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Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

Eating healthy during your pregnancy will support the development of your growing baby and help you feel your best. Canada’s Food Guide can help you choose a variety of healthy foods, ensuring that you get all the important nutrients you and your growing baby need.

When you are pregnant, the amount of vitamins and minerals you need increases. A prenatal multivitamin and mineral supplement helps you get the extra nutrients you and your baby need. Your daily multivitamin should have 0.4 milligrams (mg) of folic acid and 16 to 20 mg of iron.

Not pregnant yet? Visit the Before Pregnancy section to find out more about food and healthy eating before pregnancy. 

 

What should I eat during pregnancy?

  • Eat three meals per day with healthy snacks in between. See the healthy eating recommendations on Canada’s Food Guide. Try making half your plate vegetables and fruit.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, whole grain and protein foods (e.g. meat, poultry, milk, yogurt, cheese). Choose protein foods that come from plants (e.g. beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu) more often.
  • Drink water regularly to stay hydrated.
  • Choose milk or unsweetened fortified soy beverages daily. Soy beverages have more protein than most other plant based beverages.
  • Include healthy fats (e.g. non-hydrogenated margarine, avocado, vegetable oil-based salad dressings, or vegetable oils such as canola and olive) daily at your meals and snacks.
  • Limit foods high in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar.
  • Pregnant persons need more energy from food in the second and third trimesters and while breastfeeding. This means you may need a little more food each day such as an extra healthy snack.  
 

What vitamins and minerals does a developing baby need?

Folate (Folic Acid) 

Folate is a B vitamin in foods that helps you and your baby build tissues and blood, especially in the first few weeks of pregnancy. You will need to take extra folic acid as a supplement along with choosing foods higher in folate. Folate and folic acid are used similarly by the body

Folic acid can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are birth defects that affect the baby’s brain and spine. Spina bifida is an NTD. A daily prenatal multivitamin can give you the extra folic acid you need while you are pregnant. Some women need even more folic acid.
Talk to your healthcare provider about the amount of folic acid you should take.

Iron

Iron helps build the red blood cells that carry oxygen and iron to your baby. A growing baby needs to build up a store of iron before they are born to reduce the chance of iron deficiency.
Good sources of iron include:

  • Protein foods such as lean red meat, eggs, poultry, cooked or canned clams, beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Dried fruits

Eating vegetable and fruits at your meals, which are rich in vitamin C, helps absorb more iron.
A prenatal vitamin is also recommended to help you get the extra iron that is needed throughout pregnancy.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps your body use (absorb) the iron in vegetables, grain products, dried (requires cooking) and canned (ready-to-eat) beans and lentils. When your meal doesn’t include meat, poultry or fish, include a source of vitamin C to help your body absorb iron from foods.
All vegetables and fruits are a source of vitamin C. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes and tomato sauce, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage and potato.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D help keep your bones strong. They also work together to build strong bones and teeth for your baby. Here are some ideas to help you increase the calcium and vitamin D and in your meals and snacks:

  • Have milk and/or unflavoured fortified soy beverage every day.
  • Make a stir-fry with bok choy, kale, broccoli and calcium-set tofu.
  • Try salmon or sardines on whole grain crackers.
  • Grate some cheese into your soup or salad.
  • Choose yogurt with added vitamin D.

Omega 3  Fats

  • You need more Omega 3 fats when you are pregnant. These fats help develop your baby's brain, eyes and nerves. Food sources include: fatty fish, seafood, walnuts, ground flax seed, canola and soybean oil, Omega 3 eggs and yogurt with added omega-3 fats.
  • Health Canada has advice on how to choose fish that are low in mercury so that you and your baby can take advantage of the benefits of eating fish.

How much weight should I gain during pregnancy?

The amount of weight that a pregnant woman should gain depends on many factors, including their pre-pregnancy weight.

Gaining weight during pregnancy helps:

  • your baby grow and develop properly
  • you feel better and energized
  • your body prepare for breastfeeding

Most women should gain between 11.5 to 16 kg (25 to 35 pounds) during their pregnancy. The amount of weight gain recommended depends on your Body Mass Index (BMI) before you became pregnant.

Food Safety and Pregnancy

Food safety is especially important during pregnancy. The hormones in pregnancy change the immune system, making it more likely for a pregnant woman to get a foodborne illness (food poisoning). Even if you don’t feel sick, the microorganisms that cause food-borne illness can cause serious harm to your baby.

Diabetes in Pregnancy1

It is common for pregnant women to have high blood sugar during pregnancy. This is called gestational diabetes. Following Canada’s Food Guide and staying physically active can help promote healthy blood sugar levels. Eating smaller meals more often can also help with blood sugars. All women should be tested for diabetes in pregnancy. Speak to your healthcare provider about your blood sugar test.

Caffeine and Pregnancy

Too much caffeine is not good for you or your baby. Health Canada recommends that all women who can become pregnant, are pregnant or breastfeeding have no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day. Be aware of how much caffeine you are getting from coffee, tea and other foods and beverages. Drinking water, milk or unsweetened fortified soy beverages are better choices.

For more information about nausea, vomiting, heartburn and constipation during pregnancy, view the Nutrition Connections Healthy Eating for a Healthy Baby booklet.

 
Date of creation: December 15, 2012
Last modified on: October 30, 2021
 

References

1Health Canada. (2021-10-06 ). Canada’s Food Guide. Retrieved from
https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/
2Health Canada. (2019-11-27). Mercury in Fish- Consumption advice: Making informed choices about fish Retrieved from
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/chem-chim/environ/mercur/cons-adv-etud-eng.php
3Health Canada. (2018-01-29). Folic Acid and Neural Tube Defects. Retrieved from
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/pregnancy/folic-acid.html
4Health Canada. (2021-07-21). Healthy eating and pregnancy Retrieved from
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/pregnancy/healthy-eating-pregnancy.html
5Nutrition Connections (2021)Healthy Eating for a Healthy Baby Retrieved from
https://nutritionconnections.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/HEHB-booklet-2021_FINAL.pdf