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How to Eat Right During Pregnancy

Wondering about the proper diet to help your body get through these new and exciting changes? We tell you about what foods to eat during pregnancy, and what to avoid.

By Shreya Maji
04 Oct 2021

Stepping into the phase of your life when you first discover that you are pregnant can seem exciting and daunting in equal parts. Your body is undergoing a range of changes to grow another little human being, and between the morning sickness, exhaustion and constipation, eating properly can take a backseat. But to meet the increasing physical demands of pregnancy, as well as help the healthy development of the foetus, making sure that you are getting all the proper nutrients is crucial.


“Which trimester you are in will determine what you need to prioritise in your diet,” says Neha Sahaya, certified nutritionist and founder of Neha Sahaya Wellness, Mumbai. “In the first trimester, there is rapid cell development for formation of organs and overall foetal growth, for which you need to get adequate protein, folic acid, vitamin B12, iron and zinc. In the second and third trimesters, which is the time when the maximum growth of the foetus takes place, you need to load up on energy for yourself and the baby. Protein, carbohydrates, iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and Omega-3 fatty acids should all be present in your diet.” The nutritionist gives us a detailed insight into what foods you should eat during pregnancy, and what not to eat.


Macronutrients You Need During Pregnancy

1. Meat, Eggs, Fish, Milk, Nuts and Tofu for Protein
Getting enough protein during pregnancy is important as it helps your baby grow in a healthy way. It contributes to the maintenance of tissues, aids in metabolism, makes antibodies for their immune system and helps muscles function properly. Protein also ensures a healthy birth weight for the baby. “Proteins should make up at least 25 to 30 percent of your diet,” says Neha. “You can get a good amount of dietary protein from meat, eggs, poultry, fish, milk, nuts, tofu, legumes and beans.”

2. Whole grains, Rice, Oats and Whole-wheat Noodles for Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates will provide the essential fuel you need throughout your pregnancy. It is necessary for the maintenance of the placenta, and the growth and development of maternal and foetal tissues. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is needed for foetal brain development. “Try to work your way towards complex carbs, rather than getting your carbohydrates from simple carbs like refined sugar or sweets,” advises Neha. This is because complex carbs are broken down slowly, which provides a steady supply of energy and also has higher satiety (feeling of fullness after eating), which can help curb cravings. “Complex carbs include whole grains, rice, whole-wheat or rice noodles, oats and vegetables. Overall, carbohydrates should make up 40 percent of your daily pregnancy diet.”

3. Beans, Vegetables and Fruits for Dietary Fibre
“A lot of women suffer from constipation during pregnancy, and this often leads to hemorrhoids,” says Neha. “Dietary fiber in the form of whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits should be increased in quantity during this time.” To prevent constipation, Neha also advises drinking enough water in small quantities throughout the day.


Micronutrients You Should Add to Your Diet

1. Lentils, Chickpeas, Beans, Meat and Eggs for Iron
Almost ninety percent of pregnant women who come to Neha Sahaya for consultants suffer from poor levels of ferritin (the stored form of iron in the body), and the symptoms are hair loss, dark circles and fatigue. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases by almost 50 percent, and to produce this extra haemoglobin, iron is essential. Iron also helps in the prevention of a preterm delivery or a low birth weight. The RDA recommends that you need at least 27mg of iron per day. Lentils, chickpeas, spinach, kidney beans, tofu, and animal sources like meat and eggs all contain high levels of iron. “If you take iron in the form of supplements, make sure to consult your gynac, as too much iron can also cause constipation,” says Neha.


2. Green Vegetables and Fortified Foods for Folate
Folate or folic acid is a B-group vitamin that is necessary for the healthy development of the foetus’ neural tube, which will later become the baby’s brain, spinal cord and the bones that enclose them. “Although folate is present in green leafy vegetables like spinach or broccoli, it has a low bioavailability, which means it is not easily absorbed by your body,” says Neha. “During pregnancy, you need at least 400 mcg of folate, which you can only get through supplements or fortified foods.”

3. Dairy Products for Calcium
“Most women choose to get pregnant post-30 nowadays, and this is a time when bone mineral density has reached the maximum point,” informs Neha. This means that your bone tissues have stopped growing, and you need to maintain bone health so that you don’t lose bone mass. This makes calcium an essential nutrient not only for healthy bones and teeth of your baby, but also for yourself. Your body requires at least 1000mg of calcium every day, which you can get from various dairy products. “If you have chosen to give up cow’s milk for vegan, plant-based options, keep in mind that the calcium you get from plant sources is not equivalent to cow milk, in which case you might need supplements,” reminds Neha.


4. Chickpeas, Nuts, Shellfish and Whole Grains for Zinc
Zinc is important for cell division and tissue growth, and it helps in the construction of your baby’s DNA. Zinc is also important to help build up your immunity during this time. Whole grains, red meat, chickpeas, nuts like cashews and almonds, shellfish (shrimp, crab, oysters) and dairy products are good natural sources of zinc.


What Not to Eat During Pregnancy

1. Caffeine in large amounts
“Caffeine, being a stimulant, increases your blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are not good during pregnancy,” says Neha. It can also cross over to the foetus through the placenta, who would not have the necessary enzymes needed to metabolise caffeine. Although research on the effects of caffeine during pregnancy is still inconclusive, it is better to be on the safe side. “This means drinking coffee, colas, hot chocolates and iced teas in moderation for the duration of your pregnancy,” advises Neha. The permissible amount for caffeine is less than 200mg each day. Pick up a cup of green tea instead, as it has about 45 mg of caffeine per cup, much lower than the permitted 200mg. “Even before drinking herbal teas like peppermint or chamomile, you should consult your gynac first,” says Neha.

2. Raw or partially cooked eggs or seafood
Undercooked eggs carry the risk of harmful bacteria like salmonella. “Since pregnancy temporarily weakens the immune system, you are more vulnerable to infections,” says Neha. Fish and other seafood can also contain similar bacteria, or high levels of mercury because of water contamination. Fishes such as surmai (King Mackerel or King Fish), tuna, katla (Bengal Carp), rohu and pomfret and seafood like lobsters have moderate to high levels of mercury. Undercooking such seafood or eating them raw (such as in sushi) should be strictly avoided.


3. Soft cheeses like feta, brie, goat’s cheese
Unpasteurised soft cheeses can contain a type of bacteria called Listeria. In adults, it causes mild flu-like symptoms, but the infection can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women as it can cause premature birth, severe illness in the newborn or even miscarriage. “Avoid eating soft cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, like feta, brie, goat’s cheese and gorgonzola,” says Neha. Hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan should be okay.

4. Vitamin A supplements
Getting a normal amount of Vitamin A from fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids (carrots, red peppers, apricots) is perfectly okay. But excessive amounts of preformed Vitamin A, such as through supplements, can cause birth defects. “Unless specifically told by your doctor to take Vitamin A supplements, never do so,” advises Neha.




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