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What to Eat for a Healthy Pregnancy

From the Show: Eat Right Radio
Summary: Pregnant or trying to get pregnant? What you eat is crucial to your new baby's health.
Air Date: 1/14/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: Tamara Melton, RD
Melton Tamara 0758webTamara S. Melton is a registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson. She owns LaCarte Wellness, a nutrition and wellness consultation and writes and speaks about maternal nutrition and childhood obesity prevention. Tamara is also a busy mom of two girls, ages one and two.
What to Eat for a Healthy Pregnancy
Whether you're pregnant already or trying, what you eat can be crucial for your baby's health.

Are there certain foods can help you get pregnant?

After much research, the short answer to that is no. But, it helps your chances of conception if you're as healthy as you can be. This means eating plenty of fruits, veggies and lean protein, and making sure you're hydrated. Eating in this way can also ensure you're at a healthy weight, which is best for both mom and baby.

Once you DO get pregnant, are you really eating for two?

While many women like to use that as an excuse to indulge, the truth is that you shouldn't be eating any additional calories in your first trimester (unless you're underweight), and then only add 350 calories/day in your second trimester and 500 calories/day in your third. If you're breastfeeding once you've given birth, you can keep those extra 500 calories.

Keep in mind, even 500 calories is not that much more... you're definitely not eating for a whole other person.

If you're pregnant, can you drink coffee? Do you really have to give up sushi?

Caffeine is OK, as long as you're not taking in more than about 300 mgs or less per day of caffeine. (1-2 cups of coffee). You should stay away from raw sushi and rare meat. These meats can contain bacteria that wouldn't normally affect you, but can pass through your placenta and affect the fetus. Also, avoid fish with high mercury counts.

What if you're so sick you don’t feel like eating anything? Many women find relief by eating some dry crackers and sipping water, before they even get out of bed. You can also try eating something very small every hour throughout the day, and avoid large, heavy meals. Finally, make sure you're drinking enough water.

Tamara Melton, RD, joins host Melanie Cole, MS, to share information on what foods you should eat -- and what you should skip -- for a healthy pregnancy.

Melanie Cole (Host):  When you get pregnant, eating is one of the best parts of being pregnant, but it can also be one of the toughest parts. Do you know what to eat? Do you have to give up sushi? Can you still drink coffee? All of these questions are being answered today by my guest, Tamara Melton. She is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a spokesperson for them as well. Welcome to the show, Tamara. First of all, are there any foods that can help you get pregnant? 

Tamara Melton (Guest):  Well, when you’re working to get pregnant, the best thing you can do is to be as healthy as possible. When you’re trying to get pregnant, you should focus on eating a varied diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, drinking plenty of water, and if they need to get to a healthy weight—we found that babies are healthier if mom is at a healthy weight—maybe they would try to get closer to a healthy weight before getting pregnant, if possible. But there are no special foods that you’ll have to eat that will—we found through research—that will actually help you get pregnant.

Melanie:  Are we really eating for two? 

Tamara:  No. In your first trimester, those first 12, 13 weeks of pregnancy, you actually don’t need to increase your calories at all, unless you’re underweight. Most moms who have normal and healthy weight, they are just fine. Second trimester, you can add on about 350 calories. That’s honestly like a small meal. That’s not even that much. Then in the third trimester, get 500 extra calories and if you would breastfeed your baby after you have the baby, you can keep on having those extra 500 calories. That’s really not that much extra, so it’s not eating for a whole another person. You definitely have to make sure that you still are balancing it but you do get a little bit extra calories when you are pregnant and then afterwards when you’re breastfeeding.

Melanie:  Can we still drink coffee? Do we have to give up sushi? Answer some of those questions for us, Tamara, if you would. 

Tamara:  Moms are really interested as to what foods should they avoid. Alcohol, obviously, smoking and drugs are pretty easy, people know that, but coffee is one that some moms wouldn’t know. Because I know when I was pregnant, I do get tired. We have found that if moms stick to about 300 mg or less per day of caffeine, then the baby is just fine. That’s about one to two cups of coffee. Sushi, if you like sushi, if you like your meat medium rare, those are things that you definitely want to avoid because the different bacteria that is in raw meat that wouldn’t affect mom can actually pass through the placenta and they can be harmful to your fetus. You do want to avoid raw sushi. If you get it and it’s cooked, it’s fine. Then also, making sure that your meats are cooked really well and that there’s no blood that you can actually see in your meat. Those are some things that moms want to avoid. Some of the things they avoid are like deli meats that are unpasteurized or raw milk. We also want to avoid shark and swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel because those really heavy fishes have a lot of mercury in them and that could also affect the baby and be harmful as well. 

Melanie:  What about smoked fish, smoked seafood and lox and things? 

Tamara:  Cold smoked fishes they should also avoid as well, and also cold deli salads. Moms should avoid those as well if possible. Those can also have some bacteria in it that won’t affect mom so much. She may not even feel sick, but it could affect the baby and be harmful. They should also avoid those, too. 

Melanie:  What about washing vegetables or buying organic when you’re pregnant? Is that a very important thing to do? 

