A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but is especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow.
You can read through this article, or go directly to the sections you want by clicking these links:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Starchy foods (carbohydrates)
- Foods that are high in sugar or fat
- Healthy snacks
- Preparing food safely
- Healthy Start vouchers
You don’t need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need.
It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you're pregnant you need to take some supplements as well, to make sure you get everything you need.
There are also certain foods that should be avoided in pregnancy.
You will probably find that you are hungrier than usual, but you don't need to "eat for two" – even if you are expecting twins or triplets.
Have a healthy breakfast every day, because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.
Eating healthily often means just changing the amounts of different foods you eat so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You can use the eatwell plate to get the balance of your diet right. The eatwell plate shows you how much to eat from each food group. You will need to be careful with your diet if you develop gestational diabetes – your doctor or midwife will advise you.
Fruit and vegetables in pregnancy
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and can help preventconstipation. Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash them carefully.
Starchy foods (carbohydrates) in pregnancy Starchy foods are an important source of energy, vitamins and fibre, and are satisfying without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, sweet potatoes, yams and cornmeal.
These foods should be the main part of every meal. Choose wholemeal instead of processed (white) varieties, or potatoes with their skins on, when you can as they contain more fibre.
Protein in pregnancy
Eat some protein foods every day. Sources of protein include:
- meat (but avoid liver)
Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and try not to add extra fat or oil when cooking meat. Make sure eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat such as lamb, beef and pork are cooked all the way through.
Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them. Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel.
Dairy in pregnancy
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important in pregnancy, because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your baby needs.
Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat lower-sugar yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day.There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy.
Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both include:
- all spreading fats (such as butter)
- oils salad dressings
- cream chocolate
- crisps biscuits
- ice cream
- fizzy drinks
You should only eat a small amount of these foods.
Sugary foods and drinks are often high in calories which can contribute to weight gain. Having sugary foods and drinks can also lead to tooth decay.
Fat is very high in calories, so eating too many fatty foods or eating them too often can make you put on weight. Having too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease. Try to cut down on saturated fat, and have small amounts of foods rich in unsaturated fat instead.
Healthy snacks in pregnancy
If you get hungry between meals, try not to eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose something healthier, such as:
- sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines, with salad
- salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
- low-fat lower-sugar yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
- ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
- vegetable and bean soups
- unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
- milky drinks
- fresh fruit
- baked beans on toast or a baked potato
Preparing food safely
- Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can causetoxoplasmosis – which can harm your unborn baby.
- Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat – this will help to avoid toxoplasmosis.
- Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination. This is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli).
- Use a separate chopping board for raw meats.
- Heat ready meals until they're piping hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry.
You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork are cooked very thoroughly.