What to eat when pregnant

Tips for nourishing your growing baby

11 year old Nyanyiik Abile touches the stomach of Sundoay John - who is 9 months pregnant with her second child - outside the UNICEF-supported maternity ward at Malakal Teaching Hospital, South Sudan.
09 February 2022

Congratulations on your pregnancy! With all of the excitement comes a lot of questions, a common one being: What do I eat?

It is important to follow a healthy diet at any time in your life, but it’s especially necessary during pregnancy. A balanced diet will help your baby to grow, develop and maintain a healthy weight.

Read on for our tips on how to shift your diet to accommodate and nurture your new family member.

How do I follow a balanced diet during pregnancy?

A nutritious diet is one that includes a variety of healthy foods from each food group (click to expand):


Fresh, frozen or dried fruit are all great choices. During mealtimes, half of your plate should contain fruit and vegetables.


You can eat raw, canned, frozen or dried vegetables. For salads, dark leafy greens are a nutritious choice. During mealtimes, half of your plate should contain fruit and vegetables.


During mealtimes, make half of your grain servings whole grains. Whole grains are those that haven’t been processed and include the whole grain kernel. Some examples are oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice and bulgur.


It is important to eat a variety of proteins each day. Meat, poultry, beans, peas, eggs, nuts and seeds are all examples of protein-rich foods.


When choosing dairy products, make sure they are pasteurized. Milk and milk products, such as cheese and plain yoghurt are good options to choose.

Oils and fats

Limit solid fats, such as those from animal sources such as duck fat. Healthier fats can be found in other foods, such as some fish, avocados and nuts. Oils in food come mainly from plant sources (such as olive oil and canola oil).

What vitamins and minerals do I need during pregnancy?

The key vitamins and minerals you should make sure you’re getting throughout your pregnancy are (click to expand):


Calcium is important for building your baby’s teeth and bones – aim for 1,000 mg each day. Some great sources include plain yoghurt, milk, cheese and dark green leafy vegetables.


Try for 27 mg of iron every day. Iron helps red blood cells deliver oxygen to your growing little one. You can find it in lean red meat, poultry, peas and beans.


220 mcg of iodine daily essential for your baby’s healthy brain development. Sources of iodine include dairy products, seafood, meat and eggs.


Choline is integral to the development of your fetus’s brain and spinal cord, and you should be getting 450 mg per day. Milk, eggs, peanuts and soy products are good choices to add to your plate.

Vitamin A

Carrots, sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables all contain vitamin A, which helps your baby’s bones grow and forms healthy eyesight and skin. 770 mcg a day should be your goal.

Vitamin C

85 mg of vitamin C every day helps to promote healthy gum, teeth and bone development. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes and strawberries.

Vitamin D

Sunlight, fortified milk and fatty fish such as salmon and sardines all help to provide the 600 international units of vitamin D you should consume every day while pregnant. Vitamin D helps to build your baby’s bones and teeth and helps to promote healthy eyesight and skin.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 helps your baby to form red blood cells – aim for 1.9 mg a day. Beef, pork, whole-grain cereals and bananas are all good sources of vitamin B6.

Vitamin B12

The development and maintenance of your little one’s nervous system and the formation of red blood cells are just some of the benefits of vitamin B12. Meat, fish, poultry and milk will help you to reach the recommended 2.6 mcg per day.

Folic acid

Folic acid is especially important for pregnant women. This B vitamin helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spine and supports the growth and development of the fetus and placenta. Peanuts, dark green leafy vegetables, beans and orange juice will help you toward your goal of 600 mcg per day. However, food alone is not enough to reach 600 mcg daily.

How can I make sure I’m getting enough folic acid?

Because it’s hard to get 600 mcg folic acid from food alone, you should take a daily prenatal vitamin or folic acid supplement with at least 400 mcg to make sure you are getting everything you need. If you are planning a pregnancy, start taking these as soon as possible or as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. Speak to your healthcare provider to learn more about the right supplement for you.


What foods should I avoid when pregnant?

Pregnant women may be more susceptible to certain food-borne illnesses, which can result in pregnancy complications. During your pregnancy, foods to avoid include:

  • Raw, unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. These may contain Listeria, a bacteria that can cause an illness called listeriosis.
  • Food past its expiration date, as they can contain bacteria. 
  • Raw and undercooked meat products such as sausages and cold cuts. These can contain parasites like Toxoplasma gondii or bacteria like Salmonella or Listeria.
  • Uncooked fish and seafood as it can contain high levels of bacteria and parasites.
  • Some varieties of fish are high in mercury and should be avoided. This includes most predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, marlin and king mackerel. 
  • Smoked but uncooked fish such as smoked salmon.
  • Uncooked sprouted seeds, grains and beans. Raw sprouts (such as bean, alfalfa and radish sprouts, as well as ready-to-eat salads) can contain harmful bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli.
  • Raw or undercooked eggs, which can carry the Salmonella bacteria.
  • Liver and other organ meats. Although liver is very rich in iron, it is not recommended for a pregnant woman to consume because of its very high content of vitamin A and the potential risk for toxicity.


How do I safely prepare foods while pregnant?

  • Wash hands with soap before eating
  • Wash all eating utensils thoroughly after use
  • Cook meat thoroughly
  • Wash uncooked vegetables, salad leaves and fruit carefully before eating
  • Store food at the appropriate temperature
  • Consume food immediately after cooking


How much more do I need to eat when pregnant?

During the first trimester, you don’t need to eat any extra portions. In the second trimester, you will need an extra 340 calories per day, and in the third trimester, about 450 extra calories a day. To get the extra energy you need, try to keep healthy snacks on hand, such as nuts, plain yoghurt and fresh fruit. To find a plan that works for you, speak to your healthcare provider. 


Can I follow a vegetarian or vegan diet while I’m pregnant?

If you are following a vegetarian or a vegan diet, it is important to make sure that you are getting enough iron, zinc, calcium and vitamins B12 and D. To find a solution that works for you, speak to your healthcare provider or registered dietitian/nutritionist.