Healthy Eating During Pregnancy In 5 Simple Steps

One of my vivid memories from the week after my first positive pregnancy test is coming home with a grocery bag filled to the max with vegetables and other nutritious staples – oranges, two cauliflowers, old fashioned rolled oats, nuts, seeds, kale, swiss chard, and a new dark leafy green I hadn’t tried before. I dove into healthy eating. I’ve since learned that many women turn to healthy eating during pregnancy to fulfill their desire to give their unborn baby the best.

Unfortunately, these great intentions are often unmet. Sometimes we discover it is hard to eat when pregnant. Other times intentions are there, but we don’t know what good pregnancy nutrition looks like. Pregnancy meal plans or a pregnancy food log are a great help for many.

Healthy eating during pregnancy is so worthwhile! It is “best” for your baby, but it’s also best for you!  You will feel better, have more energy, maintain a healthy weight, and create habits that support health and wellbeing for the rest of your life. Guiding your eating by a few simple principles rather than calculating and counting serving sizes and calories is easier, and therefore a more effective approach to healthy eating during pregnancy for most women. This article provides five simple tenets of good pregnancy nutrition. These are guidelines that can profoundly affect health! Following these five easy-to-remember pregnancy health tips will improve your diet! And you can feel great knowing that you are taking steps towards the best health for you and your baby.

1. Eat every color of the rainbow (well OK, not blue)

Healthy Eating During Pregnancy: colorful vegetables
Healthy eating during pregnancy step #1: Eat every color of the rainbow.

Red, orange, yellow, green, purple. Different vitamins and nutrients create different colors in food. The first guideline for healthy eating during pregnancy is to eat a variety of colors every day. At least five servings of vegetables or fruits, especially if more veggies than fruits are eaten, will provide a good basis of vitamins and minerals. And eating different colors will assure that you are getting a variety of nutrients.

2. Eat food in its natural state, or as close as possible

Food in its living state is rich in its natural nutrients. Processing, packaging, transporting, storing, and cooking food all compromise the integrity of the components of food. Therefore, the second simple rule of optimal pregnancy nutrition is to eat food as close to its living source as possible. This means use light cooking methods such as steaming or stir frying. It also means eating local and fresh foods and whole grains. Organic agriculture relies on building soil fertility to ensure a strong crop since chemical fertilizers may not be applied. Therefore, in addition to restricting exposure to harmful chemicals, eating organic foods also increases the nutrients you get from each bite.

3. Include diverse sources of protein with every snack and meal

Protein is important during pregnancy. One way to be sure you are getting enough without over-consuming heavy meats with saturated fat is to incorporate a healthy protein into every snack and meal. Add nut butters to toast, cheese with your crackers, seeds in trail mix or baked goods, hummus on veggies rather then salad dressing, etc. Combing protein with other foods also helps stabilize your blood sugar and give your body and more constant supply of energy, which helps decrease nausea and heartburn for some women. Meat is a great component of healthy eating during pregnancy (unless you’re a vegetarian committed to a balanced diet), but moderation in the high fat meats is still encouraged.

4. Cover half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal

Fruits and vegetables are the key to getting the diverse nutrients that support your health. Filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables assures that you are getting ample servings. It also reduces the chance that you are overeating less healthful foods that add pounds without the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables.

5. Eat a variety of foods little by little throughout the day

The fifth simple rule of healthy eating during pregnancy is to satisfy hunger with a wide variety of foods. For most pregnant women, their own hunger will encourage them to eat often and to eat only a small meal each time they eat. It is important not to diet during pregnancy and to listen closely to the body’s signals. Overeating is not beneficial, but it is crucial that you get the calories you need to support the high demands of pregnancy. A consistent supply of diverse foods is your healthiest plan.

These five tips may be all you need to keep in mind to promote healthy eating during pregnancy. If more details would be helpful check out our articles on the specific recommendations for good nutrition during pregnancy, pregnancy meal plans, and using a pregnancy food log.

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Additional references for healthier eating during pregnancy

Daub C, Daub H. Common Sense Nutrition.  Birth Works Press; 2000.

Arnold SM, Lynn TV, Verbrugge LA, Middaugh JP. Human biomonitoring to
optimize fish consumption advice: reducing uncertainty when evaluating
benefits and risks. American Journal of Public Health. 2000;95(3):393-397. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.042879.

Prentice A. Calcium in pregnancy and lactation. Annual Review of Nutrition. July 2000;20:249-272. doi:10.1146/annurev.nutr.20.1.249.