Healthy eating

What does it really mean to eat healthy?

Pregnancy is divided into three stages. Each stage is about three months long and marks differences in the development of your baby. Some of your nutritional requirements will vary depending on your stage of pregnancy. There are nutrients that you’ll need to get enough of to ensure the healthy development of your child like folic acid (folate), which you should start taking now if you didn’t start in the months leading up to your pregnancy.

Canada’s Food Guide is a resource pregnant Canadian women can use to help figure out how best to eat. A varied, nutrient-dense diet, as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide, will help ensure the nutritional requirements of both you and your baby are met.


In addition to folic acid, pregnant women also need to watch these nutrients: Iron, fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, choline and iodine.

You need to increase your daily iron intake to 27mg daily during the final six+ months of pregnancy to support an increase in red blood cells and fetal tissues. Like most women, you may need a good supplement to meet this need. Iron isn’t needed as much during the first three months and is safe to stop supplementing during this time if you’re experiencing nausea and vomiting. These symptoms of pregnancy normally subside around the time you need more iron.

You’ll need 2-3g more of fibre in your diet daily for a total of 28g. This added fibre helps reduce constipation and may help to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Consume omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for fetal development, particularly eye and brain development. Food sources of each of the omega-3s are recommended compared to supplements. DHA, one of the three omegas that is found in fish, is the best source. Aim for 1.4g daily.

Iodine is a mineral that works to help the body synthesize thyroid hormone, which plays a role in helping with muscle contractions, promoting bone development, breaking down fats, and stimulating nutrient absorption. Aim to consume 250mcg daily.

Vitamin D
Taking a vitamin D supplement of 2000IU in the last six months of pregnancy will enhance the vitamin D content of your breast milk towards meeting the daily needs of your breastfeeding infant.

Choline intake above 450mg a day is linked to improved fetal stress responses and a reduced risk of neural tube defects. This vitamin may not be found in your prenatal daily vitamin.

How much more do I need to eat?

We know that the requirements for almost all nutrients are higher during pregnancy than when a woman is not pregnant. This means that special attention to y our dietary intake is needed. This doesn’t always mean eating more, but it does mean being conscious of the quality of your diet. During the first trimester, you likely don’t need any extra calories. In the second trimester you need about 340 extra calories per day. In the third trimester, you need about 450 extra calories. This generally equates to 2 or 3 additionally servings from any of Canada’s Food Guide’s food groups during the second and third trimester. Here are some examples of 2 or 3 extra servings look like:

  • 1 apple and ¾ cup yogurt
  • 1 piece of toast and a cup of milk
  • ½ english muffin with a slice of cheese, half of a sliced pear
  • Pasta salad made with ½ c pasta, ½ cup vegetables and 75 g chicken

What if I have a special diet?

If you have a dietary restriction (e.g., food allergy, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.) you may have to pay a bit of extra attention to be sure you are getting all the nutrients you and your baby need. A well-planned vegetarian diet is healthy during pregnancy, with careful attention to protein intake. Nutrients of concern for strict vegetarians (vegans) include protein, zinc, iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. If you are concerned about your diet, your health care provider can refer you to a registered dietitian for guidance.