Now that you’re pregnant, the food choices you make go a long way in keeping your baby and you healthy and strong. But even as you cope with the enormous physical changes in your body, your digestive system may appear to have an agenda of its own! So, how do you strike a balance?
Your doctor will recommend a healthy diet plan that includes foods rich in specific nutrients like iron, folate, iodine, calcium, magnesium, and several vitamins. And not to forget, lots of fluids.1 But the changes in your body can throw it out of whack. In the early weeks, morning sickness, with its attendant nausea and aversion to certain foods, can dampen hunger. From the second trimester onward, as your baby develops rapidly, you will need to consume more calories. To help a mom-to-be maintain a healthy weight gain through pregnancy, get nutrient-rich foods, and cope with likely digestion problems, dieticians recommend eating three small main meals interspersed with about three snacks a day. And snacking can be the game changer here for you!
Snack To Beat Hunger Pangs and Get In Nutrients
Here are some good reasons for you to eat a range of healthy snacks through your pregnancy:
- It’s an easy way to get in the extra nutrients needed for your growing baby.
- A small, filling snack will sort out hunger pangs that you may experience between meals.2
- It’s important that you gain just the right amount of weight during pregnancy, neither too much nor too little. Snacking on healthy foods will help you gain what’s required but without piling on the pounds (more on that later).
Have About 3 Snacks A Day
Many dieticians advise pregnant women to eat 3 snacks in addition to 3 meals a day. In the last phase of pregnancy, it’s easier to eat 5–6 mini meals than the usual 3 which can cause heartburn. Small, nutritious snacks during this time will boost your energy and keep you comfortable.3
Meet Nutritional Needs Of Each Trimester
First Trimester: Your energy needs during this period remain the same so there is no need to increase your total food intake, though you do need to be careful about what you are eating and drinking. Try to make sure that you are including some essential nutrients in each of your meals and snacks. Make every snack count!
Snacks Rich In Folate Or Folic Acid
Called folic acid when added to foods, folate is a B-group vitamin that helps prevent the growing fetus from developing any neural tube defects. Women planning a pregnancy and those in the first trimester of pregnancy should make sure they are getting enough folic acid in their diet naturally and through supplements.
Sources: Some of the best sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, bran flakes, dried beans, broccoli, chick peas, and Brussels sprouts. Oranges and orange juice, strawberries, potatoes, wholegrain bread, hazelnuts, unsalted peanuts, and walnuts are other rich sources of folate.4
- A wholegrain sandwich or pita bread with grated cheese, mashed tuna, sardines or salmon, and lean ham can boost your folate intake. These can also help you meet your calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, B1, and D needs.
- Put together a quick salad with beetroot and baby spinach leaves, both of which are high in folate. Spinach is an exceptionally rich source of vitamin A and K too. It also has a high content of iron, magnesium, and vitamin C, among many other nutrients.
- Munch on steamed asparagus with a dip. Other than folate, asparagus is also rich in iron and vitamins K and B.
- Get a folate and iron boost with a slice of wholegrain toast topped with baked beans.
- Cut up a large orange and add chopped dates. While orange has a high vitamin C content, dates add fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, and potassium.
Snacks Rich In Vitamin A
Essential for a baby’s cell and organ growth, and for the development of the baby’s bones, circulatory, nervous, and respiratory systems, vitamin A boosts the mother’s immune system too.
Sources: Retinol is vitamin A from animal foods and dairy products. Eggs, fish, and milk are excellent sources. Carotenes are vitamin A found in plant foods and are converted to retinol by our bodies. Beta-carotene is an example. Rich sources are orange, green, and yellow fruits and vegetables such as carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, oranges, mangoes, papaya, and peaches.5 6
Note: While vitamin A is important for human health, studies indicate that very high levels during pregnancy could cause birth defects. So it is best to avoid vitamin A supplements and get your vitamin A naturally from foods. However, avoid liver or limit it to just once or twice a month since it has a very high content of vitamin A and too much of it is not safe during pregnancy.7
- A boiled egg not only has vitamin A but also vitamin D and iodine.
- A glass of milk adds vitamins A, B1 and D, calcium, iron, and magnesium to your diet.
- Make a bowl of soup made with carrots and butternut squash. Add onions and low-salt vegetable stock for more flavor. Other than vitamin A, carrots have moderate quantities of vitamins B6 and K, while butternut squash has a high content of vitamin C too.
- Blend fruits like pineapple, papaya, and mango with unsweetened apple juice and make a tall smoothie. This will be packed with vitamins A and C.
- A small baked sweet potato will also add vitamins B5 and B6 to your diet.
