Healthy pregnancy diet

RosemaryM 17By Rosemary Marchese

Editor, B.A. Applied Sci (Physiotherapist)

There is much confusion around what you should or shouldn’t eat during pregnancy. A healthy diet is essential to the health of mum and baby. There is a growing human being inside you and that takes lots of energy and nutrients to sustain! The Australian Dietary Guidelines are a good starting point if you want to find out more about what you should be eating during pregnancy, and also some of the foods you should avoid.

What should you eat?

Pregnant women should aim to eat a variety of nutritious foods from all five food groups every day:

  • plenty of vegetables of different colours, legumes and beanspulses
  • fruit
  • grains and cereals, mostly wholegrain variety, (e.g. breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley)
  • lean meats, poultry, fish, cooked eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • pasteurised milk, yoghurt andhard cheese.

Always drink plenty of water.

Eating well can help maximise your chances of a healthy pregnancy and minimise excessive weight gain.

Which foods should you avoid?

Alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy.

Some foods may place women at greater risk of food poisoning. There is also the risk of poisoning if food is not prepared and stored carefully.

Pregnant women are advised to avoid:

  • foods that may contain listeria bacteria like soft cheese (brie, ricotta, fetta, blue cheese and camembert), sandwich meats, bean sprouts and prepared salads and pate
  • raw eggs due to the risk of salmonella
  • alcohol
  • fish with high levels of mercury (no more than one serve – 100 gm cooked) per fortnight of shark/flake, marlin, broadbill/swordfish and no other fish that fortnight, or one serve (100 gm cooked) per week of orange roughy (deep sea perch) or catfish and no other fish that week
  • Foods such as nuts during pregnancy only if they are allergic to the foods themselves. Foods that cause them allergies.


Why is calcium important?

You not only need calcium in your diet during pregnancy to support your health, but also to strengthen the bones and teeth of your growing baby. The current Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for calcium is 1000 mg per day during pregnancy and also during breastfeeding.

What foods are high in calcium?

Calcium is found in lots of foods but tends to be more plentiful in the following foods:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • yoghurt
  • fortified soy products
  • green leafy vegetables.

Here are some basic guidelines on the amount of calcium you can expect per serve. Remember that each brand of food will differ in the quantity of calcium it contains.

FoodCalcium (mg) per serve
Low fat natural yoghurt, 200 gm470
Reduced fat milk, 250mL275
2 slices of cheese335
Skim milk, 250mL (1 cup)315
Sardines (canned with bones) 100 gm380
Recuced-fat hard cheese, 30 gm240
Broccoli, ½ cup15

Why is folate (vitamin B9) important?

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin (B9) that is known to affect the development of a healthy baby, particularly early in pregnancy. In particular, it is essential to the development of the neural tube. Women of child-bearing age are now recommended by obstetricians to take extra folate daily to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida, a congenital defect of the spine in which part of the spinal cord is exposed through a gap in the backbone.

Women are encouraged to take only enough folate to prevent these conditions. The current RDI is 600 micrograms per day. Women are often recommended to take a folic acid supplement (500 mg) before and during pregnancy to meet these increased needs.

What foods are high in folate?

Folate is found in a variety of vegetables and fruits, as well as nuts and wholegrain cereals. More specifically, folate is found in:

  • asparagus
  • bran flakes
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • chickpeas
  • dried beans
  • lentils
  • spinach.

Folate-rich foods are listed below.

FoodFolate (mg) per serve
Cooked black eye beans, 1 cup356
Cooked lentils, 1 cup358
Spinach, raw, 1 cup58
Asparagus, cooked ½ cup134
Lettuce, Cos (1 cup, shredded)64
Freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 cup60
Orange, 1 medium55
Wholegrain bread, 4 slices55
Green peas (fresh), ½ cup55

Why is fibre important?

Fibre is essential for preventing constipation – it helps keep you regular! During pregnancy you will notice some changes and one of these may be a relaxation of the muscles around the bowel. Fibre and regular fluid intake will help minimise or prevent constipation.

The current RDI during pregnancy is 28 gm. Breastfeeding mums should aim for 30 gm.

What types of fibre are in food?

