One of the most commonly asked question that expecting moms ask is: “What should I eat during pregnancy?” With so much information on the internet, it can be quite frankly overwhelming how to decipher what you should actually include in your pregnancy diet. This guide will help you make sense of it all by breaking down the key areas to focus on for a healthy pregnancy, no matter which trimester you are in.

Why is nutrition so important during pregnancy?

Your personal health before and during pregnancy has the power to influence future generations. These nutrition and lifestyle habits you adopt prior to and during pregnancy have the ability to:

  • Influence gene expression
  • Reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies for both you and baby, which influence organ function, hormones, and cognitive development
  • Reduce unwanted pregnancy related symptoms
  • Drastically reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes later on in life for both you and baby

However, this can cause immense pressure to eat in a very strict and regimented way. And when you can’t eat “perfectly” during pregnancy because of nausea, fatigue, and have food aversions, you are left with guilt, shame, and anxiety.

Just remember, motherhood is a perpetual lesson in flexibility; perfection is not the goal, rather inclusion of a variety of foods.


Protein is the building material for both mom and baby. For mom, it is the building material for growing the uterus, placenta, skin and other tissues, while for baby, it is the foundation for organ development, connective tissue, bones, blood vessels, skin, and joints. 

Unsure how much protein you should be eating? Check out this post.

Other benefits of adding sufficient protein to your pregnancy diet:

  • Reduces the risk of low birth weight for baby
  • Nutrients such as iron, vitamin A, zinc, and vitamin K2 are easier to utilize from animal protein verses from plant-based sources
  • Supports blood sugar control and satiety

Sources of animal protein to include:

  • Red meat: beef, lamb, bison, venison
  • Poultry: chicken & turkey
  • Finfish and shellfish (always have shellfish fully cooked, NEVER raw)
  • Sausage
  • Organ meats like liver, kidneys, heart, tongue, gizzards 
  • Eggs
  • Cheese & yogurt
  • Bone broth

(Quality does matter, so when possible aim for pasture-raised. However, if this is not within budget or accessible, you will still benefit greatly from conventionally raised animal protein.)

Sources of plant-based protein to include:

  • Edamame, tofu, tempe
  • Nuts, seeds, & butters
  • Beans, lentils, & legumes


Carbohydrates provide instant energy for both you and your growing baby. During the first trimester of pregnancy, cells are quickly dividing to create baby and grow the placenta, and a potential reason why you crave more carbs early on. By the third trimester, most of the carbohydrates you consume are being sent to the baby to support the rapid growth before delivery.

However, oftentimes moms-to-be fear carbohydrates due to the risk of gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Let the record be known, you CAN and SHOULD consume carbohydrates during pregnancy. It is the amount, fiber content, timing, and how they are paired that can impact you and baby positively or negatively. Learn more about how to eat with gestational diabetes here.

Sources of carbohydrates:

  • Breads, pastas, grains, rice
  • Starchy vegetables: peas, corn, carrots, potato, squashes, taro, beets
  • Fruits (including plantains)
  • Dairy & yogurt
  • Beans, lentils, & other legumes

What types of carbohydrates should you eat during pregnancy?

The short of it: nutrient-dense, high fiber foods

Per volume, whole-grains like rice, quinoa, farro, or pasta are relatively high in carbohydrates compared to butternut squash, sweet potato, potato, or beets (just to name a few). However, grains are great sources of thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin compared to non-grain carbohydrates, which are higher in potassium and beta-carotene.


A low fat diet has no place in a pregnancy diet. Your body needs fat to help absorb fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D, E, K, & A. 

Additionally, fat is required for baby brain development.

Trying to avoid high cholesterol foods? Think again. Cholesterol is the backbone to cell structure and hormone synthesis in your and baby’s body.

An omega-3 fatty acid, called DHA plays a vital role in brain and vision development for baby.

In the third trimester high-fat foods can be beneficial given that they are calorically-dense and filling. Adequate fat (and protein) can also support blood sugar control, providing adequate energy all day long.

Sources of healthy fats:

  • Dairy: butter, ghee, cheese (including hard/soft, ricotta, & cottage cheese), cream, yogurt, cream cheese
  • Plant-sources: olive oil, coconut, avocado, nuts, seeds
  • Fish


Not only are vegetables great sources of micronutrients and antioxidants, a lot contain prebiotics which provide fuel for your good gut bacteria. So, munch away! Many vegetables have a high water content, making them a great way to hydrate (not just via drinking fluids). High fiber vegetables can help alleviate pregnancy constipation.

Sources of non-starchy vegetables:

  • Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, bokchoy
  • Peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Tomatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Radish
  • Leafy greens like kale and collard greens

Just to name a few 🙂

How to Put it All Together – Setting Up a Pregnancy-Friendly Plate

Ideally half your plate will be veggies, a quart protein, and a quarter carbohydrates

Let’s say you are having a mixed meal that combines the protein and carbohydrates together, like chili for example. Chili contains beans and meat. Have a comfortable portion based on your hunger level and then add a side salad or helping of sautéed or roasted veggies on the side.

If you found this to be helpful and want to learn more about how to support your personalized needs during pregnancy, schedule a 1:1 consultation with me, Katie, a prenatal Registered Dietitian. I accept most health insurance plans so that there is little to no cost to you to receive accessible healthcare.

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