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The Good, the Bad and the Sometimes: Your Pregnancy Food Guide

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘baby eats what mom eats’, and that’s true! But let’s put your fears to rest - pregnancy does not mean you need to go on a crazy diet. Rather, most of the time it’s all about choosing whole foods for optimal nutrition

Here, we’ll break down the essential nutrients you need to support baby’s growth and development. We'll also clarify the foods that are on the do-not-eat list so you can walk away with the confidence that you've got this!

To eat

Eating a range of nutrient-dense foods when you’re pregnant provides baby with the best start. A healthy diet, together with regular exercise and prenatal care, supports baby’s development, reduces the risk of birth defects, and minimizes pregnancy and labor complications.

On the flip side, without essential nutrients such as folic acid, iodine, calcium, and vitamin D, baby’s more vulnerable to many preventable birth defects.

So how do you know you’re eating enough of the right nutrients?

It’s well recognized a diet that includes lots of grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy provides most of the nutrients baby needs to thrive. Here’s a selection of foods that make a great, well-balanced shopping list:

    • Whole-grain bread
    • Pasta
    • Fresh and frozen fruits 
    • Fresh and frozen vegetables
    • Nuts
    • Seeds
    • Lean meat
    • Fish
    • Milk
    • Yogurt

Essential pregnancy nutrients

Folic acid is essential during early pregnancy to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

What are spina bifida and anencephaly? Spina bifida causes problems with walking, affects bladder and bowel control, and may cause learning difficulties. Anencephaly causes brain underdevelopment and babies usually survive only a few hours after birth.

You can find folic acid in:

    • Spinach
    • Beans
    • Citrus

Iodine is crucial for baby’s brain development and overall growth. Not enough increases baby’s risk of cognitive problems.

You can find iodine in:

    • Well-cooked seafood
    • Eggs

Vitamin D and calcium helps the body absorb calcium and together they support strong teeth and bones. Not enough vitamin D for a long time can cause rickets. 

What’s rickets? Rickets is a condition affecting bones, making them soft and weak.

You can find vitamin D and calcium in:

    • Salmon
    • Eggs
    • Dairy

And don’t forget to hydrate! Drinking at least 8-12 glasses of water each day supports the health of the placenta and the extra supply of blood that’s needed during pregnancy.

To limit

As a general rule, the foods  you normally limit are the same foods you should limit when you’re pregnant.  Of course, you might not be able to help the odd craving here and there. Just remember, these nutrients are best in moderation. 

Non-essential pregnancy nutrients 

High-fat and high-salt foods contribute little to your nutritional needs. Sugar contains calories without the benefit of any nutrients. These empty calories can also make you put on excess weight. You might get some cravings, but try to go easy on foods such as cakes, cookies, chips, pastries, fizzy drinks, candy and some salad dressings.

Caffeine is okay during the first trimester, but you have to remember it’s a vulnerable time for baby. Research suggests avoiding caffeine may help to minimize the risk of miscarriage. During later pregnancy, 200 mg or less of caffeine per day is best. Some women choose to avoid it altogether because it can make you head to the bathroom more often and cause dehydration.

To avoid

Okay - now we’re at the non-negotiable part of the list. These are the foods that are best avoided while pregnant. 

Alcohol is not safe when you’re pregnant. Even small amounts can affect baby’s development and cause life-long problems, the most serious is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This causes a number  of preventable cognitive and physical problems, including brain damage, skeletal defects and learning impairments.

Fish with high levels of mercury are dangerous to fetal development. A lot of fish and shellfish are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, there are a few that should be avoided entirely as they contain high levels of mercury which can cause developmental problems. 

Fish to avoid entirely include:

    • Albacore
    • Swordfish
    • King mackerel

Raw meat is best avoided while pregnant. Undercooked or raw meat, chicken, and shellfish can cause toxoplasmosis, an illness caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. This is a condition which can cause blindness or mentally disability in later life. Mom is most at risk for passing this infection during the third trimester.

This means if you like your on the rare side, you might want to consider swapping to medium or well-done until after you give birth. 

Unpasteurized food can harbor food-borne bacteria like Listeria which can cause Listeriosis. This can give you severe food poisoning making baby very sick. Unpasteurized foods (foods not heat-treated to kill bacteria) carry a higher risk of Listeria.

Unpasteurized foods to avoid include:

    • Unpasteurized milk and dairy products, 
    • Deli meats such as luncheon, cold cuts
    • Pre-made deli salads

We’re sure you’ll agree that the avoid list isn’t too long – particularly when you consider all the delicious, nutritious options still available. And, you may well discover some new foods along the way, or at least some new flavor combos – pickle ice cream anyone?

Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only.  Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.


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