Snacks Rich In Iron
Iron is required throughout your pregnancy for manufacturing red blood cells and for the placenta to grow. The developing fetus sources iron from your body and will need enough stock to last through the first 5–6 months after birth. Although iron losses from your body are much less during pregnancy because you are not menstruating, you still need a good amount of iron. Iron deficiency can make you anemic and tired.8
Sources: Green leafy vegetables, lean meat, chicken, seafood, dried fruits, nuts, and iron-fortified cereal.9
- A small bowl of iron-fortified and unsweetened breakfast cereal with milk.
- A wholegrain peanut butter sandwich. Other than iron, peanuts are a rich source of magnesium, zinc, and several B vitamins including folate and thiamine.
- Sardines on a slice of wholegrain toast will give you a calcium boost too.
- Make a mango, pineapple, and apricot smoothie with 3–4 dried apricots, half a glass of fresh pineapple juice, and half a mango. This will give you vitamin C and fiber too.
- Munch on some figs and apricots for iron and calcium.
Snacks Rich In Iodine
Iodine deficiency during pregnancy raises the risk of impaired physical and mental growth in a newborn baby. Iodine is required to produce the thyroid hormone, a very important hormone for the baby’s growth and development.
Sources: Eggs, meat, dairy products, seafood, and seaweed.10
- Half a cup of fresh organic cranberries or unsweetened juice, which will add iodine and vitamin C to your diet.
- A wholegrain turkey sandwich. Avoid the mayonnaise and, instead, add some extra vegetables.
- A small baked potato in its skin. The skin adds vitamins B6 and C and potassium.
- A cup of organic strawberries, which will add iodine, folate, and vitamin C to your diet.
- Half a cup of baked beans for fiber and vitamin C too.
Second Trimester: Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D are essential for a baby’s growth and development during this period. Make sure your snacks (and your meals) include foods rich in all of these. Energy needs are much higher during the second trimester.
Snacks Rich In Calcium
Vital for the development of the baby’s teeth and bones, calcium also helps to keep your blood pressure under control.
Sources: Tofu, cheese, milk, yogurt, green leafy vegetables, bread and other products made with fortified flour, dried figs, almonds, fish such as sardines and pilchards whose bones can be mashed and eaten, and soy drinks that have added calcium. Sardines provide valuable omega 3 fatty acids too. These fatty acids are important for the baby’s eye and brain development.11
- A cup and a half of frozen yogurt. Look for low-fat/fat-free yogurt, with less sugar.
- A cup of buttermilk, soy milk, or milk.
- Half a cup of ricotta cheese.
- A cup of calcium-fortified juice.
- A handful of hazelnuts for calcium, iron magnesium, folate, thiamine, and vitamins E and K.
Snacks Rich In Magnesium
Magnesium is also an essential mineral required for bone development.
Sources: Magnesium-rich foods include sunflower or pumpkin seeds, almonds, peanuts and peanut butter, cashew, baked potatoes, wholewheat bread, milk, soymilk, magnesium-fortified breakfast cereals, and plain yogurt.12
- A cup of air-popped popcorn, which is a source of iron too.
- A bowl of unsweetened, magnesium fortified breakfast cereal with milk.
- A handful of pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
- A cup of spinach spaghetti.
- A small handful or a quarter cup of almonds – this will not only give you a magnesium boost, but also calcium, iron, folate and vitamins B2, B3, and E. Almonds add calories, so go easy.
Snacks Rich In Vitamin D
Vitamin D promotes the absorption and use of calcium in the body. This is particularly important during pregnancy. While sunlight is perhaps the best source of vitamin D, there are very few foods naturally rich in vitamin D.
Sources: Eggs, red meat, and the flesh of oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring are some food sources of vitamin D. In the United States, cold cereals, milk, soy and almond beverages, and orange juice often come fortified with vitamin D.13
- A wholegrain sandwich topped with mashed sardines or salmon.
- A date and almond smoothie with about a quarter cup of dates, half a cup each of fortified soy milk and fortified soy yogurt, and about 2 drops of almond extract. This is a good source of calcium and fiber as well.
- A glass of vitamin D-fortified milk.
- A glass of vitamin D-fortified orange juice.
- A bowl of vitamin D fortified cereal.
Third Trimester: Lots of extra energy, lots of water and fluids to prevent constipation, and vitamins B1 and C are essential requirements in this period of pregnancy. You should try to increase your calorie intake by about 200 calories each day.
Snacks Rich In Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Thiamine helps you release energy from food and is important in energy metabolism. It plays a critical role in the functioning, growth, and development of cells. It plays a major role in the development of the baby’s brain too.
