Want to eat healthier without overhauling your diet? Here are 7 tips to eat healthier, plus 7 pregnancy superfoods and easy changes to make without even noticing. Learn how to do it all and make it stick without being overwhelmed!
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Table of Contents
- How to Eat for Pregnancy
- 7 Easy Ways to Implement Healthy Changes
- 7 Pregnancy Superfoods
- 8 Easy Food Swaps for a Healthier Pregnancy
- 3 Unnoticeable Changes to Eat Healthier Pregnancy
- Meal Ideas & Meal Plans
How to Eat for Pregnancy
What does it mean to eat right for pregnancy?
Believe it or not, your doctor isn't trained to guide you in eating for pregnancy. It's just not their specialty. Dietitians and nutritionists are better educated to advise on pregnancy nutrition. There are even some that specialize in prenatal nutrition.
Eating right for pregnancy doesn't have to be a long grocery list of foods you hardly ever eat, or inputting your meals into an app to see how you're doing.
Simple Answer - Eating right for pregnancy means:
1. Eating as much real food as possible.
-----Fruits (frozen or fresh), vegetables (canned, frozen or fresh), meats, fish & seafood, dairy products, eggs, beans (dried or canned), nuts, seeds, etc.
-----Not heavily processed food that comes in boxes or bags (cereal, chips, jello, etc.)
2. Eating protein at every meal.
-----It's recommended to eat 71 to 140 grams of protein each day - 71g prevents severe deficiency and 140g is optimal (see chart below).
3. Eating green at every meal.
-----Salad, leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, edamame, etc.
4. Eating fruits.
-----Berries are super but you really can't go wrong here. Some fruits have more sugar than others, but like anything else, eating even high sugar fruits in moderation is fine.
5. Eating vegetables.
-----All vegetables are good to eat and green veggies are particularly awesome. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, peas and winter squashes should be portioned to ½ cup to avoid spiking blood sugar.
6. Drinking enough water.
-----About 100 ounces of water per day is recommended - that's nearly to 1 and ¼ gallons.
7. Taking a quality prenatal vitamin at meal time and with a glass of water.
-----Because some vitamins are fat soluble and others are water soluble, you absorb more of your prenatal vitamin when you take it with food and water.
Problem - But then there's the overwhelming task of changing the way you eat; your relationship with food. A diet change is a lifestyle change, and it's much easier said than done!
Solution - Chip that massive boulder down into pebbles. In other words, start with just one improvement. Let it be the one that's either most important to you, or the one that's easiest. Once you're comfortable with the first, make another improvement.
You can stop there, or you can do them all. You decide what's best for you, and don't beat yourself up about what you're not doing.
Here are a few more suggestions on how to chip that boulder down into pebbles.
7 Easy Ways to Implement Healthy Changes
1. Pick two vegetables that you like (try to fit a green one in) and roast/cook them at the beginning of the week. Add them to your meals when you don't have any other green foods on your plate.
2. Commit to eating a salad either one, or a few days of the week. Prep them ahead of time or eat out.
3. Add kale or spinach to salads, or use either one to replace the lettuce.
4. Buy cases of bottled water to help keep track of how much you drink. Each bottle is a quick win!
5. Pick a couple of fruits you like and eat at least one a day.
6. Easily prep veggies by roasting them in the oven. When it's meal time, cook the meat/protein and microwave the already prepped veggies.
7. Eat at least 1 pregnancy superfood a day.
I know, I know; not the best tasting thing you can eat, but nutritionally, it's superior to just about every other food there is.
Named nature's multivitamin, it's filled with a ton of vitamins and minerals - rich in iron, folate, choline, Vitamins A, B12, D, E and K. These nutrients are vital to healthy brain development, the prevention of birth defects, organ development and much more.
Eggs are high in choline, DHA, folate, Vitamins A & B, antioxidants and iodine to name a few.
The catch is that you have to eat the whole egg because the yolk is where most of the nutrients are concentrated.
Eggs impact baby's brain development and growing organs.
Pregnant women should eat at least 2 eggs a day, especially if you avoid liver. Two eggs gives you 250 to 300mg of choline, which is almost half of the recommened daily intake of 633mg.
The only other food that comes close to the amount of choline in eggs is liver.
Animal meats are fantastic because they're low carb proteins and the best source of iron and zinc.
Optimal nutrition from animal meats means cooking/eating them with the bone and skin attached.
The glycine, collagen and gelatin from the bones and skin help develop connective tissue, bones and skin, and that's crucial in the third trimester when the baby gains weight rapidly. (Real Food for Pregnancy)
Additionally, tough cuts of meat like pot roast, sausage, ground beef and pulled pork are great choices.
