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Eating Well in Pregnancy

“The wise and loving marriage of modern invention with the sustaining, nurturing food folkways of our ancestors is the partnership that will transform the Twenty-First Century into the Golden Age"

— Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions

Why this Matters

Good nutrition is key in pregnancy; nutrition dictates the overall health of the pregnant person and constantly impacts the growing fetus. Eating well can be protective against disease and illness, which is especially important during pregnancy when the immune system is suppressed. Additionally, when stressors or environmental toxins are at play, good nutrition provides some leeway for the body to process and move past the stressors. 

As if those facts weren't cool enough, here's one more! Babies are constantly learning. This begins long before birth, within the womb. As your baby's taste buds develop during pregnancy and the time spent breastfeeding, what you eat will shape their preferences. Selecting a variety of colorful and interesting foods can help your child have healthier food habits down the road. 

The Basics

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  • Eat whole, unrefined foods that come to you in original form (or close to it) often. Refined, processed foods are often lacking in nutrients and can even be harmful to the body. 

  • Choosing organic or non-GMO foods where possible reduces pesticide consumption and allows for greater absorption of nutrients (this means less food overall can meet your daily needs). 

  • Look for sale signs and buy foods that are seasonal when possible. Or, stay on the lookout for grocery store ads delivered to you as these can help you figure out which stores have the foods you want at the best prices in advance. 

  • Farm-to-table options like CSA boxes can cut your food costs and provide a variety of fresh foods to your diet. Boxes are customizable to fit your family's budget and needs, plus you can save on delivery costs if you schedule a pickup. 

  • Meal planning ahead of time can save money in the long run. Make a list and buy only what you need. This way you don't end up overbuying and losing food to the back of the fridge. 

  • Growing food at home can be a wonderful way to save money and improve a diet. No garden necessary! Check out these awesome tips for growing your own foods in limited spaces. 


Protein is vital in all we do. Getting enough quality protein helps the immune system and the heart function well, bolsters the respiratory system, and allows our bodies to heal and recover quicker after injury, exercise, or exertion of any kind. And what's more exerting than growing and birthing new life and then recovering from that experience? 

Proteins are molecules made up of amino acids. There are many amino acids that can be created within our own bodies, but a few cannot-these are called essential amino acids. Humans have to get these essential amino acids from food sources known as complete proteins. Only foods derived from animals are complete proteins right out of the gate. However, certain foods compliment each other and, when combined, they become complete proteins. Read more about incomplete (non-animal sources) proteins here

The recommended amount of protein intake per day varies depending on the source, and definitely is not the same from one person to the next. What we do know is that the need for protein during pregnancy goes up a lot. This is because proteins are the building blocks for tissues and pregnancy is all about growth! Proteins also help regulate hormone production, which contributes to a healthy pregnancy and a smoother lactation experience. Aim for some protein in every snack and meal you eat and you'll probably consume the recommended 60-100 grams per day. 

Animal Sources
  • Animal meats such as beef, pork, poultry, and fish

  • Eggs

  • Milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese*

*Whenever possible, eating whole, unpasteurized dairy or cultured dairy products, including raw milks and cheeses, provides the most benefit and an appropriate balance between protein, calories, and fat per serving.

Vegetarian Sources
  • Nuts

  • Seeds

  • Legumes/beans

  • Tofu

  • Edamame

  • Tempeh

  • Seitan

  • Nutritional yeast

Tips For Selection & Storage

  • Meat can be frozen in a conventional freezer for up to 6 months and can be stored in a deep freezer for up to a year. 

  • Canned meats and beans are shelf stable for many months or years and are often inexpensive forms of protein. Give canned foods a good rinse before use to wash away excess salt. 

  • Where possible, choosing whole cuts of meat instead of prepackaged deli slices or emulsified hot dogs and sausages will save money and increase the amount of nutrients available in the foods. 

  • Whole blocks of cheese that can be cut or shredded at home are also less expensive and usually do not have preservatives or starches added. 

  • Bulk bins at health food shops and some grocery stores allow you to choose the type and quantity of the nuts, seeds, and beans your family needs so there's less waste at an affordable rate. 


Fat gets a bad rap in the modern world. But, like protein, fat is absolutely vital to our well being and is a much-needed source of energy. There are even essential fats that, like essential amino acids, must be consumed by humans because the body does not produce them. For instance, omega-3 fats from foods are required for proper brain development and functionality.

Consuming fat helps your body absorb vitamins crucial to life (A, D, E, and K). These are all required for a healthy pregnancy and postpartum recovery period. Fats also aid in cellular functions, boost the immune system, stimulate healthy digestion, help other minerals work well in the body, and do various jobs in the body to promote cardiovascular and nervous system wellness. Plus, proteins actually rely on fats to be properly utilized in the body, so consuming both at each meal or snack is beneficial on many levels. 

