How to eat healthily when you’re pregnant
As a prenatal nutritionist and mum myself, I understand how tricky it can be to eat healthily while battling cravings, nausea and food aversions. Here are my top tips to help with a healthy pregnancy diet. But before we begin…
Congratulations! You’re busy making an adorable human.
I’m always amazed by what the human body is capable of. That a person can grow a tiny little human as they go about their day… well, that seriously fascinates me.
Still, while we don’t need to concentrate to make sure we’re building little babies’ fingers and toes (or a brain and heart), there are many things you can do to create the best environment for a healthy pregnancy, a healthy body and a healthy baby.
One of those things is eating well, for both you and baby.
But first, let’s bust the biggest myth about eating when you’re pregnant…
The Biggest Myth About Eating When Pregnant
TRUTH: You don’t actually have to eat for two OR eat twice as much as you normally do!
It’s easy to think you need more energy because you feel so darn tired all the time!
But according to the research – it isn’t until the second and third trimester that your food intake requirements go up at all.
In general, your energy requirements go up by about 350-500 calories a day from about 13 weeks (start of your second trimester).
Now, if you’re a regular around here you know that I don’t usually mention the C-word.
So to help paint the picture of how much extra food that is, here are some examples of a healthy, balanced 400-calorie meal:
- A cup of cooked porridge oats, a whole sliced banana and a small handful of berries with a sprinkle of flaxseeds and chia seeds.
- A small piece of well-done salmon, a cup of quinoa and broccolini
- A veggie and hummus sandwich with whole wheat bread and an apple on the side
- A big leafy Mexican salad with pumpkin, black beans, sweet corn, coriander and a light olive oil & lemon dressing.
Sounds pretty delicious, right?
Here’s also what 400-calories looks like:
- 2 slices of cheese pizza
- A double cheeseburger from McDonald’s
- 2 scoops of chocolate ice cream
I mean, that also sounds delicious (cravings, anyone?). We know that when you’re baking an adorable little bun in your proverbial oven it’s more important than ever to try to cook fresh, healthy foods at home.
That said, I’ve also found it harder than ever to make a healthy choice in pregnancy, despite the fact that I’m a prenatal nutritionst.
I craved chocolate milk and chips and couldn’t stomach a salad in the first few months.
If you’re the same and want a little help to be healthy in pregnancy, then check out Back to Basics Pregnancy App. It’s a handy guide with safe workouts, pregnancy recipes you actually want to eat and a lot more important info about growing a bub.
(And if the tsunami of changes your pregnant body goes through feels overwhelming or uncomfortable for you, and you could do with a positive body image boost, you might find this blog post helpful.)
I don’t believe in creating lists of forbidden foods (nothing is off limits!) but it’s a lovely time to try swapping to healthier options, crowding in more of the healthy stuff (like vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts) so you feel your best.
Instead, you want to crowd your plate with as many healthy, nutritious foods as possible.
But more on those later…
Also, when you choose to consume that additional energy is up to you. You may want to eat four smaller meals a day instead of your usual three or add a few healthy snacks in between meals (scroll down for my faves).
Listen to your gut – literally! Follow your hunger cues by eating when you’re hungry, but not starving.
And if you worry that you might put something in your body that isn’t safe for bub, download my FREE Pregnancy Food List HERE. It’ll help you guide your food choices during pregnancy and takes the stress out of confirming what’s safe and what’s not.
But I Can’t Stop Craving Carbohydrates!
It’s easy for me, as a prenatal nutritionist, to suggest eating salmon and broccolini but what if all you feel like is some bread, layered with bread and sprinkled with pasta?
My advice is ALWAYS to be gentle with yourself.
Even small little swaps are going to be lovely for your bub (and good for your mental health).
- Feel like pasta? Try pulse pasta and add in some tins of tomatoes (loaded with for lycopene for healthy hearts).
- Low GI white rice is a healthier alternative to plain white or choose a whole grain carb you love like freekeh or quinoa.
- Oats for breakfast or a snack – or even dinner – is nothing to scoff at. Cook it the way you like and trust you’re adding in beautiful fibre to help your gut and heart.
- If toast is all you feel like, then eat toast. Add avocado for an extra serve of fruit (and add a few slices of tomato if you’re feeling it).