If possible, eat grass fed beef and humanely raised pork, chicken, seafood, turkey, etc.
Salmon is the most eaten of the fatty fishes - salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna - but any fatty fish will do. Salmon is great for Vitamin D, DHA, omega 3's, selenium, B Vitamins, potassium, zinc and iodine. Not to mention it's a protein with zero carbs.
Iodine deficiency is reported to be the #1 cause of preventable intellectual disability. All seafood is a top source of iodine. (Real Food for Pregnancy)
Leafy greens - kale, spinach, collard greens, swiss chard, arugula, microgreens, bok choy, etc. are concentrated sources of many vitamins and minerals like Vitamins B, C, K1, potassium, and one of the best sources of folate.
You can count on leafy greens to foster brain development and help maintain normal blood pressure.
Dairy products have Vitamins A, B6, B12, D, E, K, choline, protein, calcium and zinc. Dairy is the second best source of iodine, behind seafood.
Full fat dairy is the way to go so that you readily absorb the fat soluble vitamins it has.
Greek yogurt is a stand out dairy product since it boasts higher protein, a great macro nutritent ratio, and probiotics.
Vitamin K2 is higher in fermented dairy like aged cheese, yogurt and keifer. It helps increase insulin sensitivity, helping maintain blood sugar.Real Food for Pregnancy
Legumes - lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, peanuts - are great sources of zinc, Vitamin B6, folate, iron and magnesium. They're also excellent sources of protein and calcium for pregnant vegetarians and vegans.
Although legumes are somewhat high carb, they contain plenty of fiber and magnesium. Together, legumes' protein, fiber and magnesium work to maintain blood sugar.
8 Easy Food Swaps for a Healthier Pregnancy
Super easy swaps you can make without breaking a sweat.
Your wallet may notice a $5 to $10 difference, but otherwise, these swaps can give you better nutrition without compromising taste.
1. No salt added canned vegetables and condiments (ketchup, dressings, etc.)
Adding your own salt allows you to control the amount.
2. No sugar added canned vegetables and condiments (ketchup, jelly, etc.)
The sugar is often replaced with a substitute, so the product is still sweet but won't affect your blood sugar the same.
3. Avocado oil
It's the most versatile healthy oil, has a high smoke point, and gives vitamins and minerals where most other oils don't.
*Use the spray oil if fat intake is a concern.*
4. Sea salt or Himalayan salt instead of iodized salt
You get a few trace minerals from these salts whereas you get nothing from iodized salt. Every little bit counts.
5. Bone broth instead of regular broth or stock
Broth, stock and bone broth are all made of the same ingredients, but in different quantities and with different techniques. Bone broth is made to extract as many vitamins and nutrients from animal bones as possible.
*Go for no salt added.*
6. Use full-fat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream (in recipes, not as a condiment) and regular yogurt; also use it to replace half of a recipe's mayonnaise.
Numerous benefits come from dairy products, but Greek yogurt doesn't have as much sugar as regular yogurt, it's tangy like sour cream, and it's creamy like mayo. It adds protein, good fat and probiotics to your meal where they normally wouldn't exist.
7. Raw honey instead of honey
Honey goes through a filtration process that removes many of its health benefits, but raw honey isn't filtered and retains its natural benefits.
*Try to buy local honey from your region when possible to help with allergies.*
8. Grass fed beef
Grass fed beef is higher in Omega 3's than grain fed beef. Omega 3 is important to brain and vision development and aids in the absorption of DHA. It is also the leading cause of preventable intellectual disability worldwide. (Real Food for Pregnancy)
3 Unnoticeable Changes to Eat Healthier for Pregnancy
You likely already have these but don't put them to use enough.
1. Cast iron cookware
Other cookware (like nonstick, Teflon) contains toxins but cast iron doesn't.
Watch the Netflix documentary The Devil We Know. It speaks particularly to nonstick toxins' effects on pregnant women and their children.
Cast iron is naturally nonstick and can be used on the stove top, oven, and open fire. You also get trace amounts of iron when cooking with it, which is great because pregnant women are commonly deficient in iron.
2. Glass containers instead of plastic Tupperware
Plastic contains toxins that transfer to food. Switch plastic containers out for glass containers. At the very least, keep you plastic Tupperware but don't heat any food in it because the heat releases more toxins.
3. Spray Oil
If fat intake is a concern, use spray oil when cooking (not baking). It distributes less oil than pour bottles but has the same effect.
Ready to switch but don't have the tools? Here's what I use.
