Healthy Eating in Pregnancy

Ideally we should all be eating healthily, adopting healthy active lifestyles from childhood into adulthood. However there are certain periods in life when it is especially important to consider what food and drinks are consumed by an individual. Pre-conception, pregnancy and breastfeeding are occasions when there are increased risks and benefits of diet practices and little changes can enhance the health and development of the foetus, as well as maternal health too.
Hands in shape of a heart on a pregnant tummy

Healthy Eating in Pregnancy

Why is it important to adopt a healthier diet before conception?

Making healthier changes before conception can improve a successful pregnancy. It is best to avoid alcohol, maintaining a healthy BMI, stop smoking and start taking folic acid - 400mgs a day whilst trying for a baby and continuing to 12 weeks gestation. For men, again adopting the healthier lifestyle, losing weight and cutting back on the alcohol can improve the quality of the sperm so aids conception.

So you are now pregnant – congratulations!


What can I eat?

Initially mum may experience morning sickness and her appetite may be suppressed, certain foods and drinks may trigger nausea. Tips to try are eating a ginger or digestive biscuit before you get out of bed in the morning, eating small and frequent healthy snacks will keep your sugar levels up and also reduced feeling bloated. Try drinking sips of water and avoid sugary fizzy drinks.

Eating a variety of healthy foods with vegetables, fish, meat and fruit will give you a balance of all the nutrition you need, but it is still good to be wary of what you can’t eat and what you should eat in moderation – see a complete list here:

Fats, sugars and processed foods

In pregnancy it is important to reduce the amount of processed high sugary and fatty foods as too much fat and sugar can increase the amount of weight you put on with your pregnancy, increase the risk of gestational diabetes, along with increasing your cholesterol levels which increases your likelihood of heart disease, and obesity  later in life. Try to eat as much fresh foods rather than the processed and ready meals as these often have hidden sugars, salts and fats – check the labels.

Fruit and Vegetables

During pregnancy it’s recommended to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, as these provide vitamins and fibre that will help with digestion and minimise constipation. It is important to wash your fruit and vegetables before eating and if cooked try steaming or boiling to maintain the micro-nutrients.


Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese are important as part of your healthy diet, because they contain calcium and other nutrient which are important for your baby’s growth and development. Aim to eat 2-3 portions a day and opt to have the low fat options with semi-skimmed milk, low fat yogurts etc. too. However do be wary of certain cheeses that are best to avoid such as mould ripened cheeses including camembert and brie. Soft blue veined cheeses and all unpasteurised cheeses should be avoided as they may contain listeria. Check the list here:


Fish and lean meat are great sources of protein ideally reduce the amount of red meat and include at least 2 portions of fish a week, ideally one of these should be oily fish such as sardines, salmon, or mackerel as they are high in the essential fatty acids which support your baby’s eye and brain development. When cooking meat it is important to cook all the way through and that the juices are not pink, or red.

It is also advised you steer clear of cured meats such as salami, Parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni as they are cured and fermented, they are not cooked. This means there's a risk they could contain toxoplasmosis-causing parasites. It's best to check the instructions on the pack to see whether the product is ready to eat or needs cooking first.  – read why here:

Vitamins and Supplements

Take folic acid 400mgs daily – it is recommended for all pregnant mums to take folic acid for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy as research support there is a protective factor against congenital neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the baby.

Vitamin D – 10mgs daily

Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body; these are needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.

You need to take vitamin D during your pregnancy to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of its life. You should take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day when you are pregnant and if you breastfeed. Talk with your midwife about vitamins and supplements. Vitamin D is available in oily fish, eggs and meat but the best source of Vit D is summer sunshine – so try and have some fresh air; however this is dependent upon the weather and seasons.


These are now considered safe to eat during pregnancy unless you are allergic to them. There is no clear evidence to link avoidance of nuts in pregnancy to reducing peanut allergy in children. Nuts are a good source of protein, essential fats and are a great little power snack.

I’m a vegetarian / Vegan what can I substitute?

Vegetarian and vegan mums -to -be need to ensure they get enough Vit B12 and iron in their diet.

Iron rich food sources include pulses, dried fruits such as apricots, dark green vegetables, wholemeal bread, fortified breakfast cereals and eggs.

Vitamin B12 food sources include eggs, cheese, yeast extracts such as marmite, fortified cereals and soya drinks

For Vegan mums to be is recommended that they also take Vitamin B12 supplements



A normal intake of water is recommended. On average 1-2 litres of water a day supports your body to work well, keep you hydrated and support your kidney functions.


It is recommended to limit your caffeine intake to 200mgs a day. Tea, coffee, chocolate are natural sources of caffeine and also caffeine is added to soft , energy drinks, and with some pain and cold medications

one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
one mug of tea: 75mg
one can of cola: 40mg
one can of energy drink: 80mg
one 50g bar of plain (dark) chocolate: around 50mg
one 50g bar of milk chocolate: around 25mg


It recommended to avoid alcohol whilst pregnant

Sugary fizzy drinks

These drinks are often high in sugars and can contribute to weight gain, unstable blood sugars and dental decay

Herbal teas

These are often unregulated as their content is unclear. It is best to seek advice around taking them and moderate to 2-3 cups a day with a variety. Sage tea has been linked to miscarriage and raspberry tea is best avoided until late into the last trimester as it can bring on contractions

Preparing Foods safely

Wash fresh fruit, vegetables and salads thoroughly to remove soil and pesticide residues. Soil particles can contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – toxoplasmosis can harm your unborn baby.

Wash your hands and utensils thoroughly and ensure that you keep your chopping boards separate for raw meat also ensure that raw meats are kept separate to ready to eat foods to minimize and avoid food poisoning.

Ensure that you thoroughly cook white and red meat and are piping hot all the way through.

Other foods to avoid in pregnancy

There is a common sense approach however there are certain foods that do need to be avoided or taken with cautions  in pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding to minimize harm to your baby.


Avoid all pate’ as they may contain listeria and are also high in Vitamin A as they are made out of liver


Raw or partly cooked eggs: Make sure that the eggs whites and yolks are thoroughly cooked until they are solids. You should avoid homemade mayonnaise but shop bought is ok but store and use safely.


Liver contains high levels of Vitamin A which can be harmful for your unborn baby. Avoid eating liver, liver products such as pate, haggis and liver sausage.

Fish, sushi and raw shellfish

Fish to avoid include sword fish, shark and marlin , you should limit the amount of tuna you eat to 2 tuna steaks / week or 4 medium cans of tuna as tuna contains higher levels of mercury. It is recommended not to have any more than 2 portions of oily fish a week too.

Eating sushi need to be taken with caution. It is safe to eat when prepared  and subject to the appropriate freezing process further advice can be sought at

Always  eat cooked shellfish  rather than raw and these include, prawn, scallops, mussels, lobster and crab to minimise food poisoning.