Nutrition During Pregnancy: What Can I Eat?

07/10/2009 11:07 | Updated 22 May 2015

It seems like every week there's a new study telling us what foods we should and shouldn't be eating during pregnancy. It can get pretty scary, particularly as it involves the health of your unborn child, and seriously confusing when one survey suggests you avoid a particular food one week, and the next week another study states the opposite!

The biggest confusion lately seems to be regarding alcohol and whether it is or isn't safe to drink during pregnancy.

To clear up the confusion, I had a look on the NHS website and discovered the standard food guide detailing what you should and shouldn't eat during pregnancy.

It's a detailed document but here are the highlights:

What you should eat

The important rule here is to go for quality over quantity, so make sure you eat plenty of:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables. These will stock you up on vitamins and minerals and help with digestion.
  • Carbs, specifically the wholewheat variety. This will give you lots of fibre, and should be the main part of your meal.
  • Protein. Meat (avoiding liver), fish (avoiding certain varieties I will cover in a moment) nuts and seeds. These foods are packed full of nutrients.
  • Dairy. These foods, including milk, yoghurt and cheese, are vital in getting calcium into your system. Try to get 2-3 portions of dairy a day, although it's best to go for the options which are lower in fat.
So that's the good news. Here's the bad news.

What you should avoid

  • Cheese. It is a great source of calcium, but you need to make sure you avoid the mould-ripened soft cheese. So no Camembert, Brie or Stilton for the next 9 months. This is to avoid an infection of listeria bacteria which can lead to the stillbirth, miscarriage or serious illness of your unborn child.

  • Meat. Not so much don't eat it as don't order it rare. All meat needs to be thoroughly cooked and cooking utensils cleaned to avoid infection with toxoplasma. Don't eat liver either, as it's high in Vitamin A which can be problematic for your child.
  • Pate. This includes vegetable pate, as they all put you at risk of listeria.
  • Eggs. It's fine to eat them as long as they're cooked all the way through, but avoid anything containing raw eggs like chocolate mousse, posh ice cream, posh mayonnaise and cheesecake.
  • Fish. There are several fish you shouldn't eat, including shark, marlin and swordfish, and you should cut down on your tuna intake too. Ideally the maximum for tuna is 2 cans a week. The reason you should avoid these is due to the high levels of mercury, which can damage a baby's nervous system. Also avoid uncooked shellfish as there is a higher chance of infection.
  • Milk. Pasteurised or UHT only, to ensure all germs are destroyed.
  • Vitamin supplements. Avoid taking these unless discussed with your doctor as most contain large amounts of fish liver oil and Vitamin A.
  • Peanuts. Eat them, unless you're allergic. There are no real results that suggest eating peanuts will lead to your child developing a peanut allergy.
  • Caffeine. Try and cut it out, but if you can't at least try and limit it to 200mg a day. That's the equivalent of a 2 mugs of coffee a day or 2.5 cups of tea.
  • Alcohol, medicines and drugs. As mentioned before, this is a complication area, and you're best to have a bit more of a read here on it. The general guidelines though are that it's best not to drink at all, but if you really have to you should limit it to 1-2 units once or twice a week.
Hopefully that will have made things a little clearer for you. The government has also launched Healthy Start, which can help some families with the cost of buying nutritious food throughout the pregnancy by offering food vouchers to families on benefits or under the age of 18.

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