Maintaining a Healthy Diet during Pregnancy
The most important thing to consider when it comes to your diet during any stage of your life,
including during your pregnancy journey, is to ensure you are listening to your body and allowing
yourself to eat an abundance of food that makes you feel good and provides you with the energy you
need for your day-to-day activities.
Many women will experience a multitude of different food cravings and aversions during pregnancy,
so it is important to focus on being in tune with this and being conscious of what a ‘healthy balanced
diet’ means to you.
What is the best diet during pregnancy
Unfortunately, there isn’t one specific diet that you can follow that will work for everyone. The best
diet that you should follow during your pregnancy is the one that can be maintained for the longevity
of it, allowing you and your baby to be safe and healthy. Following a specific type of ‘diet’ is not
something to feel restricted by, however there are some guidelines on foods to avoid risking any
potential complications including (but not limited to):
- Unpasteurised or soft ripened dairy products due to the risk of an infection called listeriosis
- Raw, undercooked or cured meats due to the risk of toxoplasmosis
- Raw fish, due to the higher potential of food poisoning
- Raw or undercooked eggs due to the potential of containing salmonella
*PLEASE NOTE: these should be discussed with a medical professional for individual guidance*
Just like the NHS website notes, ‘You do not 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
If you are craving certain foods during your pregnancy, know it is extremely common and is
encouraged to acknowledge this as a part of the process. The most important thing to be conscious
of when experiencing these cravings is to eat in moderation and still focus on having a majority
‘wholefoods-based’ diet. This should incorporate an abundance of fruit, vegetables, protein and fats.
This is important to manage the risk of excessive weight gain, fatigue, gestational diabetes, and
other potential complications that may arise.
To focus on healthy eating, we would recommend prioritising macronutrient balanced meals four to
five times a day to provide you with sustainable energy across the day. This can support and ensure
you eat as healthy as possible during your pregnancy and manage any negative risks that may arise.
So how do we build a macronutrient balanced diet?
Firstly, focusing on what your protein source will be. Some different sources could include cooked
meats and fish, beans and legumes or even some cooked eggs and tofu. Having a palm sized serving
of this with each meal will enable you to have balanced blood sugar levels and stay fuller for longer.
Secondly, what is your fat source to provide your brain and baby with the vitamins and minerals it
needs? Perhaps you could have a serving size of nuts or nut butter, or perhaps some avocado or even
a drizzle of oil or tahini.
The next thing to consider is your carbohydrate and wholegrain consumption as part of the meal. I
would always recommend a fist size serving of vegetables or salad to accompany your meal in
conjunction with a cup of rice, quinoa, potato or wholemeal pasta, just to name a few.
Carbohydrates are the bodies main source of energy, so it is important that they are not restricted or
removed, especially during your pregnancy.
What about snacks?
If you are currently following a specific diet, including a vegan or vegetarian based diet, and this is
something you want to sustain during your pregnancy, there are no reasons why this cannot be
maintained. In a 2018 research paper by L Baroni et al, it concluded that ‘a completely plant-based
diet is suitable during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, and childhood, provided that it is well-planned’.
Similar to the recommendations above regarding balanced meals, having balanced snacks that are
enjoyable and not restrictive is a great way to ensure you sustain your energy across the day. Some
snack ideas might include:
- Yoghurt with some nuts and fruit
- Hummus with vegetable sticks or pitta bread
- Rice crackers with tuna or sardines and avocado
- Apple and nut butter
- Boiled eggs, cheese and crackers
Following a vegan or vegetarian diet during pregnancy
It is known that a vegan diet does limit some extremely important vitamins and minerals and must be
considered during all stages of pregnancy. Whilst a vegan diet may be healthy for some women, it
may not be healthy for others, and it is advised to receive regular blood tests and assessments to
ensure that the mother and baby are growing at a healthy rate.
The critical element for all women to consider is ensuring that their vegan or vegetarian dietary
choices are balanced in nutrients and meets your energy requirements for the day-to-day tasks you
need to complete. Ensuring you have a wide variety of plants (including fruits, vegetables, beans and
legumes), maintaining an appropriate protein intake and incorporating a variety of healthy fats and
wholegrains will support the increasing energy requirements during pregnancy.
If you are finding that you are lethargic, or at your regular check-ups doctors are concerned in any
way about the rate of growth, some supplementation may be required if your choice is to maintain a
vegan or vegetarian diet. Supplementation will require consultation by a medical professional after a
review of blood work is completed, however it is more than likely that supplementation may be
required to ensure all nutrients are being adequately met. This may include, but won’t be not limited
to, protein, fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
If you are currently following a vegan or vegetarian diet and you are noticing increased cravings for
meat or dairy, recognise that this is normal and ok, and does sometimes occur during someone’s
pregnancy. If you are open to listening to these hunger cues, and provided there are no known
allergies, we would recommend to listen to your body and recognise that times of moving from vegan
to vegetarian and eating some meat may be required for the health and safety of your baby. Perhaps
starting with vegetarian food sources such as eggs (ensuring they are well cooked) and appropriate
sources of dairy to provide some healthy sources of protein, fats, calcium and Vitamin B12, before
moving to meat sources, may be a great option for you.
Feeling sick or unable to eat certain foods during your pregnancy?
Many women can feel unwell and sick during their pregnancy, especially during the first trimester,
however there are some women who can become ill or have food aversions during the entirety of
their pregnancies. If you are struggling to hold any food down, it is important for you to speak with
your doctor for support to ensure you can provide yourself and the baby with as many vitamins and
minerals as you can. If this is a problem for you, small meals often may be more supportive than
larger meals and focusing on any foods that you can tolerate is key.
Picking the best diet plan during your pregnancy
So, what is the best diet for you during your pregnancy? The one you can stick to! The one that
provides you with adequate energy from day to day and allows you to grow your baby at a healthy
rate with little complications. Listening to your body whilst pregnancy is so important, as well as
seeking the advice of medical professionals to ensure that your pregnancy is as healthy as possible,
as everyone requires individual levels of support during this time.
If, prior to your pregnancy, your diet was full of wholefoods and your intake of processed and sugary
foods was restricted, maintaining this would be ideal to feel your best and support a healthy diet.
However, if you have an overwhelming number of cravings, especially for sweet and sugary foods, it
would be recommended to implement a balance of both your previous wholefoods-based diet with a
few sweet or sugary foods in between, to ensure you are responding to those voices in your head (in
moderation of course).
The best diet plan for someone who is trying to conceive, is currently pregnancy, post-partum or just
wants to live a healthy life, is the nutrition plan that is sustainable and maintainable. It is focused on
providing adequate energy, dense with the appropriate number of vitamins and minerals and is full
of plants, wholegrains, healthy fats and protein to allow our bodies to flourish.
Written By Paige: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal