Whether you are dreaming of your future family, actively trying for one, or already pregnant this post contains research-backed advice on the best foods to promote the health of your pregnancy.
You may not realize it, but the egg and sperm that will become your future children actually form months before you conceive.
Related: Best pregnancy apps
Does food really matter during pregnancy?
Envision your child. How do you imagine them?
You may hope he gets your husband’s jaw line and your eyes. These things can feel like a coin toss or outside of your control while you wait and hope the good side of your genetics kick in.
Believe it or not, there is actually a TON you can do to influence the health and personality of your children, which is just as important as them giving them those long legs and natural sportsmanship. It all boils down to a few lifestyle decisions that you are making right now.
It largely begins with diet. Think about it this way…
Food is broken down into components used by cells. Cells grow into a human being. Therefore, knowing the best foods to eat while pregnant is one of the most influential questions to be asking yourself.
It’s never too early to start eating well for pregnancy.
The good news is the best foods to eat while pregnant is not complicated. Many of these you already have in your kitchen.
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Know what you are eating
The first step in this journey is being informed on what you are eating. You should carefully read the label of every single food item you plan to consume.
There are tons of hidden chemicals and different forms of sugar in processed foods, even some that are cunningly labeled with words like “gluten-free” or “all natural” and “non-GMO.”
If a food item is labeled gluten-free but has tons of sugar in it, it isn’t good for a pregnant woman to eat. Food manufacturers know the “buzz words” and they put them on the label even if the food is complete garbage.
The good news is after a while you will begin to develop an arsenal of natural food brands that you trust and love, so you don’t feel like you have to give up your favorites.
Here are some words to watch out for:
- Artificial colors like Yellow #5, Blue #1, Red # 40 (there are more of these, just wanted to include examples)
- Sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame, caramelized sugar syrup, mannitol, sucrose, sorbitol, maltose, maltodextrin, glucose, fructose
- Thickeners like carrageenan, guar gum, xanthan gum (xanthan is more natural but can cause digestive issues)
- Preservatives like sodium benzoate, sodium nitrate, sodium sulfite, sulfur dioxide, propyl paraben, BHA/BHT
- Flavor enhancers like yeast extract, MSG, or anything that says “— flavoring”
Want to save money on healthy food?
We get our pantry staples from Thrive Market, an online health food store that offers 10%-30% off and free shipping for orders over $45.
Food doesn’t have to be complicated. The more you learn about nutrition, honestly the more you realize a simple, common theme.
- Less is more.
- Whole food is best.
- Know your farmer.
By knowing where your food comes from you can understand more about it other than just looking at your plate and thinking “yep, that’s chicken.”
For example, we are blessed to live near a sustainable farm. I know the chicken on my plate lived a life in the sun, eating bugs, and getting the proper amount of exercise.
If you haven’t found a trusted local meat source then I suggest checking out Butcher Box which is an affordable delivery service for humane, free-range meats.
Best foods to eat while pregnant
1. Bone Broth
Bone broth is what I would like to call “the nectar of the Gods” and it’s one of the best foods you can drink when pregnant or trying to conceive.
Bone broth an excellent source of minerals. It is high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and sulfur. It also provides gelatin, collagen, and protein which support the growth and development of you and your baby.
Bone broth heals your gut and considering 80% of your immune cells hang out right there, it’s all the more reason to sip on a cup of this a day if you can manage it.
Here’s my family recipe for homemade bone broth.
You can also purchase bone broth powder and mix it in smoothies if you don’t have time to make it yourself.
2. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens seem like an obvious food to eat but let’s look a little bit deeper on what they are actually doing for you and your baby.
Leafy greens include foods like spinach, arugula, kale, collards, lettuce, mustard greens, and broccoli, but you can also try bok choy, chicory, dandelion greens, swiss chard, beet greens, napa cabbage, and watercress.
Aim to get at least 1-2 servings of leafy greens a day to reap the benefits which include improved circulation to your placenta, restoring the pH of your blood, and getting enough of the important B vitamin, folate, which reduces the risk of neural tube defects.
I found it super difficult to chew on greens in my first trimester, so I snuck them in smoothies and chopped them up into small pieces and mixed them in scrambled eggs.
Sometimes I couldn’t stomach the thought of greens at all. When this happened I took capsules of dehydrated greens to make sure I was getting my daily serving!
3. High quality fats
If you are trying to get pregnant, then consuming high quality omega-3 fats is imperative for fertility. (1, 2) Once you are pregnant, your baby’s brain depends on omega-3 fatty acids to be a large part of your diet for proper neural development. (3)
You want to keep the ratio of omega-3s higher than omega-6 in your diet. This is because these two types of fatty acids compete to be used by the body. Too much omega-6 is associated with decreased fertility, increased inflammation, and loads of other health problems. (4)
Each week try to increase these foods in your diet:
- wild caught salmon
- coconut oil
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- olive oil
- cod liver oil
Simultaneously try to minimize/avoid oils from vegetables such as:
- canola oil
- soybean oil
- cottonseed oil
- grapeseed oil
- sunflower oil
- corn oil
- sesame oil
- safflower oil
The largest avenue that inflammatory vegetable oils sneak in our diet is through processed food.
Don’t worry! You can still have some of your favorite snack foods. Check out these products that use healthier oils:
Tortilla chips made without corn (buy this brand at Whole Foods so they don’t arrive broken)
4. Pasture-raised meat/eggs
Pasture-raised meats and eggs are superior foods for pregnant women. I don’t care what the latest fad says, humans were designed to consume meat, anything beyond that is a lie.
Meat is an excellent source of saturated fat, which is necessary to for both optimal brain, nervous system, and liver function. Saturated fat is actually necessary to have on board to absorb adequate minerals from our food. (5)
This is one area that I can’t stress more to buy from a quality source like a local farmer, the organic section of your grocery store, or from subscription based businesses like Butcher Box.
There is multiple reasons to eat only organic, pastured meat.
Conventionally grown meat is more likely to contain harmful bacteria that can compromise your baby. This is because the animals are raised in close quarters and may not have access to the outdoors. Not only does this make the meat dirty from unsanitary living conditions, resulting in the need for antibiotics, but is also makes for a very stressful life for these animals. Stress hormones are very present in their bodies upon slaughter if the animals aren’t handled correctly. (6) You are eating that when you eat the meat.
Conventionally farmed animals are pumped with growth hormones and are fed genetically modified grains like soy which have high levels of pesticides. You eat what the animal eats.
Everything about conventionally grown meat is toxic garbage and not great for adults let alone growing babies.
I am not trying to be a downer to anyone who hasn’t committed to eating organic, grass fed meat. I am merely trying to unveil the reality of our food. It is easy to disconnect with what is happening behind the scenes when all our food comes nicely packaged with labels depicting pictures of green pastures and the morning sun. This is not reality.
Organic meat, especially from small farms, on the other hand is farmed in a sustainable way. The animals have access to the sun and space to roam. Cow, pigs, and chickens are not given antibiotics or growth hormones.
Grass fed meat is not fed inflammatory grains and is therefore much higher in nutrients. (7) Grass fed meat also have high omega-3 content, an important anti-inflammatory nutrient we talked about already.
Yes, organic meat is more expensive. But you are going to pay for this now, or you will pay for it later with lackluster health and medical copays.
Benefits of free-range eggs
When you look at the nutrition label of eggs, it looks more like a multivitamin label than it does a food label.
Eggs are packed with protein, omega-3 fats, and essential vitamins & minerals including Vitamin D, A, E, and lots of the B’s, calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, iodine, choline, and selenium. Eggs are one of the cheapest and best foods you can eat while pregnant or trying to conceive.
To get the most value out of eggs, eat them over medium and leave the yolk a little runny so you can retain the most nutrients. (8) As long as you are getting your eggs from a sustainable farm, your risk of salmonella poisoning is very low.
5. Fermented Dairy Products
Dairy can be an allergenic food. We were led to believe that milk is only safe if we zap the crap out of it to kill everything beneficial it may have had, also known as pasteurization. What we are left with is a lifeless food that resembles fat and sugar.
If you are lucky enough to live in a state that allows the sale of safely raised and processed raw dairy, such as California, you can get access to raw dairy from Organic Pastures, which is a living food. These products give you all the biodiversity that raw dairy offers and are tested for pathogenic bacteria.
For the rest of us however, you can find some raw cheeses at Whole Foods which are great for pregnant moms. The next best thing to consume which everyone has access to, is fermented dairy in the form of kefir and yogurt.
Look for plain organic kefir and yogurt with no added sugar and then add your own fruit to it. You can find these at health food stores as well as some larger scale chain grocery stores like Kroger.
The benefits of fermented dairy lie in the metabolites of the bacteria that is fermenting it. Our body uses these metabolites as signals to communicate with our cells and keep our body functioning properly. The bacteria in fermented dairy also breaks down the large molecules that are difficult for humans to digest and turns them into bioavailable nutrients. (9)
6. Other foods to consider
Eating well for pregnancy is as simple as cutting up whole foods, cooking them in safe oils, and making more of your meals from scratch.
There are a few superfoods I wanted to mention that are helpful to include in your pregnancy diet.
Artichokes: This brand is organic and preserved in olive oil. Artichokes are high in iodine
Dates: A great source of folate & vitamin K and wonderful to consume near the end of pregnancy to help with cervical ripening
Pineapple: a great way to keep your immune system up with the vitamin C content and keep constipation at bay during pregnancy. Pineapple is packed with essential minerals making it a great pregnancy snack
Mushrooms: Mushrooms are high in antioxidants and selenium
If you are in the beginning of pregnancy and find some of these suggestions unpalatable, just do the best you can to eat as much as you can. Every bite is nourishing your baby and will help her grow into a child that maintains health in body and mind.
Smoothies can be your best friend when you are nauseous because you can sip on them slowly throughout the day and get more nutrients than you would get eating some kind of junk food that you can keep down.
Don’t forget to take a high quality prenatal vitamin starting months before you are pregnant all the way through breastfeeding.
Have you ever heard of these foods before? What are your thoughts about this level of nutrition? Leave me a note in the comments below!