Sources: You can source thiamine occasionally from pork, and more regularly from trout, mussels, tuna, beans, green vegetables, fortified cereals, wholewheat bread, wholewheat macaroni, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, and sunflower seeds.14
- High fiber, low-sugar, fortified breakfast cereals are a good source of vitamin B.
- A fiber- and thiamine-rich bean salad with drained and rinsed canned beans, chopped cucumber, and tomatoes can be just the thing! Add a spoon of your favorite salad dressing.
- A bowl of homemade split pea soup is rich in thiamine, folate, vitamin B5, and iron.
- Pita chips with edamame hummus are rich in thiamine, folate, and iron.
- Put together a salad of leafy greens mixed with nuts, beans, and pumpkin seeds.
Snacks Rich In Vitamin B Complex
The other vitamin B complex vitamins also important for the baby include:
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) helps with the development and growth of the baby’s muscles, bones, and nerves. Good sources are milk, wholewheat products, eggs, almonds, spinach, asparagus, poultry, lean meats, and fish.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin) is important for the baby’s brain development. Rich sources are fortified cereals and breads, high-protein foods, meats, fish, eggs, milk, and peanuts.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is important for the development of your baby’s brain and nervous system, and formation of new red blood cells. Good sources are poultry, fish, eggs, soybeans, beans, spinach, broccoli, carrots, peas, cabbage, cantaloupe, peas, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, bananas, oats, bran, walnuts, and peanuts.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is essential for the development of the baby’s neural tube formation, spine and brain development. Good sources are fortified breakfast cereals, fish, milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, lean meats, and poultry.15
Snacks Rich In Vitamin C
Vitamin C is actually important through all 3 trimesters. It helps:
- the placenta develop and function efficiently,
- your digestive tract absorb iron from food,
- protect cells from damage, and
- keep your immune system functioning properly.
Sources: Naturally found in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, good sources of vitamin C include tomatoes, citrus fruits, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, strawberries, potatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, radishes, celery, and red and green peppers.16
- Give yourself a treat with a wholegrain sandwich made with tomatoes and two thin slices of grilled, unsmoked streaky bacon. It’s full of thiamine and vitamin C.
- Make a papaya and strawberry smoothie with half a medium ripe papaya, 6–8 medium ripe strawberries, half a glass of orange juice, and juice of half a lime.
- Make yourself a large bowl of carrot, walnut, and raisin salad. Add about half a cup of raisins and a handful of chopped walnuts to 2–3 cups of shredded carrots. Add a low-fat salad dressing. Raisins will add iron and fiber, while walnuts will add omega–3 fatty acids.
- Eat an orange for a boost of vitamin C, and some folate and calcium.
- Snack on carrot and celery sticks, red pepper, and radishes with a guacamole, hummus, or salsa dip.
Other Important Nutrients To Get In
There are a host of other nutrients that also play important roles in the baby’s development during your pregnancy. You will see that most of the sources are listed as part of other nutrients. Consequently, women are rarely known to have deficiencies in these nutrients if they are careful about following a healthy pregnancy diet.
- Choline: It aids healthy development of the brain and, like folate, helps prevent neural tube defects. Rich sources are whole grain cereals, milk, meat, eggs, fish, seafood, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
- Chromium: It plays a part in building protein in the baby’s growing tissues. Good sources are lean meats such as turkey, beef, chicken, eggs, apples, bananas, green beans, potatoes, grape juice, orange juice, and bran cereals.
- Copper: It helps in the development of your baby’s skeletal and nervous systems, and the heart and blood vessels. Good sources are sunflower seeds, lentils, nuts, seafood, and mushroom.
- Manganese: This mineral helps with the formation of bone and cartilage, protects cells from damage, and activates enzymes that help with the metabolism of amino acids, carbohydrates, and cholesterol. Good sources are bran cereals, spinach, beans, sweet potato, pineapples, almonds, peanuts, and tea.
- Phosphorus: It helps build strong bones, and is important in the development of a normal heart rhythm, kidney function, and blood clotting. Good sources are fish such as salmon and halibut, peanuts, almonds, milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, wholewheat bread, lentils, and lean meats.
- Proteins: These are the building blocks of the baby’s body and are needed throughout your pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters when growth is fastest. Good sources are nuts, beans, dairy products, eggs, lean meats, and poultry.
- Zinc: Helps with the growth of cells and is important for DNA production. Good sources are whole grains, fortified cereals, beans, poultry, red meats, poultry, and dairy products.
Snacks Suggested By Ayurveda
Ayurvedic texts recommend that a pregnant woman should eat whatever her heart desires, barring foods that are considered harmful for her baby. Use these tips from Ayurveda while making your food choices:
A simple Ayurvedic snack: a pinch of cardamom or turmeric powder in a warm glass of milk to aid digestion, build immunity, and keep you full.17
- Eat fresh, wholesome foods. Cooked foods aid in digestion.
