Planning a healthy pregnancy diet in three easy steps

12 December 2022 dot 6-minute read
Healthy Body How to Pregnancy Diet and nutrition Women's health Eat Well
Doctors and researchers emphasise that getting nutrients from food is best.
In November 2021, a multi-year study underscored the importance of a healthy pregnancy diet.
The ongoing research, a collaborative effort by Nutrition International and Harvard University, showed that maternal nutrition supplementation (MMS) "can reduce the likelihood of children developing non-communicable diseases (NCD) later in life" among malnourished populations. NCDs included diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
With data from 132 low- and middle-income countries, the study showed that maternal nutrition is key to a child's overall wellbeing starting in the womb.
The better news is major food groups provide most of the recommended vitamins and minerals for pregnant women. With some exceptions, and unless your doctor says so, you may not need a lot of antenatal supplements if you follow balanced nutrition guidelines.
What does a healthy diet plan look like for pregnant women? Here is a three-step guide.

Step 1: Power up on nutrients

Your obstetrician-gynaecologist will always prefer that you get nutrients from your food rather than supplements. However, your doctor will prescribe supplements to support your diet if he sees micronutrient gaps or deficiencies. Here are the essential nutrients.

Folate (folic acid) 

This nutrient is on top of the list because of its vital role in helping prevent malformations like anencephaly and spina bifida (malformations of the brain and spine, respectively). Daily folate intake is advised before conception and during early pregnancy. Doctors will prescribe folate (vitamin B) supplements on top of a folate-rich diet to be safe.
Foods to eat: Dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, dried beans, and fortified foods like breakfast cereals


You need to eat more iron because your baby stores and uses it in the first six months after birth. A lack of iron can lead to anaemia, and a severe deficiency may increase the risk of premature birth. Also, your body needs iron to make red blood cells as your blood volume increases significantly throughout the nine months.
Foods to eat: Red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, iron-fortified cereals, green vegetables, legumes, nuts

Vitamin C 

Besides helping boost your immunity, vitamin C will help develop your baby's bones and teeth. It can also help tissue repair, wound healing and iron absorption.
Foods to eat: Fresh fruits and vegetables


Your baby will have a high demand for calcium to build strong bones. So, make sure you're consuming enough to prevent bone loss and avoid the risk of osteoporosis later.
Foods to eat: Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, leafy green vegetables, tofu calcium-fortified nuts, and fish with edible bones (e.g. ikan bilis)

DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid)

DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that can support your baby's brain and eye development and play a role in helping prevent premature birth. In addition, although still inconclusive, several studies have linked DHA to alleviating perinatal depressive symptoms.
Foods to eat: Fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, edamame, seaweed

Step 2: Eat moderately from all food groups

You need two servings of fruits a day. A small apple (130g) is considered one serving.
Pregnancy means eating right and not necessarily more unless your doctor says so. A dietician can counsel you on the food for your nutritional needs and just how much you need to eat.
A balanced pregnancy diet means eating the recommended number of servings from all food groups.
  • Vegetables: 3 servings a day
  • Fruits: 2 servings a day
  • Meat, seafood, and dairy: 3 1/2 servings a day with dairy and calcium-rich foods at 1 serving
  • Brown rice and wholemeal bread: 6 to 7 servings a day
Make sure to drink lots of water. Increase your intake if you are very active or doing exercise like prenatal yoga.

Step 3: Limit or avoid these foods when pregnant

Egg yolks are high in cholesterol. Eat no more than four egg yolks a week.
Control your intake of food high in sugar, fat, and salt. In pregnancy, rapid weight gain may lead to gestational diabetes, which requires you to control your carbohydrates and avoid high blood sugar.
For your own safety, avoid foods prone to Listeria monocytogenes, bacteria that can harm you and your baby. These include:
  • Unpasteurised milk
  • Liver pates
  • Soft cheese (brie, feta, camembert and Roquefort)
  • Uncooked preserved meat like hot dogs, ham, and luncheon meat
Anything unpasteurised, raw, or uncooked will have to wait until after you give birth. This includes:
  • Raw fish and seafood like sushi, sashimi, clams, or oysters
  • Ceviche
  • Uncooked eggs
  • Prepackaged salads and fruit salads
  • Raw sprouts (alfalfa, radish, mung beans, soybeans)
  • Homemade mayonnaise, aioli or caesar dressing
  • Soft serve ice cream
  • Raw dough
  • Unpasteurised cheese
  • Unpasteurised milk product
  • Unpasteurised juice or cider
Avoid alcohol and energy drinks and consult your doctor about herbal teas, caffeine-free coffee, soda or soft drinks and maternal milk.
Many pregnant women wonder if spicy food is off-limits. The short answer is no, and it is not considered harmful to your baby. But some spices can cause indigestion and heartburn.
While your calorie and nutrient needs will increase in pregnancy, you still need to watch out for excessive weight gain. Obesity increases the risk of pregnancy complications like hypertension, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
Along with medical protection coverage for you and your baby, a well-balanced pregnancy diet helps your body recover post-birth and gives your baby a healthy head start. Everything you eat affects your baby's development and growth in the womb and later in life. Focusing on good nutrition is the best first gift you can give your baby.
BMJ Global Health. 2020. WHO recommendations on antenatal nutrition: an update on multiple micronutrient supplements. [online][Accessed on 12 August 2022]
World Health Organization. 2020. WHO recommendations on antenatal care for a positive pregnancy experience. [online][Accessed on 12 August 2022]
Health Hub. 2021. Can you have a healthy weight gain during pregnancy? [online][Accessed on 12 August 2022]
Pregnancy, Birth and Baby. 2021. Guide to food and drink during pregnancy. [online][Accessed on 12 August 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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