Eating Healthy for Two

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When you are pregnant, eating healthy foods is important for you and your growing baby. Eating the right proportions of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats also is important. Paying attention to what you eat and how much you eat can also help take care of some common discomforts of pregnancy.

What foods should you eat?

When you are pregnant, it is important to eat healthy foods that give your baby what he or she needs to grow. When you eat healthy foods, you give strong bones and teeth, healthy skin, and a healthy body to your baby. Eating right also is healthy for you. Here's what and how much you should eat every day.

Grains, rice, pasta, bread, cereal

These foods provide your body the carbohydrates that it needs for your daily energy. It also provides your body with fiber and minerals. You should eat a variety of grains, such as bran, whole wheat, and brown rice. (Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, do not offer as much fiber and nutrients.)

You need at least 9 servings each day. 1 serving size = 1/2 cup pasta or 1/2 cup cooked cereal or 1 slice of bread


Vegetables provide vitamins A, C, and folic acid. Eat a variety of colored vegetables that will provide the variety of nutrients that you need.

You need at least 4 servings each day. 1 serving size = 1/2 cup fresh or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of salad, 3/4 cup of vegetable juice


Fruits also provide you with  vitamins and minerals that are essential for you and your baby. Like vegetables, consume fruits of a variety of colors.

You need at least 3 servings every day. A serving size = 1/2 cup chopped fruit, 3/4 cup juice, or 1 medium apple, banana, or orange

Milk, cheese, or yogurt

Dairy foods provide you protein and the calcium that your baby bones need to develop.

You need at least 3 servings every day. 1 serving size = 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of cheese (1 slice)

Meat, poultry, fish, beans, or eggs

Proteins provide the building blocks for your baby’s growth. They also provide B vitamins, iron, and zinc — all of which are essential for your baby’s growth. Limit your intake of canned tuna and other fish that might contain mercury, which could affect the brain and nerve development of your baby.

You need at least 3 servings every day. 1 serving size = 2 ounces of lean meat (size of your palm), 1 egg, or 1/2 cup cooked beans

Your healthcare provider also will likely prescribe prenatal vitamin and mineral pills. This will help make sure you get the vitamins and minerals you need, such as calcium, iron, and folic acid.


Fats are needed in minimal amounts during pregnancy but should not be totally avoided because they help in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. Choosing the kind of fats you eat is important. The vegetable-derived oils and fats — such as olive oil, canola oil and avocado oil — all are healthy, unsaturated fats. Saturated fats that are unhealthy and present in junk foods. They may contribute to extra weight that is difficult to lose after your pregnancy. 

Things to avoid during your pregnancy 

  • Avoid alcoholic drinks, tobacco, and drugs.
  • Avoid medications and herbal supplements without checking with your provider — some medicines and supplements can cause birth defects.
  • Try avoiding caffeine or at least limit it to less than 300mg a day, or 2 cups of coffee. You may substitute your urge by having decaffeinated coffee or tea. Some research has shown that high amounts of caffeine from coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate could increase the risk to your baby.
  • Avoid raw or uncooked meat, fish, shellfish, and eggs. Also avoid foods from deli counters or thoroughly reheat cold cuts before you eat them. Cook leftover foods or ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, until they are steaming hot before you eat them.
  • Don't eat unpasteurized soft cheeses — such as Brie, Camembert, feta, blue, Mexican-style, and Roquefort — because of the increased danger of listeria infection during pregnancy. For the same reason, don't drink unpasteurized milk. It is OK to eat hard cheeses, processed cheeses, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt.
  • Avoid raw vegetable sprouts and fresh (unpasteurized) fruit and vegetable juices. They can carry disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella.
  • You do not have to reduce sodium intake during pregnancy, as was thought in the past. A moderate amount of salt helps keep proper levels of sodium in your body as your baby develops. Preferably use iodized salt, and do not add excess salt to your diet.

Choosing the fish you eat

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. They contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients. They are low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids that can contribute to heart health.

However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. Some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby's developing brain and nerves. The Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children to avoid some types of fish with high mercury levels.

Here are some  guidelines for eating fish:

Do not eat

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish

Do eat

Up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are:

  • Shrimp
  • Canned light tuna
  • Salmon
  • Pollock, and catfish
  • Fish sticks and fast-food fish sandwiches

Do not eat

More than 6 ounces per week of canned albacore (white) tuna or tuna steaks because they have more mercury than canned light tuna.

Stay informed

Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught in nearby lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish caught from local waters, but don't eat any other fish during that week.

Other sources of Omega-3-fatty acids are:

  • Flax seeds (Flaxseed oil, also known as linseed oil)
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Winter squash
  • Hemp seeds
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Canola oil