Eating for 2 is overeating. It's more like eating for 1.1. Although intuitive eating is encouraged, and everyone has different needs in each pregnancy, here is a breakdown chart of nutrition for pregnancy. (Click for an explanation of the chart)
- high mercury fish (albacore tuna, mackerel, swordfish, etc.)
- unwashed produce
- excessive sugar
- fried foods (limit)
- excessive caffeine (soda, coffee)
- under cooked or raw meat
- unpasteurized dairy products and juices
- heavily processed foods (junk food)
Let's be clear - many blanket statements are made to warn pregnant women of certain foods, but those blanket statements cover a lack of education and prohibit foods that are actually beneficial for pregnancy. Understand the why behind recommendation, and how food is handled, and you can make educated decisions on what to avoid.
Eggs, liver, leafy greens, salmon, dairy, legumes and bone-in, skin-on meats. These highly nutritious foods for pregnancy that give you the most bang for your nutritional buck.
Yes. Natural superfoods like eggs, leafy greens, salmon, meats with bones and skin, etc. are best. Superfoods that are heavily processed and/or fortified (like powders) are ok, but real food is best because sometimes the quality of nutrition in those heavily processed or fortified foods are not properly absorbed by your body.
Eggs, fish, seafood, grass fed beef and liver and the absolute best foods to eat for a smart baby.
A few nutrients directly affect baby's brain development - (in no particular order) Vitamin B12, omega 3, idoine, iron, folate, DHA and choline. Of these nutrients, DHA, omega 3, iodine and choline stand out. Adequate DHA intake is associated with higher IQ levels among children. Great sources of DHA are fatty fishes and seafood, eggs and grass fed beef. But DHA needs omega 3 to maximize its function and cross the placenta. To get good doses of omega 3, eat grass fed beef, eggs, fish and seafood, or a quality fish oil supplement. Iodine supports brain development, and inadequate intake of iodine is the leading cause of preventable intellectual disability worldwide. Fish, seafood and dairy products are the best sources of iodine. Lastly, choline is linked to normal brain development and enhanced memory. By far, the best sources of choline are eggs and liver.
Protein-heavy, carb-light foods - Eggs, meats, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. Protein is important in a healthy pregnancy and also important in regulating blood sugar. Because blood sugar is a concern in every pregnancy, and because the first foods you eat for the day dictate your appetite and blood sugar behavior, protein-heavy and carb-light foods are best.
A pregnant woman should eat at least 2 eggs a day, ideally. While eggs are a superfood with many nutrients, this recommendation is based solely on the choline in eggs. Eggs and liver are the two highest sources of choline, and while other foods have choline, you'd have to overeat just to get close to the quantity found in eggs or liver. Eating 2 eggs a day gives you about half of the recommended daily intake for choline (250-300mg).
All fruit is good for pregnancy, but like anything else, it should be eaten in moderation. Some fruits are high-sugar and that presents a big concern because regulating blood sugar is important in every pregnancy. Click here to see a chart of fruits, their carbs and sugars.
All fruits and vegetables are good for pregnancy, but it's best to strictly portion the fruits with higher sugar and the starchy vegetables. High sugar fruits and starchy vegetables have simple carbohydrates that could cause your blood sugar to raise quickly, perhaps even to an unsafe level. Repeated spikes in your blood sugar could likely create a gestational diabetes diagnosis.
Milk is good for pregnancy because dairy products offer many great nutrients like Vitamins A, E, D, K and more, but it must be pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of applying heat to food to kill bacteria.
Cheese is great for pregnancy because it's a dairy product - dairy is a superfood for pregnancy - and because it's low carb with reasonable fat and protein.
Common to pregnancy is nausea, and that may mean the mother misses a meal or two. Missing a couple of meals, or even not eating for a day, isn't an immediate concern because your body has nutrient stores that it can pull from to give both mother and baby what you need. HOWEVER, it's important to pay close attention to how you feel, because without food to give you energy, you can easily become faint, light-headed, lack energy for basic tasks, etc. If you can't eat, try nutritious drinks like protein shakes. This is also an important time to stay hydrated, but if you can't keep any food or drink down, see your doctor immediately.
That was 25 tips to eat healthier...25!
But they can all be summed up in one word: VARIETY.
The absolute easiest way to eat healthier is to make sure your plate has a variety of colors and foods.
Superfood Meal Ideas for Pregnancy
Great meal ideas for pregnancy that include superfoods are:
- fish stew
- hidden liver meatloaf
- instant pot smothered burritos
- egg drop soup
- salmon and salad
- no-rice (cooked) salmon or tuna sushi
- (fresh) ramen
Meal plans for pregnancy (that regulate your blood sugar and help prevent gestational diabetes).