What Food Should You Eat And Avoid During Pregnancy?
We Look At Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, Food Can You Eat When You Are Pregnant, And Food Should You Avoid
If you've recently found out that you are pregnant, you might be wondering about healthy eating when you’re expecting and the type of pregnancy food you should be eating and avoiding.
You will probably have a lot of questions ranging from whether your daily takeaway coffee is still on the menu, to if your current craving for cheese sandwiches is OK.
In this post we look at healthy eating during pregnancy, what you can and can’t eat, and answer all the common questions mums-to-be have around diet and foods during pregnancy.
The Basics Of Healthy Eating During Pregnancy
Healthy eating during pregnancy is no different to healthy eating at any other time – it’s just particularly important to ensure that you are eating enough of the essential nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, for both you and your baby.
A balanced diet includes a wide range of foods from 5 different food groups:
- Starchy carbohydrates (bread, cereals, rice etc.)
- Fruit and vegetables
- Dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurts etc.)
- Protein (meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, soya etc.)
- Foods containing fat and sugar
For a balanced pregnancy diet, you need to eat more fruit and vegetables and starchy carbohydrate foods, moderate amounts of dairy and protein foods and just a few fatty and sugary foods.
What Vitamin Supplement Do I Need To Take During Pregnancy?
You might be wondering what vitamin supplement you need to take during pregnancy. Find out more in our post on reasons to take a combined pregnancy supplement.
Our Pregnacare range of pregnancy vitamins has been carefully developed to provide important nutritional support throughout all of pregnancy. Each of our pregnancy supplements includes 400μg folic acid and 10μg of vitamin D, the exact levels as advised by the UK Department of Health during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The Types Of Foods You Can Eat During Pregnancy
Carbohydrates During Pregnancy
- Base every meal on starchy foods like bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, chapatis, yams and cereals. These provide energy for you and for your baby to grow. They can also be a good source of fibre, help you feel full and combat fatigue.
Protein During Pregnancy
- Choose foods rich in protein such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs soya, beans, and nuts. These foods are also great sources of iron.
Fibre-Rich Food During Pregnancy
- Eat more fibre rich foods such as wholegrain breads and pasta, brown rice, wholegrain or high fibre breakfast cereals, pulses, fruit, and vegetables to help prevent constipation and piles.
Meat During Pregnancy
- Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so that there is no trace of pink or blood, and wash all surfaces and utensils after preparing raw meat. Store raw meats at the bottom of the fridge and use a separate chopping board.
- Reheat ready-to-eat poultry and cooked chilled meals thoroughly and ensure they are piping hot before they are eaten.
- Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
Fish During Pregnancy
- Aim for two portions of fish each week, one of which should be oily. Oily fish includes salmon, trout, sardines, and pilchards, which are important for supplying the baby with long-chain fatty acids (AA, EPA and DHA). Maternal intake of DHA contributes to the normal development of the eyes and brain of the foetus.*
*A beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 200mg DHA in addition to the recommended daily intake of 250mg DHA/EPA for adults.
- If you never eat oily fish speak to your midwife about taking a pregnancy supplement which contains Omega-3, such as Vitabiotics Pregnacare Plus.
- You can eat tuna, but limit intake to no more than 2 servings if fresh, or 4 small cans a week, because the mercury levels in these fish are high and can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. This also applies before conception and during breast-feeding.
Dairy Products During Pregnancy
- Eat plenty of dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yoghurts. Dairy foods are a major source of calcium, important for your and your baby’s teeth and bones.
- Choose low fat varieties when you can.
- If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
- You can eat some types of cheese during pregnancy, including any hard cheese including cheddar and parmesan, soft cheese made from pasteurised milk, including feta, halloumi, mozzarella, cream cheese and processed soft cheeses like Dairylea, ricotta, Boursin, and cottage cheese. You can also eat blue hard cheese, including Stilton. And it’s OK to eat any kind of baked cheese if it is bubbling hot and cooked through.
Read our post on the types of cheese you can eat during pregnancy.
- Only drink pasteurised or UHT milk or if only raw or unpasteurised milk is available, boil it first.
Eggs During Pregnancy
- Try to only eat British Lion eggs (eggs with a lion stamp on them). These can be eaten fully cooked, partially cooked, and raw (e.g. fresh mayonnaise and mousse).
