What to eat and avoid during pregnancy

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Making healthy food choices will help you and your baby’s overall health. What you eat during pregnancy can affect your growing baby. Choosing nutritious foods will help ensure your baby has the best start in life. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy and protein foods. The MyPlate guidelines can help you choose nutritious foods that are right for you.

During the first trimester, eat

  • Fruits: 2 cups
  • Veggies: 2.5 cups
  • Grains: 6 oz.
  • Protein: 5.5 oz.
  • Dairy: 3 cups

During the second and third trimester, eat

  • Fruits: 2 cups
  • Veggies: 3 cups
  • Grains: 8 oz.
  • Protein: 6.5 oz.
  • Dairy: 3 cups


  • Make half your plate fruits and veggies. Remember to include a variety of colors.
  • Make at least half of your grains whole grains. Look for 100% whole wheat. In general, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal will count as 1 oz.
  • Choose a variety of proteins, such as beans, peas, nuts, seeds, seafood, lean meat, and poultry.
  • Choose low fat or fat free dairy products made with skim or 1% milk.

Certain nutrients are especially important during pregnancy. Eating foods that contain these nutrients are important for you and your baby’s health. Find the recommended daily requirements and foods rich in each nutrient.

  • Iron: 27 milligrams. Iron deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency during pregnancy. Your blood volume increases in order to supply your baby with nutrients and oxygen, which means your iron intake needs increased too. FOUND IN: Lean red meat, chicken, pork, fortified cereal, spinach, and beans.
  • Folic Acid: 600 micrograms. Adequate intake of folic acid decreases the risk of your baby developing spinal cord defects. FOUND IN: Beans, peas, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits. Fortified foods: Cereals, pasta, bread.
  • Fiber: 28 grams. Fiber can help prevent constipation, which can be common during pregnancy. FOUND IN: Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Calcium: 1,300 milligrams (AGE: 14-18), 1,000 milligrams (AGE: 19-50). Calcium is essential for healthy development of your baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves, and muscles. If you don’t get enough calcium for both you and your baby, it will be taken from your bones and given to your baby. FOUND IN: Low fat or fat free milk, yogurt, cheese. Fortified foods: Beverages, juice, and cereals.

While variety and balance are important for a healthy diet, some foods should be avoided during pregnancy.

  • Fish containing mercury found in shark, swordfish, mackerel, tilefish, and albacore tuna. Mercury can harm the developing nervous system, kidneys, and thyroid.
  • Deli meats not cooked to 165°F, including hot dogs, bologna, lunch meats, cold cuts, undercooked meat, and unpasteurized cheeses. Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can be found in uncooked deli meats and it produces toxins that can be harmful to your baby.
  • Alcohol, including wine, spirits, beer, and liquor. Alcohol may cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This syndrome can cause irreversible brain damage and growth problems.

Check out this safe, healthy Chicken Tortellini Soup recipe.

For more recipes and infant feeding best practices, please visit the new University of Illinois Extension website Feeding My Baby From Cradle to Table.

SOURCE: Written by Lindsey Kabat, BS-DTR. Lindsey is currently a dietetic intern working with Kristin Bogdonas, nutrition and wellness educator serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark Counties.