There are two categories of fibre and you need both in your diet! These categories are:

  1. Soluble fibre: found mainly in plant cells.
  2. Insoluble fibre: found mainly in the structural parts of plant-cells walls. Its job is to bulk up the faeces and prevent constipation.

What foods are high in fibre?

Fibre-rich foods are listed below.

FoodFolate (mg) per serve
Strawberries, 2 cups7
Raspberries, 1 cup8.0
Pear with skin (1 medium)5.5
Peach, 2 medium4.1
Apple, 1 medium3.3
Orange, 1 medium2.6
Potato (boiled), 1 large3.6
Corn cob, 1 large5.9
Fresh peas, ½ cup4.5
Carrot, ½ cup3.8
Mushrooms, 1 cup3.9
Wholemeal bread, 2 slices4.5
Multigrain bread, 2 slices 2.3
High-fibre cereal flakes, 1 cup6
Porridge, 1 cup3
Wholemeal pasta, ¾ cup cooked6.3

Why is iodine important?

Iodine is a trace element that is highly important for the normal functioning of the thyroid gland, which secretes thyroid hormones to control the basal metabolic rate of the human body. About 60% of the iodine in the human body is stored in the thyroid gland. The benefits of iodine are to help optimise the use of calories from food so that we don’t get excess fat storage. Iodine also helps with the removal of toxins from the body.

Very low levels of iodine intake (50 micrograms per day) is associated with goiter (enlarged thyroid gland). Other symptoms may include dry skin, fatigue and hair loss. Severe iodine deficiency (30 micrograms per day) during pregnancy can lead to problems with foetal development.

The current RDI for iodine is 220 micrograms during pregnancy and 270 micrograms during breastfeeding. Your doctor may recommend a supplement in some instances.

What foods are high in iodine?

Iodine is found in fortified cereals and breads, meat, eggs, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. There is also iodine in cooked legumes and iodised salt.

Foods containing iodine are listed below.

FoodIodine (mg) per 100 gm
Sushi (containing seaweed)92
Tinned salmon60
Steamed snapper40
Cheddar cheese23
Tinned tuna10
Beef, pork, lamb<1.5

Why is iron important?

Iron is essential for men and women, but particularly women in their reproductive years. Iron is essential for carrying oxygen around the body and for ensuring a healthy immune system is in action! Iron deficiency symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • lack of concentration
  • headache
  • pale skin
  • weakness/dizziness
  • increased risk of infection.

Pregnant women can be at particular risk of infection because there is an increase in blood volume and red blood-cell count during pregnancy. However, the increase in red blood-cell count isn’t always enough compared to the increased blood volume. This causes a ‘dilutional anaemia’ because although there are extra red blood cells, they are sort of ‘diluted’ by the extra blood fluid. Sometimes your doctor may advise that you take iron supplements.

The current RDI for iron is 27 mg for women during pregnancy and 9 mg while breastfeeding.

Which foods are high in iron?

Iron-rich foods include: lean red meat, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, cooked legumes, breakfast cereals and poultry.

FoodIron (mg) per serve
Chicken liver (100 g)11
Beef (100 g)3.5
Kangaroo (100 g)3.2
Salmon (100 g)1.28
Pork (100 g)0.8
Chicken (100 g)0.4
Weetbix (30 g)4.2
Chickpeas (1 cup)2.7
Broccoli (1 cup)0.86
Cooked brown rice (1 cup)0.7
Wholegrain bread (1 slice)0.4

Why are omega-3 fatty acids important?

Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to the healthy development of your baby’s brain and blood vessels. It may even have a positive effect on reducing the risk of developing allergies.

Which foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids?

The best source of omega-3 is from the fats in cold-water fishes such as salmon, tuna, trout and sardines. Remember that some types of fish have high levels of heavy metals in them, such as mercury, and it is recommended that these fish be avoided during pregnancy . There are smaller amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in other foods, including eggs and walnuts.

Foods with omega-3 fatty acids are listed below.

FoodOmega-3 (mg) per serve
Sardines, 100 gm canned3500
Red salmon, 100 gm canned1850
Salmon, 125 gm fresh3125
Eggs, 2 large114
Lean beef, 100 gm cooked263
Soy beans, ¾ cup1500
Broccoli, ½ cup100
Linseed, 5 tsp1000
Flaxseed oil, 2 tsp5700



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