Tamara:  When you’re pregnant, you definitely want to give your baby the best nutrients, but you don’t necessarily have to buy organic food. If that’s what you’re already used to eating or what you prefer, it’s definitely fine. But just as you mentioned, Melanie, washing the fruits is really important, so making sure that you wash those fruits and vegetables that you may not think about. Fruits and vegetables that we don’t eat the skins of, sometimes we don’t wash them, like cantaloupe or melons or things like that. They can actually have listeria on it. Listeria is very harmful to a fetus. So make sure that you wash all of your fruits and vegetables because if it’s something that you’re going to cut into, like we do with our melon, you’re going to take everything that’s on the outside, it’s going to come in contact with the fruit that you eat. Making sure that you wash those really well with soap and water, just like you would your hands, then that will make sure that you try to rinse off as much of that harmful bacteria that could affect your baby. 

Melanie:  How much weight should we gain during pregnancy and do we give in to those cravings, Tamara? 

Tamara:  If you’re starting out at a healthy weight, if your body mass index is at a healthy weight when you came in, or when you are pregnant, you want to gain between 25 and 35 pounds over the whole pregnancy. If mom is underweight or overweight, that’s going to change a little bit. Your doctor can definitely help out with that. Your doctor will weigh you at every appointment. They’ll be able to keep track. Most women don’t find much weight gain happening in the first trimester. That definitely happens in the second and third trimesters, so keep an eye on that. If you’re concerned about it, if you think you’re gaining too much or not enough, definitely keep up with your doctor and let him or her know to see what is it that you need to do. You might be eating for two; then maybe you need to cut back a little bit. Exercise is always helpful, too. Not only does it help you to manage that weight gain, but it can help to give you the energy, which is really hard to come by when you are pregnant.  

Melanie:  What about those cravings? Some moms they say crave dirt. Does that mean we’re nutrient deficient in iron or some mineral? Do we give in to those cravings or do we try and just really eat healthy the whole time? 

Tamara:  If you have those cravings for those non-food items, like you said, if someone would crave dirt or even like cornstarch or something like that, you want to avoid those types. One reason is there could be something harmful there. Another reason is that if you’re eating and you’re not taking in other nutrients, you’re going to get full of items that are not giving you any nutrients. Let’s say you have a craving for pickles. You have a craving for pizza. You have a craving for ice cream. I know during my first trimesters, I just felt sick, so whatever I felt like eating, which wasn’t necessarily the healthiest, was all I could take in. If you’re managing it and you still try to balance that as much as you can, getting the fruits and vegetables, water especially, and protein, giving in to your craving every now and then is okay, but you do want to make sure don’t go overboard and give in to every craving especially if it’s not healthier food. Even if it is healthy foods, but you’re not getting in something like protein, try to make sure that you balance that out. It’s just all about balance, just like it is when you’re not pregnant.

Melanie:  What if in that first trimester—and you mentioned that you felt sick and I was lucky I didn’t with either of my kids—but what if you feel so sick or you’re having that morning sickness that you just don’t feel like eating anything at all? 

Tamara:  If you have morning sickness—that is something I definitely had when I was pregnant with my girls—you can do a few things to help out with that. One is to, when you first wake up in the morning, have some crackers or something like that right at the bedside. A lot of women if they eat something like that, like some dry crackers and sip some water right before they rise, it seems to help out with the morning sickness. Then if you can eat something small every hour throughout the day, if you have not taken a really big meal, those bigger meals are ones that seem to make the nausea really just go overboard. Then make sure that you’re taking in enough water. It seems to also help, too. Those are just some things that you can do. Also, the texture and temperature of food, sometimes just having a cold smoothie because cold and wet foods tend to help with nausea and easing that. Maybe you make a smoothie and you can get your good nutrition in that way and you can even get fruits and vegetables and even protein if you wanted to. You could take that in. Just do the best that you can. That’s all you really can do. But eating every hour, taking in enough water, and maybe just having those crackers around, can be helpful to kind of ease that morning sickness.

Melanie:  We only have a minute and a half left or so, Tamara. Can you tell us any foods that would help with that morning sickness? Is tuna and parsley or ginger or any of those things, do they work? Then please give your best advice for healthy eating during pregnancy so that they have a healthy baby. 

Tamara:  Sure. If you have morning sickness, the ginger that you mentioned is really, really helpful. You can get that from a true ginger ale or if you have ginger. There’s crystallized ginger, too, you can take that in. Parsley, I guess that works for someone. I haven’t found it helped with everybody, but whatever it is that kind of eases your nausea is what you should focus on. As far as advice for an overall healthy pregnancy, my suggestion is to focus on the foods that are going to give you the most bang for your bucks. Really focus on those fruits, vegetables, hydration, your lean proteins, making sure you’re balancing it. You’re going to as you get further along, baby takes that more, I mean, you’re just not going to have as much space. Just focus on those things and don’t worry about it so much. Enjoy this time. Pregnancy goes by very, very quickly. Really enjoy that time and the healthy habits that you put into place would be very, very helpful after you have baby and you could teach those same habits to your baby when your baby is born.

Melanie:  Great information. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio with our good friends from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, you can go to That’s This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.