- For eggs that are not British Lion, only eat these as long as the whites and yolks are cooked thoroughly until solid.
Fruit And Vegetables During Pregnancy
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables. Aim for a wide variety and at least 5 servings every day. Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried all count.
- Wash fruit, vegetables, and salads thoroughly before eating, even pre-packaged types that are washed and ready to eat.
Caffeine During Pregnancy
- You can still have caffeine, but limit it to no more than 200mg a day. Don’t forget that cola, hot chocolate, chocolate bars and energy drinks also contain caffeine.
Water During Pregnancy
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Pregnant women dehydrate more quickly than normal so drinking plenty of water and other fluids is important, especially when exercising or if the weather is hot.
Foods You Should Avoid During Pregnancy
Meat To Avoid During Pregnancy
- Don’t eat raw, undercooked, or cured meats (like salami or Parma ham) unless they are cooked. You can eat steak if it is cooked well.
- Don’t eat liver or liver products such as liver pâté or liver sausage, as they may contain large amounts of vitamin A, which could harm your baby.
- Don’t eat any type of pâté, including vegetable pâté.
Fish To Avoid During Pregnancy
- Don’t eat shark, marlin, and swordfish.
- Limit tuna intake to no more than 2 servings if fresh, or 4 small cans a week, because the mercury levels in these fish are high and can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. This also applies before conception and during breast-feeding.
- Don’t have more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout. Do however include one portion every week for important Omega-3.
- Don’t eat raw shellfish, as it may contain harmful bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning. However shellfish that is part of a hot meal and has been thoroughly cooked is fine.
Dairy Products To Avoid During Pregnancy
- Don’t drink unpasteurised goat’s or sheep’s milk or eat their milk products.
- It’s recommended that you don’t eat mould-ripened soft cheese, such as camembert or brie
- It’s also recommended that you don’t eat cheese made from unpasteurised milk
- Mould-ripened blue cheese, like Danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort are also a no. This is due to the amount of water in the cheese, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
Eggs To Avoid During Pregnancy
- Avoid raw or partially cooked eggs that are not British Lion stamped.
- Don’t eat duck, goose, or quail eggs, unless cooked thoroughly until the whites and yolks are solid.
Vitamin A: Avoid During Pregnancy
- Avoid supplements containing vitamin A – check the label. Beta carotene is safe.
Alcohol: Avoid During Pregnancy
- Don’t drink alcohol. The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Don’t Skip Breakfast!
- Breakfast provides a vital boost to energy and nutrient levels, so make sure you get every day off to a great start for you and your baby.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pregnancy Foods
Here are some of the frequently asked questions about pregnancy foods and eating during pregnancy:
Q. Now That I’m Eating For Two, Can I Eat Twice As Much As Before?
A. In short, no. Falling for the myth of eating for two is likely to result in excessive weight gain, which is not good for you or your baby. Your body becomes more energy efficient during pregnancy to meet the increased energy needs, so you only need to eat slightly more e.g. the odd extra slice of bread or one or two healthy snacks each day.
Q. I’ve Been Having Strong Food Cravings – Does This Mean I Am Deficient In Something?
A. Cravings or aversions to food vary between women and even between pregnancies for the same woman. We don’t really know why food cravings or aversions occur, but they are likely to be caused by hormonal changes to taste and smell rather than any specific deficiencies for vitamins or minerals. For many women food cravings or aversions are unlikely to be harmful but if the craving is for unusual foods or excessive quantities, then it is important to discuss this with your midwife or GP.
Q. Is It True That Eating Spicy Food Will Bring On Labour?
A. No. Eating spicy food close to a due date may cause tummy upsets but that is as close to bringing on labour as you might get. So if you enjoy spicy foods you are safe to carry on eating these throughout the whole pregnancy.
Q. Can I Eat Peanuts During Pregnancy?
A. You can eat peanuts when you're pregnant. Only avoid eating peanuts if you're advised to by a healthcare professional or if you have an existing nut allergy.
Q. What Happens If I’ve Already Eaten Something Considered Risky?
A. Try not to worry! If you weren’t ill or didn’t develop any symptoms, e.g. of food poisoning, it's unlikely to have affected you or your baby.
Make sure to talk to your doctor or midwife if you're concerned or worried about something you've eaten.