When you first find out you’re pregnant, after the initial shock and rush of excitement about the reality of a tiny human growing inside your uterus has kicked in, one of the first things you’re likely to think about is: what are the best things to eat in the first trimester?
Pretty soon, you might get cravings and even notice a shift in your food preferences. We’ve all heard the stories of midnight Ben and Jerry’s feasts – or sudden oysters and pickles cravings!
During the first trimester, while you probably don’t ‘look’ pregnant yet, your body is working harder than ever to provide nourishment for your baby to grow; during this time, baby’s brain and spinal cord begin to develop, as do major organs such as the heart. Therefore, says Paedeatric Nutritionist and SOS feeding consultant Mandy Sacher, “Your baby is completely reliant on your good choices”.
This is why it’s important to pay attention to your diet during the first trimester and make sure the food you’re eating is full of the right nutrients, rather than simply relying on prenatal vitamins. “The food and lifestyle choices you make before conception and during pregnancy set the foundation of your baby’s health, growth and ongoing development”, Mandy says.
So, what is the best food for the first trimester?
Generally speaking, the same principles of a healthy diet apply: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. But due to the enormous job your body has on its plate, and the precious stages of development your baby is undergoing, it’s worth getting granular with your diet in the first trimester to understand which nutrients, in particular, you and your body need.
Here are the best things to eat in the first trimester.
Smaller more frequent meals to help with morning sickness
Ever heard the term ‘eating for two’? While your body definitely needs extra nutrients, vitamins and minerals during the first trimester, it doesn’t actually require additional calories at this stage. So, instead of thinking about eating twice as much during the first trimester, it’s a good idea to eat half as much and twice as often.
Unfortunately, around half to two-thirds of all pregnant women will experience morning sickness in the first trimester. The cause of morning sickness mostly remains a mystery but it’s thought that a combination of physical and metabolic factors play a significant role. Whatever the case, morning sickness will surely affect your relationship with food in the first trimester. Eating small portions regularly has been shown to help pregnant women manage and minimise nausea and fatigue.
Focus on eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day, which will help minimize nausea and fatigue, and eat nutrient-dense foods to fuel up on vitamins and minerals.
Here are some food and bev tips to get you through morning sickness…
- Whole grain, rice or vegetable-based crackers can be a great light snack in between meals during the first trimester to help manage morning sickness.
- Ginger tea has been known to help alleviate nausea and is safe for women to drink during pregnancy.
If your morning sickness is making it difficult to eat anything other than rice and crackers, don’t stress, your prenatal vitamins will have you covered for a period of time.
It’s important to aim for a balanced diet of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates (such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains) when you’re pregnant. The more balanced and nutritious your diet, the better chance you have of avoiding unpleasant pregnancy symptoms such as swelling, constipation and fatigue.
Your diet in the first trimester really lays the groundwork for the rest of your pregnancy and how well you will feel while giving your baby the best chance to thrive.
Folate is the most important vitamin for pregnant women to take, and being a natural form of B9, is naturally found in many foods. Pregnant women are advised to take a daily total of around 800mcg of folate – about twice as much as non-pregnant women need.
Folate rich foods include spinach and leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, avocado, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), eggs, beetroot, citrus fruits and fortified cereals. In other words, the greener your plate, the better!
DHA / Omega-3 fatty acids
Healthy fats are important in the first trimester to support baby’s brain and neurological development. Omegas are essential because we can’t produce them naturally in our body. Omega-3s increase blood flow to the uterus and balance out hormones.
DHA, in particular, which is a type of omega-3 is great for pregnant women because it’s most readily absorbed by the body. It’s recommended that pregnant women intake an extra 600mg for a daily total of around 1,000mg.
Tip: A 6oz piece of salmon possesses about 1400mg of omega-3 DHA.
Foods that are high in DHA include flax seeds, flaxseed oil, mackerel, cod, sardines, salmon, anchovies, herring, walnuts and eggs from chickens that are fed omega-3s. Salmon, sardines and enriched eggs.
If your multivitamins doesn’t include Omega-3s, we recommend taking an Omega-3 supplement along with your multivitamin.
Iron is a mineral that the body needs for growth and development. Mandy notes that, “mineral deficiencies are common in Australia and many women often fall below the recommended daily amounts.”
Iron is in meat, eggs, fish, beans, tomatoes, beets, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin and whole-grain cereals.
Zinc is an essential mineral for the production of DNA and for cell division and growth. The recommended dose of zinc during the first trimester and throughout pregnancy is 11mg daily. Your prenatal vitamin probably has you covered, but it would be a good idea to check.
High zinc foods include, oysters, fish, meat, eggs, poultry, wheat germ and pumpkin seeds.
Vitamin D is considered an essential vitamin for healthy pregnancies. Some studies have shown that low vitamin D levels while pregnant are associated with pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and diabetes. Vitamin D intake during pregnancy has been linked to reducing the risk of an emergency caesarean section.
High in vitamin D foods include Eggs, fatty fish, dairy and cod liver oil.
What can you not eat during your first trimester?
Certain raw, pasteurised and cured foods have been deemed unsafe during pregnancy. We know, all the good stuff! Don’t worry, pregnancy isn’t forever – you have years ahead of you to indulge in fine cheeses and wines…
Here are the foods you should avoid during pregnancy.
- Raw fish: sashimi and sushi
- Cured meat: ham, salami, pancetta, prosciutto, cured chicken and turkey breast
- Pasteurised cheese: mozzarella, fresh goat cheese/chèvre, ricotta and feta