also a great source of fiber and protein, and our creamy hummus is an easy grab-and-go snack for your fridge.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is another one of our favorite grains because it’s packed with protein, fiber, iron, and whole grains, all of which you need more of during pregnancy. It’s super simple to prepare and easy to add to all types of recipes.
- Green leafy vegetables (eaten with a Vitamin C source): Green leafy vegetables are filled with vitamins and minerals and are a great source of iron, which is essential during pregnancy. Spinach is a popular choice because it has a mild taste (which can be important for food aversions during pregnancy), and it can be easily added to all kinds of recipes like soups, stews, smoothies, veggie sides, etc). The biggest thing to remember when it comes to green leafy vegetables or any plant-based iron source is that you must pair it with a Vitamin C source to unlock the iron! So, serve these foods with a little bit of lemon juice, lime juice, berries, orange, or bell peppers to ensure you can absorb the iron.
- Salmon, chunk light tuna or a DHA supplement: Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, are critical for a baby’s brain development. DHA is found in fish and algae, and while the current recommendation for pregnancy is 200mg/day, some studies show that higher amounts of 600-1000mg/day may improve infant’s brain development and is associated with decreased risk of preterm health and higher birth weight.
- You can get here with two servings of low-mercury fish per week, like salmon or chunk light tuna, or a DHA supplement like this one or this vegan option. The vegan supplements on the market are made from algae, and they are great for any mama who is plant-based or can’t tolerate fish oil-based supplements.
- Carrots: Carrots are packed with carotenoids, which are important for growth and development. And did you know that babies can taste in utero? Yes, you heard us right: infants can start tasting flavor in amniotic fluid around the third trimester! Studies have shown that babies can taste carrots as early as 33 weeks. This means you can shape your baby’s taste buds before they are born, and the more variety you eat while pregnant, the more they will be exposed to. Carrots are great roasted with a little olive oil, added to smoothies, served with our dairy-free ranch, or shredded into oatmeal.
- Rolled oats: Packed with fiber and protein, rolled oats are a great way to meet the need for complex carbohydrates, magnesium, manganese, and folate when pregnant. If it’s within your budget, we love One Degree Oats because they are certified glyphosate-free, a contaminant that has been found in oats and some other food products.
- Fruits and vegetables: As much as you can, fill your plate at least halfway with fruits and vegetables. You may have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow” because every colored fruit and/or vegetable offers a different mix of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So, try to add a range of fruits and vegetables to your meals.
Eating a well-balanced diet during pregnancy is not as hard as we are led to believe and there’s no need to strive for perfection! Listen to your body and add a little more fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains to your diet when you can. And don’t forget about prenatal vitamins! Prenatals help us fill nutritional gaps and provide an important buffer while pregnant. Check out this article to find the right prenatal vitamin for you!
Looking for more? Listen to our episode on What you actually need to know about postpartum & nutrition.