- Include all the six flavors – sweet, salty, sour, spicy, bitter, and tart – in your daily diet but emphasize the first three.
- Maintain a 3-hour gap between major meals.
- Include sattvic (healthy and wholesome) foods in your diet to promote ojas (positive energy).
Some sattvic foods that could be part of your snacks:
- Dairy (whole milk, yogurt, butter)
- Sweeteners (honey, jaggery)
- Spices (ginger, cumin, and fennel)
- Nuts (blanched almonds)
- Dates, apricots, and sesame seeds – all three are considered excellent sattvic foods
- Ghee or clarified butter, an important sattvic food, nourishing and easily digested.
Snacks To Help You Through Morning Sickness
Nearly 50 percent of pregnant women go through morning sickness, the term used to describe the nausea, vomiting, and fatigue that manifest in early pregnancy. Your medical service provider will recommend changing your dietary patterns and daily routine to help you through this time.18
- Snacking can help you when you need to eat small meals through the day.
- Snacks high in carbohydrates will help you cope with tiredness and lack of energy.
- When you feel nauseous, have bland rather than sweet or spicy snacks.
- It may be a good idea to avoid hot and spicy meals. The smell of hot and spicy foods often triggers nausea.
- It’s also important to keep yourself well hydrated with fluids. However, avoid beverages that are too cold, too tart, or too sweet. Both tart and sweet drinks can worsen existing nausea.
Here are a few examples of healthy snacks to help you through this difficult phase19:
- Dry toast, crackers, or crispbread.
- Baked potato.20
- Peppermint tea.
- Ginger may help ease nausea.21Snack on ginger biscuits or ginger ale or spread a little ginger jam on your toast.22
Dos And Don’ts While Snacking
- Avoid snacking late at night as this can cause heartburn.
- Ideally, keep away from snacks that are low on nutrition but contain added fats and sugar – which means saying no to soft drinks, sweetened beverages, cakes and pastries, cookies, ice-cream, and processed foods such as instant noodles and sausages.23
- Include fiber-rich foods in your choice of snacks – kidney beans, pears, and bananas, for example.
- Include healthy seafood options such as salmon, sardine, and shrimp in your snack choices. Love white tuna? Go ahead with this delicious sandwich filling, but have no more than 6 ounces a week as tuna is known to contain mercury that can harm your baby. Other fish that have high levels of mercury and should be completely avoided are swordfish, shark, and king mackerel.
- Keep off raw foods like sushi, rare meat, and lunch meats as they could have harmful bacteria. Soft cheese (feta, goat cheese, brie) are also to be avoided unless pasteurized.
- Avoid caffeinated beverages to keep heartburn at bay. Decaf coffee/tea are fine.
- And, definitely, no alcohol. There is no safe amount during pregnancy.24 25
|↑1||Pregnancy and diet. Better Health Channel.|
|↑2||Have a healthy diet in pregnancy. NHS Choices.|
|↑3||Riley, Laura. Pregnancy: The Ultimate Week-by-week Pregnancy Guide. Meredith Books, 2006.|
|↑4||Folic acid (folate) and pregnancy. Better Health Channel.|
|↑5||Vitamin A and pregnancy Better Health Channel.|
|↑6||Wilcock, Fiona. “Super Drinks for Pregnancy: Juices, smoothies and soups to meet key dietary requirements”. Hachette UK, 2015.|
|↑7||Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy. NHS Choices.|
|↑8||Iron and pregnancy. Better Health Channel.|
|↑9, ↑10||Iron and pregnancy. Better Health Channel.|
|↑11, ↑13, ↑16||Vitamins, supplements and nutrition in pregnancy. NHS Choices.|
|↑12||Magnesium. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑14||Thiamin. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑15||Roles Of Vitamin B In Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association.|
|↑17||Promoting The Health Of Mother And Baby During Pregnancy Using Ayurveda. California College Of Ayurveda.|
|↑18||Nausea and morning sickness. NHS Choices.|
|↑19||Nausea and morning sickness. NHS Choices.|
|↑20||Morning sickness. American Academy Of Family Physicians.|
|↑21||Ernst, E., and M. H. Pittler. “Efficacy of ginger for nausea and vomiting: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials.” British journal of anaesthesia 84, no. 3 (2000): 367-371.|
|↑22||Morning Sickness Relief. American Pregnancy Association.|
|↑23||Healthy eating during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Family Health Service.|
|↑24||Eat Healthy During Pregnancy. Healthfinder.gov|
|↑25||Pregnancy and diet. Better Health Channel|