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 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 a folic acid supplement as well, to make sure you get everything you need.
No need to "eat for two"
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.
Try to 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 Guide to get the balance of your diet right. It shows you how much of what you eat should come from each group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
You don't need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a week.
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 prevent constipation.
Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables carefully.
Starchy foods (carbohydrates) in pregnancy
Starchy foods are an important source of energy, some vitamins and fibre, and help fill you up without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, yams and cornmeal. If you are having chips, go for oven chips lower in fat and salt.
These foods should make up just over a third of the food you eat. Instead of refined starchy (white) food, choose wholegrain or higher fibre options such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice or simply leaving the skins on potatoes.
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. There are some types of fish you should avoid. When you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you shouldn't eat shark, swordfish or marlin.
When you're pregnant, you should avoid having more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, because it can contain pollutants (toxins).
You should avoid eating some raw or partially cooked eggs, as there is a risk of salmonella.
Eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice are safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked, as they come from flocks that have been vaccinated against salmonella.
These eggs have a red lion logo stamped on their shell. Pregnant women can eat these raw or partially cooked (for example, soft boiled eggs).
Eggs that have not been produced under the Lion Code are considered less safe, and pregnant women are advised to avoid eating them raw or partially cooked, including in mousse, mayonnaise and soufflé. These eggs should be cooked until the white and the yolk are hard.
For more information, see Food to avoid in pregnancy.
Dairy in pregnancy
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important because they contain calcium and other nutrients that you and your baby need.
Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed, one per cent fat or skimmed milk, low-fat lower-sugar yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese.
If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy, including unpasteurised cheeses. To find out which cheeses you shouldn't eat when you're pregnant, see Food to avoid in pregnancy.
Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both
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 amoutn of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease.
Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both include:
- all spreading fats (such as butter)
- salad dressings
- ice cream
- fizzy drinks
If you're having foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.
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:
- small sandwiches or pitta bread with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon or sardines, with salad
- salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
- low-fat lower-sugar fruit yoghurt, plain 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
- a small bowl of unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
- milky drinks
- fresh fruit
- baked beans on toast or a small baked potato
- a small slice of malt loaf, a fruited tea cake or a slice of toasted fruit bread
Preparing food safely
- Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – which can harm your unborn baby.
- Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat (poultry, meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and raw vegetables) – this will help to avoid food poisoning.
- Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination.
- Use a separate knife and chopping board for raw meats.
- Heat ready meals until they're steaming 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: For tips see Foods to avoid.
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