A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time but is especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow.
You do not need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need.
It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you're pregnant you need to take a folic acid supplement as well, to make sure you get everything you need.
Read more about vitamins and supplements in pregnancy.
There are also certain foods that should be avoided in pregnancy.
There's no need to "eat for 2"
You will probably find that you are more hungry than usual, but you do not need to "eat for 2" – even if you are expecting twins or triplets.
Try to have a healthy breakfast every day, because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.
Eating healthily often means changing the amounts of different foods you eat, so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You can use the Eatwell Guide to get the balance of your diet right. It shows you how much of what you eat should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet.
You do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a week.
Fruit and vegetables in pregnancy
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and can help prevent constipation.
Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day – these can include fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables carefully.
Starchy foods (carbohydrates) in pregnancy
Starchy foods are an important source of energy, some vitamins and fibre, and help you to feel full without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, yams and cornmeal. If you are having chips, go for oven chips lower in fat and salt.
These foods should make up just over a 3rd of the food you eat. Instead of refined starchy (white) food, choose wholegrain or higher-fibre options such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or simply leaving the skins on potatoes.
Protein in pregnancy
Eat some protein-rich foods every day. Sources of protein include:
- meat (but avoid liver)
Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and try not to add extra fat or oil when cooking meat. Read more about eating meat in a healthy way.
Make sure poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat such as lamb, beef and pork are cooked very thoroughly until steaming all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them.
Try to eat 2 portions of fish each week, 1 of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel. Find out about the health benefits of fish and shellfish. There are some types of fish you should avoid when you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, including shark, swordfish and marlin.
When you're pregnant, you should avoid having more than 2 portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, because it can contain pollutants (toxins).
You should avoid eating some raw or partially cooked eggs, as there is a risk of salmonella.
Eggs produced under the British Lion Code of Practice are safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked, as they come from flocks that have been vaccinated against salmonella.
These eggs have a red lion logo stamped on their shell. Pregnant women can eat these raw or partially cooked (for example, soft boiled eggs).
Eggs that have not been produced under the Lion Code are considered less safe, and pregnant women are advised to avoid eating them raw or partially cooked, including in mousse, mayonnaise and soufflé. These eggs should be cooked until the white and the yolk are hard.
Find out more about foods to avoid in pregnancy.
Dairy in pregnancy
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important in pregnancy because they contain calcium and other nutrients that you and your baby need.
Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed, 1 percent fat or skimmed milk, low-fat and lower-sugar yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese.
If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.
Find out more about the nutritional benefits of dairy and dairy alternatives.
There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy, including unpasteurised cheeses. To find out which cheeses you should not eat when you're pregnant on our page about foods to avoid in pregnancy.
Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both
Sugary foods and drinks are often high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain. Having sugary foods and drinks can also lead to tooth decay.
Fat is very high in calories, so eating too many fatty foods, or eating them too often, can make you put on weight. Eating too much saturated fat can also increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood, which increases your chance of developing heart disease.
Foods that are high in fat, sugar, or both, include:
- all spreading fats (such as butter)
- salad dressings
- ice cream
- fizzy drinks
If you're having foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.
Healthy snacks in pregnancy
If you get hungry between meals, try not to eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose something healthier, such as:
- small sandwiches or pitta bread with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines, with salad
- salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
- low-fat, lower-sugar fruit yoghurt, plain yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
- hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
- ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
- vegetable and bean soups
- a small bowl of unsweetened breakfast cereal, or porridge, with milk
- milky drinks
- fresh fruit
- baked beans on toast or a small baked potato
- a small slice of malt loaf, a fruited tea cake or a slice of toasted fruit bread
When choosing snacks, you can use food labels to help you. Find out more about food labelling, including how the "green, amber, red" code can help you make healthier choices quickly.
Preparing food safely
- Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma (a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis) which can harm your unborn baby.
- Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw foods (poultry, meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and raw vegetables) to help you avoid food poisoning.
- Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination.
- Use a separate knife and chopping board for raw meats.
- Heat ready meals until they're steaming hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry.
You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork, are cooked very thoroughly until steaming all the way through.
For tips, read foods to avoid in pregnancy.
The Healthy Start scheme
You may be able to get help to buy food and milk through the Healthy Start scheme if you're pregnant or have a child under 4 years old and receive certain benefits, or you’re pregnant and under 18.
If you qualify, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card which you can use to buy certain types of milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables.
For more information, or to apply for a card, visit the Healthy Start scheme website.
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