Pregnant woman
Share:  
|
PAGE
MENU

Nutrition

Eating a healthy diet is always important, especially when planning for pregnancy or during pregnancy. What you eat can affect your health and the health of your baby. Although your body’s own stores will help support your baby’s growth and development, you may also need extra energy and nutrients to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Read through the questions below to get answers to some of the common nutrition concerns that women have during pregnancy.

How much should I eat while I am pregnant?

Everyone has slightly different energy and protein needs during pregnancy. Check out the recommended servings from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide below:

Vegetables and Fruit

These foods provide vitamins, minerals, fibre and energy to support the needs of Mom and Baby and are usually low in fat and calories

  • Choose 7-8 servings of fresh, frozen or canned fruit and vegetables every day
  • A serving is: ½ cup (125 mL) vegetables or fruit; OR 1 cup (250 mL) raw or ½ cup (125 mL) cooked leafy vegetables, OR 1 fruit

Grain Products

These foods provide some of the carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins and energy needed for your baby’s growth and development

  • Choose 6-7 servings of grain products every day
  • Try to have at least 3 of those servings be whole grain
  • A serving is: 1 slice (35 g) bread; OR ½ (45 g) bagel; OR ½ (35 g) pita or tortilla; OR ½ cup (125 mL) cooked rice, pasta, couscous, bulgur or quinoa; OR 30 g cold cereal; OR ¾ cup (175 mL) hot cereal

Milk and Alternatives

These foods provide protein, calcium and vitamin D and are important for bone health and preventing high blood pressure and diabetes in pregnancy

  • Choose 3-4 servings of milk and alternatives every day
  • A serving is: 1 cup (250 mL) milk or fortified soy beverage, ½ cup (125 mL) evaporated milk, ¾ cup (175 g) yogurt or kefir, 50 g (1½ ounces) cheese

Meat and Alternatives

These foods provide protein, fat, iron and other important vitamins and minerals needed for growth and development of your baby

  • Choose 2 servings of meat and alternatives every day
  • A serving is 75 g (2½ ounces) of cooked fish, shellfish, poultry or lean meat; OR ¾ cup (175 mL) cooked legumes or tofu; OR 2 eggs; OR 2 tablespoons (30 mL) peanut butter; OR ¼ cup (60 mL) shelled nuts and seeds

Fats and Oils

These foods provide energy and fat, including essential fats. They help our bodies absorb vitamins A, D, E and K

  • Include 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 mL) every day
  • Choose liquid vegetable oils, soft margarines and avocado most of the time

I am worried about eating fish during pregnancy. How much is safe?

Fish is an excellent source of protein, vitamin D and other minerals. Certain fish are also excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important during pregnancy because they help with brain, eye and nerve development.

Health Canada recommends that all pregnant women eat at least 150 g (5 ounces) of cooked fish every week. Some fish contain high levels of mercury and should be limited or avoided in pregnancy. Toronto Public Health and Health Canada have up to date lists of safe fish

How much folic acid should I be getting?

Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin that is important for healthy growth and development of your baby. Getting enough folic acid helps to lower the risk of your baby developing a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida.

All women who could become pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin containing 0.4mg of folic for at least 3 months before becoming pregnant. You should be able to get the rest of the folic acid you need from food.

Women who are pregnant need to get at least 0.6mg of folic acid every day.

Some women require more folic acid:

  • If you have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect or a personal history of neural tube defect
  • If you have diabetes, epilepsy or are obese you may be at higher risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect

If any of these apply to you, speak to your doctor as you may need a higher dose of folic acid.

Where can I get the extra iron I need?

During pregnancy, women need more iron than usual to support the development of the placenta, support the added blood volume of pregnancy, and promote iron storage for the baby.

Pregnant women should get at least 27mg of iron every day. Most prenatal vitamin supplements contain at least the minimum amount you need every day.

There are two types of iron:

  • heme iron from animal foods
  • non-heme iron from vegetarian foods.

Foods that are high in heme iron and are safe for pregnancy include:

  • cooked oysters
  • mussels
  • beef
  • clams
  • shrimp
  • sardines
  • lamb
  • herring
  • chicken
  • pork

Foods that are high in non-heme iron include:

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • tofu
  • beans
  • lentils
  • enriched grains and cereals
  • eggs
  • green leafy vegetables

To help the iron from non-heme iron foods be absorbed, eat these foods with food sources of vitamin C. For example, squeeze lemon juice on these foods or have an orange with your meal.

Avoid liver during your pregnancy. Even though it is very high in iron, it is too high in vitamin A, which can be harmful to your baby.

If you need more iron than you can get from food and your prenatal vitamin, speak to your doctor about what’s best for you. 

Learn more about iron deficiency & supplementation during pregnancy »

Are there any other important nutrients during pregnancy?

Calcium and vitamin D and are important for bone health and preventing high blood pressure and diabetes in pregnancy. Choose 3-4 servings of milk and alternatives every day.

