Pregnancy Diet and Nutrition

Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD

Title: Founding Registered Dietitian

Alumni: University of British Columbia

Last Updated on:

A healthy diet is crucial to having a healthy pregnancy. Good nutrition is essential to ensuring that a mother’s body can give the unborn baby the nourishment she or he requires to develop and grow.

Pregnancy Diet and Nutrition

Energy – really eating for two?

Energy requirement varies among individuals. Unfortunately, pregnancy is not the ice-cream-free-for-all as we would like it to be. It is generally recommended that pregnant women increase their daily intake by 100 calories in the first trimester and 300 calories in the second and third trimester. For instance, an extra snack before bedtime consisting of a fruit, a serving of milk or yogurt and a few biscuits is often enough. A daily prenatal multivitamin supplement is often recommended during pregnancy.


Folate, or folic acid, is needed to support the increasing maternal blood volume and to decrease the risk of baby Neural Tube Defects (NTD). Diet alone is not likely to provide enough folate. Therefore, it is recommended that women should start taking a daily folate supplement of 400 mcg (0.4mg) 3 months prior to conception and increase to 600 mcg in the first 3 months of the pregnancy.


Iron is essential to maintaining a sufficient level of blood supply to the growing baby and the placenta. As many women’s iron stores are not enough for meeting the increased requirements during pregnancy, a daily low dose iron supplement (30mg) is often recommended during the second and third trimesters. You can help prevent iron deficiency anemia by eating more iron-rich foods like lean red meat, fish, poultry, dried fruits, whole-grain breads, and iron-fortified cereals.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Your baby gets the calcium necessary for healthy bones and teeth from the mother’s supply. Depending on your age, it is recommended to include 1000mg – 1300mg of calcium and 200IU of Vitamin D in your diet. It means 4 – 6 servings of dairy products or calcium-fortified foods a day. If calcium intake is insufficient during pregnancy, calcium supplements may be needed.

Dietary Cautions

  • Caffeine: some authorities suggest to limit coffee to 3 – 4 small cups a day; some such as the US Department of Health suggests to avoid it completely.
  • Seafood: Avoid high-mercury fish such as Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel and Tilefish. Also limit fish intake to no more than 2 servings per week. For more info – read Is it Safe to eat Fish during Pregnancy?
  • Artificial Sweeteners: use in moderation. For more info on sweeteners – read Which Artificial Sweeteners are Safe?
  • Herbal Tea: Some herbal teas are safe to drink during pregnancy. These include citrus peel, ginger, lemon balm, orange peel and rose hip teas. Avoid chamomile tea.

The Link between Diet and Fertility

You know that diet and lifestyle choices affect your health and lifespan. But no credible science (only old wives’ tales) has ever shown that diet affects the chances of getting pregnant until 2007 when researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health followed over 17,000 women without a history of infertility for eight years as they tried to become pregnant.

Researchers found that following a “fertility diet” pattern was associated with a lower risk of ovulatory disorder – a major cause of infertility. The results of this study were published in the scientific journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in November 2007 and in the December 10 issue of Newsweek magazine.

The Fertility Diet: The Lowdown

  • Eat good quality carbs like whole grains instead of refined carbs
  • Avoid trans fats (usually found in fast foods, packaged foods, and commercially baked goods)
  • Include more good monounsaturated fats (usually found in nuts, avocados and olive oil) in your meals
  • Choose plant protein instead of animal protein. Opt for beans and lentils, nuts, tofu, and peas instead of meat
  • Go ahead and enjoy your ice-cream. The most surprising finding from the study is that a daily serving or two of whole milk and foods made from whole milk such as full-fat ice cream, yogurt, and cheese seem to offer some protection against ovulatory infertility
  • Stay lean. BMIs of 20 to 24 are in the fertility zone

The Bottom Line: Pregnancy and Diet

  • You will very likely experience cravings, but eating a balanced diet now is more important than ever. So eat healthy – do not skip meals.
  • If you are trying to conceive, take folate supplement now.
  • If you are already pregnant, take your daily prenatal vitamin supplement.
  • If you do not eat 4 – 6 servings of dairy daily, do some math on your daily calcium intake. Don’t forget the calcium content in your prenatal vitamin. If the total is less than 1000mg, you may need to take a calcium supplement.


calcium, folate, iron, pregnancy, vitamin d


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