Healthy Eating for Two: What to Focus On

Figuring out what to eat when you’re pregnant can be confusing. What’s safe to eat, what’s good to eat, and what actually seems appealing? Overall, most of the advice on eating during pregnancy is the same as it was before you became pregnant: eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat free dairy, whole grains, adequate protein, and healthy fats. There is some advice that is different when you’re eating for two. Here’s a quick run down:

  1. Folic acid – Folic acid is a vitamin found in green vegetables, oranges, beans, peas, and lentils, and in grain products that have been enriched. Pregnant women have higher folic acid needs than they did before they were pregnant, in part because folic acid helps prevent certain birth defects. Talk to your doctor about a multivitamin containing folic acid before you become pregnant if possible, or as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant.
  2. Calories – Yes, you’re eating for two. However, your baby is so tiny early on that they need very few calories. Most women pregnant with a single baby don’t need any extra daily calories for the first three months, then about 300 extra calories in the second three months, and 450 calories for the last three months of the pregnancy. Check with your health care provider to make sure you’re gaining the right amount of weight. Gaining too little or too much weight can increase the risk of health problems for you or your baby.
  3. Food safety – Bacteria in food that might not have affected you before your pregnancy can seriously harm your baby. For that reason, pregnant women should avoid raw or undercooked eggs, deli meat that isn’t heated to 165°F just before eating, soft cheeses like feta or queso blanco, premade salads like chicken or egg salad, sushi, and unpasteurized milk or juice. Here’s a handy infographic for more information on foods that are not safe during pregnancy.
  4. Fish – Fish is a healthy food for pregnant women. The recommendation is to eat two to three servings (a total of 8 – 12 ounces) per week of fish or shellfish like salmon, shrimp, tilapia, catfish and cod. However, some species of fish can be contaminated with mercury, so pregnant women should not eat king mackerel,  marlin, shark, swordfish, orange roughy, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, or bigeye tuna. How about Fancy Fish Tacos for a mix of delicious fish and vegetables?

Have a safe and healthy pregnancy!

Written by Kate Terry, Graduate Student in Nutrition at Boston University