Eating during pregnancy: Foods that support your health – and your baby's | Precision Nutrition

Eating during pregnancy:
Foods that support your health – and your baby's

By John Berardi, Ph.D.


Most women realize that what they eat during pregnancy can have important effects on the health of their baby. However, very few women know exactly what to eat and what to avoid.

So, in this article, I’ll be sharing with you strategies for eating properly to support your own health – and the health of your baby.

Also, for those of you interested in preventing excess weight gain, gestational diabetes, and more, these tips are just what the doctor ordered.


Pregnancy means building

To begin with, pregnancy is a period of anabolism, or building.

Like weight lifters building new muscle tissue after their strength training sessions, pregnant women’s bodies are in building mode. But instead of building your own muscle tissue, you’re building the baby’s tissue.

To this end, it’s critical that you’re getting more calories, more macronutrition (protein, carbohydrates, fats), and more micronutrition (vitamins and minerals) than you normally would.

But how much extra should you be eating? Well, research shows that an extra 300-500 calories per day will do the trick.

If you exercise regularly, you’ll want to shoot for closer to 500 extra calories per day. And if you’re not exercising regularly, the extra 300 calories should do.

While this represents a respectable increase in food intake, don’t go overboard. Adding two healthy snacks to your regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner schedule can easily help you meet your extra caloric needs.

Of course, you’ll want those snacks to be full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients – all critical for health. So make sure you’re making the right choices.

For help in that department, see the food listings below.

Pregnancy and weight gain

One question I’m often asked is this: how can I know if I’m eating enough? Well, that’s simple. Here are some guidelines for healthy weight gain during pregnancy:

  • Women starting out underweight should gain between 30 and 40 lb
  • Women starting out normal weight should gain between 25 and 35 lb
  • Women starting out overweight should gain between 15 and 25 lb
  • Women 5’2” or shorter should gain between 15 and 25 lb

I understand that many women gain far more weight than this. And there are a few scenarios where that’s a necessary consequence of complications during pregnancy.

But for most healthy pregnancies, a combination of exercising and eating right can help eliminate excess weight gain, promoting just the right amount.

Now, here’s an important note for those fitness buffs out there. The levels of weight gain suggested above aren’t negotiable.

Indeed, studies show that less weight gain than listed above can result in infants with low birth weights. And this may mean delayed development.

You see, the mother’s weight determines fetal weight. In other words, if the mother does not gain enough weight, the fetus may remain small simply to protect the mother’s own body.

So again, you’ll want to gain the right amount of weight. Too little – or too much – can harm both you and the baby.

Foods to include, foods to avoid

I know that nausea and food cravings both come into play when pregnant. However, it’s important to remember that you’re still in control. In other words, it’s your choice as to what you eat and what you don’t eat. So choose wisely.

Giving in to cravings for junk food, or avoiding food because of fear of nausea, can subject your growing baby to a host of birth defects.

Heck, research has shown that inadequate nutritional status during development can also have consequences for the child later in life, increasing his or her risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and Type II diabetes.

So let’s talk about what you should be eating and what you should be avoiding.

The following table provides a list of foods that should be actively sought out during pregnancy – as well as foods that should be minimized and/or avoided.

Foods to include


  • Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight every day (i.e. if you’re 150 pounds, eat 150 grams daily)
  • Opt for lean meats (preferably grass-fed, organic)
  • Include a small amount of dairy if you can tolerate it
  • Supplement with natural, unsweetened protein powder if necessary


  • Flax
  • Walnuts
  • Chia
  • Hemp
  • Algae or fish oil supplements (non-liver)
  • Seaweed

Vitamin D

  • 20-30 min sun exposure 2-3 days per week
  • Vitamin D-fortified foods


  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Animal foods


  • Dark, leafy veggies
  • Legumes
  • Folate-fortified foods

Calcium-rich foods

  • Dark, leafy veggies
  • Bok choy
  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Figs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fortified milks
  • Fortified cereal grains

Vitamin B-12

  • Animal foods

Iron-rich foods

  • Dark, leafy veggies
  • Dried fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Animal foods


What To Limit

Avoid or minimize

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine (aim for less than 300 mg per day)
  • Cured/deli meats
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • High sugar intake
  • Using cravings to justify poor food choices

Completely avoid

  • Raw or undercooked animal foods such as meat, seafood, and eggs
  • Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish (cooked or raw)
  • Soft cheeses (mold-ripened, blue-veined, unpasteurized)
  • Tobacco


Most medical organizations now recommend a daily multi-vitamin/multi-mineral for most people. Pregnant women are no exception.

Indeed, research has shown that vitamin supplementation can improve pregnancy outcomes while even reducing nausea and “morning sickness.”

When choosing a multi-vitamin supplement, be sure it contains adequate B-vitamins (including B-12 at 3 µg/day and folic acid at 400 µg/day).

Most prenatal formulas on the market will do the trick. Further, if you’re not getting adequate sun exposure during your pregnancy, you might also include a vitamin D supplement (1000 IU/day).

In the end, the research is clear: eating right during pregnancy is a must.

Step 1: Choose the right foods (from above).

Step 2: Monitor your weight gain to ensure you’re not gaining too much (or too little).

In taking these steps, you can rest easy, knowing that you’ve done everything in your power to ensure a successful pregnancy.

Eat, move, and live… better.

Yep, we know… the health and fitness world can sometimes be a confusing place. But it doesn’t have to be.

Let us help you make sense of it all with this free special report.

In it you’ll learn the best eating, exercise, and lifestyle strategies – unique and personal – for you.

Click here to download the special report, for free.