Eating wisely

Your health care provider may recommend that you take a prenatal vitamin to help assure you are getting the nutrients you need. However, you still need to eat a well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

During the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy, your energy needs increase by 300 calories a day. That is the number of calories in a peanut butter sandwich or an orange and a large glass of milk.

So, it is important to make good food choices to assure you and your baby get the nutrients you need. That means focusing on eating healthful foods and limiting high-fat foods and sweets.

When you are pregnant you need larger amounts of calcium and iron.

Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Look for sources of calcium that include vitamin D.

You should get 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D each day from your diet and supplements.


You need to get 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day. This calcium is needed to make your bones healthy. It’s important to spread your calcium intake throughout the day instead of having it all at one time.

There are 300 mg in 8 ounces of milk or yogurt or 1 ounce of hard cheese. Other dairy products like pasteurized soft cheeses (cottage cheese or ricotta), ice milk, frozen yogurt, and ice cream are also rich in calcium. Low-fat versions of dairy products contain as much, and sometimes more, calcium as full-fat versions.

Nondairy sources include calcium-enriched foods like juices, cereal (both cooked and ready-to-eat), soymilk and tofu. Other good food sources are canned salmon (with bones), sardines and cooked greens (spinach, collards, beet greens and kale).

If you are having trouble getting enough calcium from your diet, your health care provider may suggest taking a supplement in addition to your prenatal vitamin.


You need to increase the amount of iron you eat. The iron is needed to make red blood cells both for your blood supply and for your baby’s. At about 34 weeks your baby will also start storing iron, increasing the amount you need.

Lean red meat, the dark meat of poultry, and shellfish like oysters and clams are good sources of iron. Plant sources include dark greens, dried fruit, dried peas and beans, nuts, iron-fortified cereals, and enriched flour.

Try to get at least 27 mg each day. Most health care providers recommend an iron supplement in addition to eating iron-rich foods. (Check your prenatal vitamin for the amount of iron it contains.)

If you take an iron supplement

Take a single dose of an iron supplement every other day (such as Monday, Wednesday and Friday) to improve absorption and decrease side effects (such as constipation). Your health care provider can recommend how much iron supplement you need and how best to take it.

Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients

In addition, eating foods rich in vitamins and other minerals keeps you healthy and your baby growing well.

Vitamin A helps develop your baby's cells, vision and immune system. This vitamin is found in deep orange and dark green fruits and vegetables, such as mangoes, carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach as well as vitamin A fortified milk.

Vitamin C is important in the development of the immune system in addition to helping iron absorption. It is found in citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruit), cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwi, mangoes, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Try to eat a food rich in vitamin C at the same time you are eating a source of iron or taking a supplement.

Folic acid is important for normal organ and nerve development. It is found in dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, orange juice, and fortified cereal and bread products. In the early weeks of pregnancy, folic acid may help prevent some defects of the brain and spinal cord and some other birth defects. To be sure you are getting enough of this vitamin, talk with your health care provider about taking a supplement.

Fiber helps prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber each day. The easiest way to reach that goal is to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and bran. Many fruits and vegetables have around two grams of fiber per serving as does a slice of whole grain bread. Bran cereals have about eight grams of fiber per serving, as does a serving of dry beans and lentils.

Protein builds tissues. You will need to get all of your protein from the food you eat. Animal sources are meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Plant sources include dry beans, lentils, soy and nuts. Get your protein from a variety of sources. If you eat a large amount of soy or flaxseed products, talk with your health care provider.

Carbohydrates provide energy. They are found in breads, cereals, rice, pasta, fruits and dairy products.

Fatty acids (fats) promote nerve and brain development and help the body store vitamins A, D, E and K. They are found in butter, margarine, oil, salad dressings, meats, dairy products, nuts and seeds. Only a small amount is needed each day, so limit these foods.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your baby's brain and eye development and for your overall health. Omega-3 fats are found in vegetable oils (choose flaxseed, canola or soybean), fish (choose shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish or light tuna) and supplements (choose supplements that contains DHA, a type of fatty acid in omega-3). Eat two servings of low-mercury fish a week, or 12 ounces total. (See the fish safety information section in food safety.) Talk with your health care provider before you start taking any supplement.

Liquids Drinking liquids is also important. Water, milk and juice are liquids. If you are gaining more weight than you want, limit juice to one serving a day. Aim to drink eight to 10 glasses (at least 64 ounces) each day and even more if the weather is hot.

Choosing healthful foods

Visit to learn more about healthful food choices during pregnancy.

The chart below gives the recommended minimum number of servings in each food group to help ensure you and your baby are getting the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy.

Keep track of what you eat for two or three days and compare what you ate with the guidelines. You can tell how you are doing and where you could improve. If you need to make changes, choose one to work on. Then, after you have made that change, focus on making another.

Food group

Amount needed each day during pregnancy

Grains group

6 to 9 ounces

Vegetable group

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups

Fruit group

1 1/2 to 2 cups

Dairy group

3 cups

Protein group

5 to 6 1/2 ounces

Fats, oils and sweets

4 to 6 tablespoons

Visit to learn more about the food groups and what foods are best for you during your pregnancy.


Cravings can be a normal part of pregnancy. Just be sure you don't replace healthful foods with junk food. If you crave nonfood items, be sure to talk with your health care provider. That way you can find out if eating that substance could hurt your baby.

Eat a Rainbow of Foods Each Day

To help make healthful choices, you should eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups.

Eat foods from a variety of colors. Vegetables are dark green, orange, yellow and purple; fruits are red, blue, green and yellow; meats and fish are white and red; beans are black, red and white; and grains are brown and white.

Serving sizes

You'll need to pay attention to serving size when estimating how well you are eating. Nutrients are described by the amount contained in a standard measurement. This serving size may be larger or smaller than the amount you usually eat.

Group Serving size

Bread, cereal, rice and pasta

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 pita
  • 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1 tortilla
  • 4 small crackers
  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta


  • 1 cup raw leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup other cooked or chopped raw vegetables
  • 3/4 cup vegetable juice


  • 1 medium-sized piece of fruit that fits into the palm of your hand: apple, orange
  • 1 cup of cut-up fresh fruit
  • 3/4 cup fruit juice
  • 1/2 cup cooked or canned fruit

Milk, yogurt and cheese

  • 1 cup milk or yogurt
  • 2 ounces processed cheese
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 ounces natural, hard cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cream or frozen yogurt

Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts

  • 2 to 3 ounces of cooked, lean meat, poultry or fish (size of a deck of cards)
  • 1/2 cup cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts count as 1 ounce of lean meat

Fats, oils and sweets

  • 1 teaspoon butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 12 ounces soda or fruit drink
  • 1/2 cup sherbet or gelatin dessert
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise or salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon sugar, jam or jelly
  • 1 ounce chocolate ("fun size")
  • 2 medium cookies

Source: Allina Health Patient Education, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, eighth edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/06/2021