The average human needs to get between 30-40% of their daily calories from fat. This number may be higher or lower in pregnancy depending on overall weight gain and your baby's unique needs. As a general guide, eating 3-4 protein sources each day that also have a good amount of fat in them is a great place to start. 

Animal Sources
  • Animal meats such as beef, poultry, and fish

  • Fish oils

  • Eggs

  • Milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese, cream, butter*

*Whenever possible, eating whole, unpasteurized dairy or cultured dairy products, including raw milks and cheeses, provides the most benefit and an appropriate balance between protein, calories, and fat per serving.

Vegetarian Sources
  • Nuts 

  • Sunflower & Chia seeds

  • Dark chocolate

  • Peanut butter

  • Soybeans & 

  • Coconut oil (best if eaten eaten raw)

  • Olives & Olive oil (best oil to cook with)

  • Avocado 
  • Tahini

Tips For Selection & Storage

  • In order to balance omega-3 (more of this!) and omega-6 (less of this!) in your diet, limit ​safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, and canola oils (often found in processed foods) and stick with olive oil for cooking and dressings.

  • Products with hydrogenated oils listed on the label should be limited.

  • Choosing expeller-pressed and unrefined oils limits your exposure to harmful chemical processes and increases the absorption of beneficial elements in fats.

  • Avoid products like margarine and soy butters where possible. These often contain harmful additives to make them appear similar to natural butter and lack essential agents that real butter contains. Instead, eat real butter-as whole/raw/unpasteurized as possible! Butter has fat-soluble vitamins, protects from arthritis and hardening of the arteries, aids in the functioning of the brain, has anti-tumor properties, and naturally has a good omega-3 and omega-6 ratio. Butter can be refrigerated, but is also safe at room temperature as it does not go rancid quickly. 


When most people think about carbs, images of bagels and donuts and other refined white foods usually come to mind. But carbohydrates come in all shapes and sizes, colors and textures! At their base, carbohydrates are sugars- and the molecules that break down into sugars during digestion. Carbohydrates contribute greatly to living well because they are the primary source of energy in human diets. This means you need lots of carbohydrates to live well.


Not only do carbohydrates literally get us moving, they also aid in a host of internal processes in the body. For instance, unrefined and whole food sources of carbohydrates contain essential nutrients that aid in the growth and development of a fetus during pregnancy and also reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. Consuming carbohydrates is also essential for digestion as these foods contain fiber and release sugar into the bloodstream slowly This means you can feel full longer too.

Since carbohydrates (sugars) are in so many different foods, you usually don't have to try too hard to get enough each day. However, aiming for at least 3 servings per day of whole food sources of carbohydrates, such as whole grain or high-carb vegetables/fruits, can help ensure you're getting the most from the carbs you eat. 

Animal Sources
  • Milk, yogurt, kefir*

  • Honey

*Whenever possible, eating whole, unpasteurized dairy products, including raw milks and cheeses, provides the most benefit and an appropriate balance between protein, calories, and fat per serving.

Vegetarian Sources
  • Starchy vegetables (potato, beets)

  • Fruits

  • Whole corn or popped corn

  • Legumes/beans

  • Whole wheat

  • Quinoa

  • Whole grain rice

Tips For Selection & Storage

  • A key for healthy carbohydrate consumption is to choose foods that have been minimally processed, if at all. Avoid products that have been fortified, puffed, or extruded. 

  • Sugar is not a bad word! But added sugars can be dangerous and are almost always unhealthy. Where possible, avoid table sugar and its cousins: fructose, corn syrups, brown sugar, cane juice, ethyl maltol, and anything ending in "ose" on a label. 

  • Sprouted grains retain the most nutritive benefits, so trying a new brand a bread for your morning toast could provide some much-needed carbohydrates without the drawbacks of refined bread products. 

  • Soaking or fermenting whole grains can make them easier to digest and can even allow the body to absorb more from less. Try cooking rice slowly or soaking oats overnight in warm water before use!


Vegetables and fruits contain so many good things, it's hard to know where to start! From vitamins and minerals to live enzymes and some essential amino acids, plants have our backs.


Eating produce also comes with the added benefit of helping us meet our daily carbohydrate needs. Some veggies and fruits also provide more protein than you might think, which helps keep the body in tip top shape for pregnancy, birth, and recovery. 

Aim for 2-4 whole fruits per day and 4 or 5 servings (about 1/2 cup each) of vegetables per day during pregnancy and the postpartum period. 

Tips For Selection & Storage

  • Just starting to add in more vegetation to your diet? Start slow and check out these tips for incorporating vegetables and fruits in easy ways.  

