“A focus on eating natural, wholefoods and loads of plant foods is a great place to start,” says Lisa Donaldson, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. “Enjoy whole grains, lean meats, fish, legumes, eggs, nuts, fruits, vegetables and dairy products.”
Same goes even before you see that positive test. “Nutrition is so important when you’re expecting, but also in the lead up to falling pregnant,” Donaldson adds. “Once you decide to start a family, you might want to decrease your intake of sugar and processed foods, and also limit coffee and alcohol. Your body needs to be in a healthy place.”
During the first trimester, she also explains that your energy intake should actually stay the same so – soz in advance – there’s no need to ‘eat for two’. (That said, these energy needs increase in the second and third trimesters as your baby grows.)
So, if you’re ready to get your foodie on and stock up, here are the foods to eat when pregnant, especially in your first trimester.
A must-have nutrient for women before and during pregnancy is folate, one of the B-group vitamins. “This promotes healthy growth and development of the baby,” explains Donaldson. Crucially, it’s involved in the formation of the ‘neural tube’, which goes on to form your child’s brain and spinal cord. As for folate sources, step forward green leafy vegetables, fruits (such as strawberries, oranges and bananas) and legumes (think chickpeas, beans and lentils). Folate is also added to some foods such as cereal products, bread fruit juices and Vegemite. Another FYI: a folic acid supplement is recommended in the first trimester and when you’re trying for a baby. (Check in with your healthcare professional if you’re ever unsure or for advice about supplements.)
All backed up? We feel you. Plants and fibre-rich foods are wellbeing winners – all the time anyway, but perhaps more than ever right now. “Pregnancy can lead to unexpected constipation, so you want your gut to be in good shape,” says Donaldson. “Plenty of fibre and water should help.”
Basically, any foods packing the Wonder Woman of macros. “Protein is key for [your baby’s] growth and development, so aim to eat at least three serves of meat, fish or alternatives like eggs, nuts, legumes or tofu each day,” says Donaldson. Bonus: protein also keeps you satisfied and fuller for longer. Stir-fry for lunch? Let’s do it.
What you’re after here? Iodine, a key player in thyroid health, “which in turn plays a role in developing [a baby’s] brain and nervous system before birth,” reveals Donaldson. Look to things like eggs and oily fish such as salmon. “Australian guidelines from the NHMRC recommend women also take an iodine supplement of 150mg each day.”
Experts suggest limiting fish that are high in mercury because it can affect your baby’s developing nervous system.
FSANZ recommends to aim for:
- 2-3 serves per week of fish or seafood excluding the ones listed below (low-mercury options include mackerel, Atlantic salmon, canned salmon and tuna in oil, herrings and sardines, which are also high in healthy omega-3 fats.)
- 1 serve of orange roughy (sea perch) or catfish – with no other fish that week.
- 1 serve per fortnight of shark (flake), swordfish, broadbill or marlin (with no other fish that fortnight.)
Winner winner chicken dinner. “Iron plays a role in oxygen transportation via the blood,” explains Donaldson. “Foods high in iron include animal products – red meat, fish, poultry and eggs – as well as lentils, green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.” A few sidenotes: when you’re pregnant, you’re advised to have your eggs cooked through and pasteurised, and your meat cooked thoroughly, too.
Good nutrition intel: including a dose of vitamin C (via, say, a tomato or squeeze of lemon juice with your breakfast) with iron-rich foods can boost your iron absorption. Caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea also seem to inhibit how your body absorbs the mineral, so keep an eye on those, too.
While you don’t need to increase your calcium quota during pregnancy, it’s still smart to make sure you’re getting enough – your growing baby needs it for developing and strengthening its bones. Dairy foods like milk and cheese ("opt for hard cheeses stored in the fridge instead of soft, semi-soft and surface-ripened cheeses, which have a higher risk of [the harmful bacteria] listeria being present," says Donaldson) are great sources, while other good ones include almonds, canned fish and tofu. A side of cookies with that milk? It’d be rude not to.