You can eat carbohydrates and be healthy. I promise you.
There is no need to worry. Or feel guilty (that has no place in health).
Instead, find little ways to add in a little more of the healthy stuff and stress less.
How Do I Eat With Morning Sickness?
Probably one of the most dreaded side effects of pregnancy is morning sickness.
Morning sickness is when some pregnant women experience waves of nausea and sometimes vomiting, particularly during the first three months of pregnancy.
Oh, and it’s not just a morning thing – often it can happen at all hours of the day. So how’s a gorgeous mama-to-be to cope?
Experts still don’t really understand why morning sickness happens, but it may be caused by hormonal changes or lower blood sugar.
The best thing to do?
Try eating smaller amounts of food throughout the day, ideally ones that don’t trigger your gag reflex or upset your tummy.
The worst thing for you and baby is for you to avoid food altogether.
Many pregnant women also swear by ginger, so try ginger ale, ginger candies or ginger tea. So give that a go, if you want.
If you’re vomiting, make sure you’re keeping hydrated by sipping on water and fluids throughout the day – just don’t drink a whole glass in one go!
If you’re losing weight or can’t get enough energy or hydration, it’s really important to check in with your doctor.
Why Do I Get Cravings When I’m Pregnant? (this also happens to a prenatal nutritionist)
If you’ve never Googled “weird pregnancy food cravings”, I highly recommend it.
Some of the combinations are straight out of a Dr Seuss book! Pickles on vanilla ice cream, anyone…?
Sure, we all get food cravings. But for pregnant women, it’s pretty common to develop a sudden urge or a strong dislike for certain foods.
Again, no one’s really sure why we get strong pregnancy cravings.
Some people think a craving could be your body’s way of telling you it needs a specific nutrient, rather than a particular food.
But there is zero evidence to back this up.
What may be happening is that your body craves familiar foods – particularly foods you had growing up that remind you of a time when you were safe. Real comfort food.
This could explain why you crave foods you ate as a kid. Things like McDonald’s or Nutella or Milo or hot chips.
Sidenote…want some FREE pregnancy workouts? I’ve prepared a selection of trimester-specific workout videos, safe for you and bub (and so much fun!), from my app Back to Basics Pregnancy. Click HERE to get started.
Why don’t I feel like eating certain foods in pregnancy?
Noticed you don’t want to eat salad when pregnant?
It might be your biology trying to keep you safe.
Fresh foods that haven’t been cooked can have a higher chance of having a food contaminant.
Things like sprouts, rockmelon (cantaloupe) and fresh leafy greens that haven’t been washed properly can be high-risk foods.
This might explain why your body craves toast (which has a low chance of having a contaminant) compared to a leafy salad.
As long as your cravings aren’t telling you to eat dirt or eat foods on the pregnancy “avoid” list, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up for what you’ve eaten.
And if you’re game, there are always healthier swaps:
Here are some swaps that I’ve made during my pregnancy (all approved by a prenatal nutritionist):
- Craving a sweet scone? Try a piece of wholegrain toast with raspberry jam and peanut butter.
- Craving chocolate? Make a chocolate chia pudding for the yummy flavour and to get fibre to help combat pregnancy constipation.
- Craving salty potato chips? Whip up a batch of my Sweet Potato Curly Fries.
Need a little help being healthy in pregnancy?
I’ve got your back.
When I fell pregnant, I was overwhelmed by all the changes happening in my body and couldn’t find a single source of trustworthy information to help me be healthy in pregnancy (without all the diet nonsense).
So, I created my Back to Basics Pregnancy App along with my favourite women’s health experts to provide a trusted source of delicious pregnancy-friendly recipes (all approved by a prenatal nutritionist), safe workouts for each trimester, postnatal rehabilitation along with expert women’s health advice to help guide you through all the weird and wonderful things you can expect during pregnancy.
Created in conjunction with Angela James, Founder of AJ Physio and Sydney Pelvic Clinic, Angela is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading experts in women’s pelvic health with over 20 years of experience helping women have a healthy pregnancy.
Curious? You can try Back to Basics Pregnancy free for 7-days. Come join me and my team as we guide you along your pregnancy journey.