  • There are over two dozen farmer's markets in OC alone! Find one near you for good prices on quality produce, eggs, and dairy. You might even find a fun U-pick experience. 

  • Selecting a variety of colors in the produce aisle can help ensure you are getting a mix of all the essential vitamins, minerals, and enzymes vegetation has to offer a human diet.

  • Green leafy veggies are especially high in vitamins and fiber, and that includes ocean greens like kelp. Here's a list of some of the best options and tips for prepping them. 

  • Looking to up your enzyme game? Grapes, figs, avocados, dates, bananas, papya, pineapple, kiwi, mangos, sauerkraut, and pickled carrots all contain tons of helpful enzymes to aid in digestion processes. 

  • In addition to fresh produce, seek out quality frozen options to stretch your dollar and time between grocery trips. Check the label to make sure no added sugars, salt, food coloring, etc. is involved and you're good to go! Frozen fruits and vegetables also make great smoothie and soup ingredients. 

  • Canned and jarred veggies and fruits tend to have high sugar and salt content. Look for "no-sugar-added" and "packed in water" on labels for the best versions of these shelf stable items. 


Though it can be challenging in our busy world, getting plenty of fluids each day is a fundamental need for all humans. Staying well hydrated can help the body regulate its temperature, digestion processes, and waste removal. The water content in our system also provides cushion around joints and organs to make us move and function more smoothly. 


Fluid transports nutrients, gases, antibodies, and more that are constantly moving through the body via blood circulation. In pregnancy, even more fluid intake is needed to allow for an increase of blood volume that occurs to accommodate the growth of the placenta and fetus, expansion of the uterus, and maintenance of amniotic fluid. 

The average adult needs anywhere from 2-3 liters/60-100 ounces per day and it's possible to need more based on lifestyle and activity level. Humans lose fluid through urination, sweating, breathing, and bowel movements, so a steady influx is required. A good rule of thumb is to consume enough fluids that urine output stays very pale or even clear.

Tips For Selection & Storage

  • Of course, water itself is the best type of fluid to drink throughout the day. For a jolt of flavor and antioxidant boost, try steeping citrus fruits, basil, or cucumber in a jar of water overnight. 

  • Learning about the signs of dehydration and tips for avoiding it can be a literal lifesaver. Even slight dehydration can cause uterine cramping and headaches, so with temperatures reaching the 110s in the summertime, it's imperative you get ahead of the heat by staying cool and hydrated. 

  • Choosing a water source can produce a lot of anxiety, especially when you consider your growing baby. Generally speaking, tap water in Orange County is safe to consume on a regular basis and is the least expensive source. But if there's something in the tap you want to avoid or you just prefer the taste of alternative sources, check out this guide to water choices. 

  • If you need bottled waters on-hand, buying by the case is the way to go. Amazon and Costco are great options, and your local grocer may provide discounts on bulk purchases as well. 

  • Another cost-saving method: filling large containers at local water shops can cost just pennies. And as a bonus, you could store one extra jug somewhere safe in case of emergency. 

Foods to Limit For Optimal Health

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  • Anything with artificial ingredients, such as food coloring and sweeteners

  • Hydrogenated oils, margarine, butter-flavored oil

  • Refined grains and cereals: white bread, white rice

  • Sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, brown sugar

  • Items containing isolated proteins 

  • Snacks such as pretzels and chips

  • Convenience foods like microwavable meals

  • Meat products: salami, hot dogs, spam

  • Fried foods

  • Weight loss shakes or supplements

  • Caffeinated beverages

  • Fruit juices (especially not 100% fruit juice)

  • Soda (even low-cal/no-sugar)

  • Sports drinks

  • Energy drinks

  • Alcohol 

  • Skim/Non-fat milk

  • Sweetened nut/alternative milks

  • Protein shakes

Additional Resources

Quick Guides

Vitamins and Minerals for Pregnancy, Amanda Cagle

Staying hydrated, Dietitians of Canada

To Read

Functional Foods, Colorado State University

Industrialization of agriculture, Johns Hopkins

Water intake around childbirth, Kristen Montgomery

Unhealthy vegetarian foods, Arti Patel

Sprouting foods at home, Jillian Levy

Organic milk benefits, Charles Benbrook

To Watch


Fallon, S. (2001). Nourishing traditions. Washington, DC:  New Trends Publishing, Inc.

Frye, A. (2010). Holistic midwifery: A comprehensive textbook for midwives in homebirth practice (Vol. 1). Portland, OR: Labrys Press.

Photographs courtesy, inc. (Owner). (n.d.). [Photograph]. Used with permission.

Planck, N. (2006). Real food, what to eat and why. London: Bloomsbury.

Schmid, R. F. (1997). Traditional foods are your best medicine: Improving health and longevity with native nutrition. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

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