The Truth About Eating for Two

Excited that being pregnant means doubling your calorie count? If only it were true! The reality is that you only need to add around 300 extra calories a day. That's about the number in a cup of skim milk and half a cheese sandwich, or in a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk and a banana.

If you already eat healthfully, adding those 300 calories may be the only change you need to make for you and your baby to stay healthy.

If your prepregnancy diet wasn't the healthiest, don't worry. Now is a great time to incorporate better food choices for you and your baby. Remember, variety is key. Choosing from different food groups will ensure you're getting the best assortment of vitamins and minerals.

Foods for Energy: Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs give your body the energy it needs to keep you going and growing throughout your pregnancy. They're also packed with fiber, which helps with digestion and preventing constipation -- often a concern for pregnant women.

Complex carbs include:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Whole grains like oats, brown rice, whole wheat breads, and pastas

Foods to Build Blood: Protein and Iron

One benefit of protein: It drives blood production, especially protein that includes iron that your body easily absorbs, like from red meats, chicken, and shellfish. Your blood volume increases during pregnancy to supply your baby's blood, too. For healthy proteins that aren't high in fat, be sure to get yours from:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Tofu and other soy products
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Egg whites

If you're a vegetarian or vegan, ask your doctor if you would benefit from seeing a nutritionist to make sure you're getting the right amount of protein for you and your baby.

Foods to Build Bones: Calcium

You need calcium to have strong bones and teeth and also for muscle function. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are some of the best sources of calcium. Dark, leafy green vegetables also have calcium, but in much smaller amounts. Some foods have calcium added to them, including calcium-fortified cereal, bread, orange juice, and soy drinks. Check food labels to know for sure.


Healthy Fats

Although fats get a bad rap, you and your baby do need some to stay healthy. Just remember to pick from the healthy, unsaturated variety:

  • Vegetable oils
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts

Healthy Snacks

Still looking for a way to incorporate those extra calories? Snacks can do the trick.

By snacks, we don't mean a candy bar or a bag of potato chips. Instead stock your kitchen with cereal, nuts, fruit, and low-fat yogurt.

Adding those 300 extra calories in a healthy way can be as simple as eating:

  • 19 almonds, low salt or salt-free (150 calories) with 1/3 cup dried cranberries (140 calories)
  • 1/4 cup mixed nuts, low salt or salt-free (200 calories) and 1 large orange (90 calories)
  • 1 cup small pasta shells (180 calories) with 1 cup cherry tomatoes (30 calories), 1/4 cup black beans (55 calories), 1 teaspoon olive oil (40 calories), and a splash of vinegar

For a smaller snack of 150-200 calories, consider:

  • 3/4 cup oatmeal (110 calories) with 6 medium strawberries (20 calories) and 1/4 cup blueberries (20 calories)
  • 4 egg whites (70 calories) with 1 serving of salsa (20 calories) on 2 soft corn tortillas (120 calories)
  • 1 cup low-fat yogurt (140 calories) and 1 large peach (60 calories)

It's OK to enjoy a sweet or salty treat every now and then. But do it in moderation, just like you did before you were pregnant. Too much salt can cause you to retain water and increase your blood pressure, which isn't good for you or your baby. And too many sweet foods will fill you up with empty calories, so you're less hungry for the nutritious foods that you and your baby need.

While a healthy weight gain is important, don't worry too much about the numbers on the scale. If you have any concerns, talk with your doctor about your best plan to eat right for two.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on January 17, 2019



American Academy of Family Physicians: "Eating During Pregnancy."

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month, Women's Health Care Physicians, 2010, "Nutrition During Pregnancy: FAQ."

Cleveland Clinic: "Good Nutrition During Pregnancy for You and Your Baby," "Nutrition During Pregnancy for Vegetarians."

Mercy Health System: "How Your Baby Grows During Pregnancy."

University Of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System: "Mid (4 To 6 Months, Aka Second Trimester)."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: "Healthy Eating for Pregnancy and Lactation."


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