While most expectant parents understand that a healthy diet is important during pregnancy, those who are pregnant after loss often have many questions about what to eat (and what to avoid). It’s understandable — you want to nourish your growing baby however you can. And one of the most tangible ways to do that is through the food you consume.

pregnant woman eating a bowl of fruit - what to eat when pregnant


Even though you’re eating for two, you actually don’t need to double your intake. In fact, you really only need a few hundred extra calories per day to sustain the life growing inside of you. The best strategy is to focus on nutrient-dense foods and balanced meals[1]“Diet During Pregnancy,” American Pregnancy Association, https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/diet-during-pregnancy/.

So, what should you eat when pregnant? Which foods are best, and how much is the right amount? Let’s take a look.

How Many Extra Calories Do I Need During Pregnancy?

During the first trimester, you may feel nauseous and have trouble keeping food down. Even if your nausea is mild, it can still be difficult to eat well because nothing is appetizing. If this is the case for you and all you can stomach are toast and tea, that’s OK. Do the best you can; your body doesn’t really need extra calories during the first trimester. Just make sure that as soon as that phase passes, you begin filling your belly with nutrient-rich foods.

As you move into the second trimester, aim for an extra 300-350 calories per day. Then, in the third trimester, shoot for about 450-500 additional calories[2]“Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: Quick Tips,” US Department of Health and Human Services, October 15, 2020, … Continue reading. Snack throughout the day to keep a steady flow of nutrients, maintain steady blood sugar levels so you don’t crash or become lightheaded, and help ward off heartburn.⁠

What Nutrients Do I Need When Pregnant, and How Do I Get Them?

In addition to taking the prenatal vitamins and supplements your provider recommends, it’s important to make intentional, healthy food choices during pregnancy[3]“19 Best Foods to Eat During Pregnancy,” Marygrace Taylor, What To Expect, May 20, 2020, https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/eating-well/week-11/big-nutrition-small-packages.aspx. Nutrient-dense foods will not only serve your baby, but they will help you feel better, too.

Fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, lean meats and fish, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats are all great choices[4]“10 Superfoods to Eat During Pregnancy,” Kristin Koch, The Bump, January 4, 2019, https://www.thebump.com/a/10-pregnancy-foods-to-eat-for-baby. Here are some general recommendations for the nutrients your body needs during pregnancy and what food sources have them[5]“Eating During Pregnancy,” reviewed by Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD, Kids Health, June 2018, https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/eating-pregnancy.html.

Folic Acid

To reduce the risk for neural tube defects, it’s essential for pregnant people to get at least 600 micrograms of folic acid per day. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin found in many foods, including whole grains, citrus fruits, and fortified hot and cold cereal. This is one micronutrient where diet alone is usually not sufficient, so definitely make sure to take your prenatal vitamin every day to get the recommended amount of folic acid!


The amino acids in protein support your baby’s growth, and protein helps you feel full, especially as your appetite increases during pregnancy. Experts recommend about 75 grams of protein every day. Good sources for protein are poultry, low-mercury fish, eggs, lentils, and beans.


This mineral supports your body’s increased blood volume, which carries oxygen to your baby. Since the amount of blood doubles, you need almost twice as much iron during pregnancy, or 27 milligrams daily. Red meat is a great source of iron, but try to choose lean, organic, and grass-fed beef when possible. For a vegetarian option, consider nuts, tofu, and dark leafy greens.

Calcium and Vitamin D

These two nutrients work together. Vitamin D helps calcium do its job of keeping your bones and teeth strong. They support the development of your baby’s bones and teeth, too. Nutritionists suggest 1,000 milligrams of calcium and 600 IU every day during pregnancy. It’s well known that dairy is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, but other options are salmon, spinach, asparagus, and fortified juice.

Healthy Fats

Omega-3 fatty acids support your baby’s brain and eye development. Nuts like walnuts and almonds are high in healthy fats, while salmon is loaded with DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid well known for its brain-boosting power. To sneak more healthy fats into your diet, try cooking with olive or avocado oil.

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates give you energy, something you definitely need when you’re growing another life inside of you. The best choices are fiber-rich, unprocessed carbs like sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, and oats. Although an occasional treat is OK, limit white starchy foods, such as potatoes and white rice, and refined carbs like white bread, sweets, and sodas.


It might seem like a no-brainer, but staying hydrated offers so many benefits. During pregnancy, the body uses water to help make amniotic fluid, carry nutrients to the baby, build new tissue, and produce extra blood. Water also helps you absorb nutrients, eases constipation, lessens indigestion, and flushes waste and toxins out. Dehydration can lead to pregnancy complications, especially if you’re dealing with vomiting or diarrhea. Drink 8-12 glasses of water every day.

Are There Foods I Should Avoid During Pregnancy?

Yes, there are some foods that are best to avoid when pregnant because they can harbor bacteria or chemicals[6]“Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy,” Marygrace Taylor, What To Expect, December 2, 2020, https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/your-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy. Wait until after your baby is born to ingest the following items.

  • Alcohol
  • Hot dogs and cold deli meats (However, most providers agree it’s OK to consume deli meats if you heat them to steaming before consuming them.)
  • Unpasteurized dairy and juices
  • Rare meat
  • Raw seafood
  • Raw eggs
  • Raw sprouts
  • High-mercury fish, including swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, bigeye tuna, orange roughy, and marlin.

One final note about food choices: Whenever possible, consider choosing organic and non-GMO foods. Everything that goes into your body goes into your baby’s, so be mindful not just of the foods, but of the quality of foods, you eat.

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