• Meals should be based on starchy foods (choosing wholegrain varieties or potatoes with their skins)
  • Most meals should contain some protein-rich foods, for example beans, pulses, quorn, tempeh, fish, eggs or meat
  • Two to four times a day include some micronutrient- fortified dairy alternatives or dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Aim for about 2 litres of water a day (and more if vomiting/ sweating lots or exercising)

Key nutrients for all diets 

Vegan or primarily plant-based diets 

Foods & drinks to take care with when pregnant 

A daily 400 µg folic acid supplement is recommended prior to conception and up to 12 weeks of pregnancy to lower the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). Don’t worry if your pregnancy was unplanned and you have not been taking a daily folic acid supplement, but do start taking it as soon as you can.

Oranges, berries, green leafy vegetables, beetroot, beans and brown bread are all good sources of folate, however, you would need to eat A LOT of these foods to meet the higher need for folate in pregnancy.

Top Tip: You may require to take a higher dose of folic acid if there is a family history of neural tube defects, you have diabetes or you are on anti-epileptic or anti-retroviral medication. Discuss with your GP.

This vitamin is particularly important for the growth and development of your baby’s bones and helps to maintain the health of your bones too. Your skin produces vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight, but the sun in the UK is only strong enough in the summer months (AND only if you spend some time in the sun every day with some of your skin exposed to it!). You can also get vitamin D from food, including oily fish, fat spreads and eggs.

To make sure that you get enough vitamin D all year round, all pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to take a daily supplement containing 10 μg (400 IU) of vitamin D. If you have darker skin (for example, if you’re of African, African Caribbean or south Asian origin), have limited exposure to sunlight or your BMI is larger than 30, you may require a bigger dose of vitamin D as your baseline levels are likely to be lower. Your Dietitian, GP or midwife should be able to advise you on this.

Top Tip: it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, therefore, your body will access it best if you have it with a meal that contains fats!

Iron requirements are higher in pregnancy, because your body requires extra iron to ensure your baby has a sufficient blood supply and receives necessary oxygen. It does not necessarily mean that you will need to take a supplement, because the body becomes more efficient at absorbing iron as the pregnancy progresses and you are not losing blood through monthly periods. However, it is not uncommon for pregnant women to develop iron deficiency, so aiming to eat plenty of foods containing iron is a good idea. Iron is found in pulses, nuts, quinoa, eggs, green leafy veg, wholemeal bread, dried fruit and nuts, and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals as well as red meat (i.e. beef and lamb).

Top Tip: Iron is best absorbed by your body alongside vitamin C, so consider having a glass of juice alongside your iron-rich meal or squeeze some lemon in your water. Contrarily, tea or coffee can block iron from being taken up by your body, so try not to consume these with meals.

Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, particularly decosahexanoic acid (DHA) found in oily fish (such as salmon, trout, sardines and mackerel), are important for the development of your baby’s brain and eyes. However, pregnant women should eat oily fish in moderation with a maximum of 2 portions a week as oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body.

If you don’t eat fish, you can get short chain omega-3 fats, such as α-linolenic acid (ALA), from other foods (see list below). Have at least one of the following every day:

  • A tablespoon of ground linseeds/flax seeds, chia seeds or two tablespoons of hemp seeds
  • Six walnut halves

For extra ALA, consider using rapeseed oil as your main cooking oil.

Top Tip: If you decide to take a supplement make sure that the supplement is suitable for pregnant women, as some fish oil supplements contain a high amount of vitamin A (such as cod liver oil), which you should avoid during pregnancy.

Calcium is really important for the growth and development of your baby’s bones and helps to maintain your bones. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified plant dairy alternatives and breakfast cereals, and dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are great sources of calcium so try to include these in your diet 3-4 times a day.

Top Tip: experiment with including different sources of calcium into your diet for variation and increase to 4-5 portions of calcium-rich foods when/if breastfeeding.

Additional considerations for those who are vegan or primarily plant-based

Good sources of iodine include fish, eggs, milk and milk products, so vegans are at risk of iodine deficiency. Soya and dairy alternative drinks are not typically fortified with iodine (check label) and therefore sources are limited. Although seaweed is a concentrated source of iodine, it can provide excessive amounts (particularly brown seaweed e.g. kelp) and therefore eating it more than once a week is not recommended, especially during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Iodine supplements are available and you should look for one containing approximately 140 µg of iodine.

Meat, fish and eggs are the best sources of selenium, so if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to make sure you’re eating other foods which contain a source of selenium, although the actual levels are variable dependent on the soil in which they are grown, these include:

  • Some nuts and seeds (especially Brazil nuts but also cashew nuts and sunflower seeds)
  • Some breakfast cereals (such as puffed wheat cereal, shredded wheat and cornflakes)
  • Some breads (such as seeded and wheatgerm bread)

If you eat eggs and dairy foods regularly, you should be getting enough vitamin B12. However, the only reliable source of B12 for a vegan are fortified foods, including:

  • Vitamin B12-fortified yeast extract (savoury spread).
  • Vitamin B12-fortified dairy-free alternatives (such as soya, oat and almond dairy-free alternative drinks or vegan spreads)
  • Vitamin B12-fortified breakfast cereals

Alternatively, you could take a vitamin B12 supplement (always read the label and talk to a health professional if you are unsure which supplements are safe to use during pregnancy).

