Certain nutrients are really important for pregnancy.
That includes a lot of the nutrients you’ll find in a quality prenatal multivitamin: things like folate, omega-3, choline, iron, iodine, vitamin D, and biotin. Ideally, a healthy diet already includes these nutrients. The researchers for that Harvard review specifically call out the Mediterranean diet, which includes a balance of healthy fats, fresh vegetables, and fish.*
Your diet should be the primary source of vitamins and nutrients to support your pregnancy. But doctors and scientists also recommend taking a quality prenatal to help fill gaps, because we can’t always ensure that our body is absorbing nutrients as well as it could through diet alone.*
Folate is a great example. Folate supports neural tube development and blood building, among other things, and is found in foods like leafy greens, fresh fruits, and legumes. But cooking those foods—or even just chopping them— can degrade that folate. That’s not even to mention that up to one-third of women have genetic variations that make it difficult to efficiently utilize folic acid, the synthetic form of folate.*
Another example? Protein. Women need more protein during pregnancy and lactation to help support the increased nutrient demands that occur during these life stages. In fact, the amount of protein deposited in maternal and fetal tissue increases over the course of pregnancy. It's why we created Essential Protein Pregnancy & Postpartum, and added additional choline—it's important to consider how both micronutrient and macronutrient needs evolve throughout different life stages, and double-down on a healthy diet and consider supplementation accordingly.* (1,2,3,4)
Other foods and substances are better to avoid altogether.
Alcohol is definitely a no-go, which you probably know already. Even if you’ve heard that a glass of wine is okay on very rare occasions, the CDC says that no amount of alcohol is 100% safe for your developing baby. That’s something to keep in mind even if you’re just trying—you might be pregnant and not even know it yet, and those first several weeks of fetal development are crucial. Caffeine is a little trickier, since there are conflicting studies about its impact on pregnancy and which amounts are safe. Just for peace of mind, it’s probably best to restrict yourself to one cup of coffee or just skip it altogether.
The same goes for unpasteurized dairy products and raw or rare-cooked fish, meat, or eggs. As much as we love a poke bowl, for example, raw tuna can expose you and your baby to harmful bacteria and pathogens. So eliminate the risk by avoiding those foods until baby arrives safely.
As for your general diet, trans fats—the unsaturated fats found in fried foods, margarine, pre-packaged baked goods and other processed foods—are not ideal for you or your baby. The same is true for diets categorized as “unhealthy,” or rich in red and processed meats, sweetened drinks, and sugar.
But it’s important to remember that eating poorly isn’t just bad for pregnancy, and eating a mostly-healthy diet isn’t just good for pregnancy. While it’s not a bad idea to take a closer look at your wellness habits when you’re thinking about having a kid, aiming for a balance of nutrients (and leaving room for the occasional indulgence) is a good idea all of the time. In other words, if you already lead a generally healthy lifestyle, you probably don’t need to overthink it.*
- Elango R, Ball RO. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy. Adv Nutr. 2016 Jul 15;7(4):839S-44S
- Hanson MA, et al. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) recommendations on adolescent, preconception, and maternal nutrition: “Think Nutrition First” Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2015;131(Suppl 4):S213–53.
- National Academy of Medicine: Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). 2005.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series No 935. 2007.