If you are thinking about taking any other vitamin, mineral or herbal supplements during your pregnancy, speak to your doctor before starting them

How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy?

Gaining too much weight in your pregnancy can lead to problems during and after your pregnancy

During your pregnancy:

  • Excess weight gain can cause your baby to grow more than is desired. You may need a caesarian section
  • Too much weight gain puts you at a higher risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia

After your pregnancy

  • If you gain too much weight during your pregnancy, it is more difficult to return to a healthy weight after your baby is born. This increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some other chronic diseases.

If possible, try to plan for your pregnancy and do your best to achieve a healthy weight before your get pregnant. How much weight you should gain during pregnancy depends on how much you weighed before you were pregnant. Ideally, all women will gain some weight during their pregnancy. Most of this weight should be gained in the second and third trimesters.

To determine the amount of weight you should gain during your pregnancy you should know your height and your pre-pregnancy weight. This will allow you to calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI = weight (kg)/height (m)2. Click here for a BMI calculator.

Once you have calculated your pre-pregnancy BMI use this weight gain calculator or following table to see the recommended weight gain for your pregnancy:

Pre-pregnancy BMI Recommended Weight Gain Rate of Weight Gain After 1st Trimester
<18.5 12.5-18.0 kg (28-40 lb) 0.5 kg/week (1.0 lb/week)
18.5-24.9 11.5-16.0 kg (25-35 lb) 0.4 kg/week (1.0 lb/week)
25.0-29.9 7.0-11.5 kg (15-25 lb) 0.3 kg/week (0.6 lb/week)
≥30 5.0- 9.0 kg (11-20 lb) 0.2 kg/week (0.5 lb/week)



If you are having trouble achieving a healthy weight before your pregnancy or are gaining too much or too little weight during your pregnancy, speak to your doctor or registered dietitian

Do I need to worry about food safety during my pregnancy?

Women who are pregnant are at higher risk of developing a foodborne illness (food poisoning). To keep your risk as low as possible, avoid the following foods which may be contaminated with bacteria during your pregnancy:

  • Raw fish, especially shellfish such as oysters and clams
  • Undercooked meat, poultry and seafood
  • Hot dogs, non-dried deli-meats, refrigerated pâté, meat spreads and refrigerated smoked seafood and fish
  • All foods made with raw or lightly cooked eggs (for example, homemade Caesar vinaigrette)
  • Unpasteurized and pasteurized soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert and unpasteurized semi-soft cheeses such as Roquefort or Stilton
  • Unpasteurized juices, such as unpasteurized apple cider
  • Raw sprouts, especially alfalfa sprouts

I’m worried about my baby developing allergies. Are there any foods I should avoid?

Current research tells us that what you eat during pregnancy does not cause or prevent allergies in your baby. So, unless you’re allergic to a food, there is no reason to avoid it.

Are there any other foods that I should avoid during my pregnancy?

Foods that may be contaminated with bacteria should be avoided during pregnancy. Other foods that should be avoided during pregnancy include:

  • Bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd. It has been shown to lead to miscarriages in animal studies
  • Cyclamate is an artificial sweetener that should be avoided during pregnancy

Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K), Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose and Steviol Glycosides have all been shown to be safe in pregnancy in small amounts

I’m having multiples. Is there anything else I need to know about nutrition?

Multiple pregnancies often do not reach term. To optimize the growth and development of your babies, it’s important to get adequate nutrition and gain weight appropriately starting early in your pregnancy. Weight gain of about 3-4 kg (7-9 lbs) in the first trimester is appropriate.

To determine the amount of weight you should gain during your pregnancy you should know your height and your pre-pregnancy weight. This will allow you to calculate your body mass index (BMI). BMI = weight (kg)/height (m)2. Click here for a BMI calculator.

Once you have calculated your pre-pregnancy BMI use the following table to see the recommended weight gain for your multiple pregnancy:

Pre-pregnancy BMI Recommended Weight Gain
<18.5 No recommendation due to insufficient data
18.5-24.9 17-25 kg (37-54 lb)
25.0-29.9 14-23 kg (31-50 lb)
≥30 11-19 kg (25-42 lb)


To help achieve the appropriate weight gain and support the growth and development of your babies, you should eat 50g more protein every day than if you were pregnant with one fetus. This is an extra 2-3 food guide servings of meat and alternatives every day.

Can I speak with a registered dietitian?

You may have specific questions about your eating plan if:

  • You have multiple food allergies
  • You are following a strict vegetarian diet
  • You are a teenager
  • Your current financial situation makes it difficult for you to buy food

If you have specific dietary questions, ask your doctor for a referral to a Registered Dietitian.

The Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) is a weekly prenatal program that provides group based and individual support and education from Public Health Nurses and Registered Dietitians in collaboration with Community partners. Call Public Health at 416-338-7600 to find out where the closest site is located.

Registered Dietitians are available 24 hours a day at www.EatRightOntario.ca, or 1-877-510-5102.