Vitamin B2 is found in meat, dairy products and eggs, but unlike vitamin B12, it is also found in some plant-based and fortified foods. If you are vegetarian and eat eggs and dairy foods regularly, you should be getting enough vitamin B2. If you are vegan, good sources of B2 include:

  • Mushrooms
  • Almonds
  • Quinoa
  • B2-fortified yeast extract
  • Vitamin B2-fortified dairy-free alternatives (such as soya, oat and almond dairy-free alternative drinks)
  • Vitamin B2-fortified breakfast cereals and bread

Foods and drinks to take care with when pregnant

This section includes information on what foods or drinks to avoid or take care with in pregnancy.

Vitamin A is important for good health and for the healthy development of your baby, but large amounts can harm your unborn baby. It’s not safe to take multivitamins containing the retinol form of vitamin A or fish liver oils when you are pregnant, such as cod liver oil containing more than 700 µg day. Also you should avoid foods that have vitamin A added (they may say ‘fortified with vitamin A’ on the label). Liver and liver products (such as liver pate) are very high in vitamin
A and should also be avoided.

Top Tip: Vitamin A that your body produces from beta-carotene does not increase the risk of birth defects, so go ahead and enjoy all the yellow, red and orange fruit and vegetables without a worry!

Avoid:

  • pasteurised or unpasteurised mould-ripened soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside, such as brie, camembert and chèvre (unless cooked until steaming hot)
  • soft blue cheeses such as danish blue, gorgonzola and roquefort (unless cooked until steaming hot)
  • any unpasteurised cows’ milk, goats’ milk or sheep’s milk
  • any foods made from unpasteurised milk, such as soft goats’ cheese

Enjoy:

  • all hard cheeses such as cheddar, Stilton and parmesan
  • soft pasteurised cheeses such as cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goats’ cheese without a white coating on the outside (rind) and processed cheese spreads
  • thoroughly cooked soft unpasteurised cheeses, until steaming hot
  • thoroughly cooked soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside, until steaming hot
  • thoroughly cooked soft blue cheeses, until steaming hot
  • pasteurised milk, yoghurt, cream and ice cream
  • probiotic drinks

Avoid

  • Raw or undercooked hen eggs NOT produced under the British Lion code*
  • Raw or undercooked duck eggs, quail eggs and goose eggs
  • Eggs from outside of the UK

Enjoy:

  • raw, partially cooked and fully cooked British Lion eggs (eggs with a lion stamp on them)
  • foods with raw egg in them, such as mousse and mayonnaise, if they’re from British Lion eggs
  • eggs that are not British Lion, as long as the whites and yolks are cooked thoroughly until solid

Avoid:

  • cold cured meats, such as salami, pepperoni, chorizo and prosciutto (unless cooked thoroughly)
  • raw or undercooked meat
  • game meats such as goose, partridge or pheasant
  • liver and pâté (meat, fish or vegetarian)

Enjoy:

  • meats such as chicken, pork and beef, as long as they’re well-cooked with no trace of pink or blood; be especially careful with poultry, pork, sausages and burgers
  • cold, pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef

Avoid:

  • Shark, marlin and swordfish
  • Raw shellfish
  • Raw shellfish carries a risk of food poisoning unless the fish has been frozen first.

Limit:

  • you should eat no more than 2 portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel or herring
  • you should eat no more than 2 tuna steaks (about 140g cooked or 170g raw) or 4 medium-size cans of tuna (about 140g when drained) per week

Enjoy:

  • cooked fish and seafood
  • smoked fish such as smoked salmon and trout
  • raw or lightly cooked fish in sushi, if the fish has been frozen first
  • cooked shellfish, such as mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams
  • cold pre-cooked prawns

Avoid having more than 200mg of caffeine a day. See below for typical caffeine content in various drinks and foods:

  • 140mg in an espresso
  • 140mg in a mug of filter coffee
  • 100mg in a mug of instant coffee
  • 15mg in decaf coffee
  • 75mg in a mug of tea
  • 30mg in a cup of white or green tea
  • 40mg in a can of cola
  • 80mg in a 250ml can of energy drink
  • less than 25mg in a 50g bar of plain dark chocolate
  • less than 10mg in a 50g bar of plain milk chocolate

You should always speak to your midwife or doctor before taking any herbal remedies in pregnancy. Some herbal remedies are powerful and work in the same way as prescribed medication and you should be cautious of taking herbal remedies at all if you are already taking prescribed medication. Just because they are natural does not mean they are always safe, especially during pregnancy.

Little is known about the safety of herbal and green teas in pregnancy so it is advised that you drink them in moderation and stick to those made with ingredients that tend to be a normal part of the diet – for example mint or blackcurrant tea.

Liquorice root is high in a compound called glycyrrhizin, which may be harmful to your unborn baby. Avoid liquorice root, but liquorice sweets and tea are safe (avoid more than 4 cups a day)

In December 2008 the Food Standards Agency advised that there is insufficient evidence
to advise any pregnant women to avoid eating peanuts and peanut products during pregnancy and breastfeeding, unless they themselves have a peanut allergy.

Honey may be eaten during pregnancy, but is not suitable for babies under one year

You should avoid getting intoxicated from alcohol at any stage of your pregnancy and especially in the early weeks where it is associated with malformations in the foetus and may cause a miscarriage. Pregnant women are advised to avoid alcohol (NICE CG 62 2008), but women who do choose to drink should consume no more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week.

  • Department of Health (1991) Report No 41 Dietary Reference. Values for Food Energy and Nutrients for the UK. Report of the Panel on Dietary Reference Values of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy. HMSO. London.
  • NICE Clinical Guidance 62 Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant women 2008. NICE website
  • NHS pregnancy
  • Nutrition.org
  • BDA pregnancy resource