Diet in pregnancy, useful tips to feel good at the table

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Philippe Gloaguen
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  • 1 Diet in pregnancy and weight
  • 2 Diet in pregnancy and calories 
  • 3 Diet in pregnancy: carbohydrates, fats and proteins
  • 4 Diet in pregnancy: which nutrients to integrate 
  • 5 Diet in pregnancy: prohibited foods and drinks
  • 6 Diet in pregnancy: foods and drinks to limit
  • 7 Diet in pregnancy: preferred foods and drinks 
  • 8 Restrictive diets: yes or no in pregnancy?
  • 9 Diet in pregnancy and physical activity
  • 10 Pregnancy and vegetarian diet

Eating in a healthy and complete way is always very important. It is now known that our health passes from our tables and more or less we all know how to distinguish what is good for us from what, on the contrary, is harmful (even if perhaps very good in taste!). All of this takes on even more fundamental significance when you are expecting a baby. Assuming that "eating for two" is absolutely forbidden, the diet during pregnancy should not be neglected, but rather particular attention should be paid. 

Diet in pregnancy and weight

During pregnancy, the mother's organism is subject to important changes aimed at creating an environment suitable for the growth of the baby and preserving the health of the future mother until delivery. These changes not only affect the genital system, but the whole body and its organs. In addition, the metabolism also changes.

Gaining weight in pregnancy is an inevitable event. If you suffer from nausea and vomiting, in the first trimester you might not gain a lot of pounds, but in the second trimester and third trimester it is impossible for that to happen. The scale is lurking. It is therefore advisable for the doctor to evaluate the general state of the future mother at the beginning of gestation, adjusting the nutritional intake. 

But what is the permitted weight gain? The answer is: it depends. On average 10-12 kilos are those tolerated by gynecologists, but it is only indicative because it all depends on your starting weight. For example, according to the Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural Economics Analysis, a research body controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies, these are the increases based on your body mass index (BMI): 

  • BMI below 18.5 (underweight): 12,5-18 pounds more. 
  • BMI between 18.5 and 25 (normal weight): 11,5-16 kilos. Typically, the reference value is 12 kilos. 
  • BMI over 25 (overweight): 7-11,5 pounds.
  • BMI over 30 (obesity): 5-9 pounds.

The excessive increase is the cause of various more or less serious problems affecting mothers and babies. They range from a higher risk of caesarean delivery to preeclampsia, from fetal distress to macrosomia (very large fetus). It is therefore not an aesthetic factor (perhaps only minimally), but a real question of well-being. 

Diet in pregnancy and calories 

In healthy women, without particular weight problems and who practice a little physical activity, pregnancy involves a modest increase in the daily caloric requirement. This changes according to the trimester of pregnancy, but it remains essential to maintain the right balance between carbohydrates, fats and proteins because excesses are never good, neither for mothers nor for the babies they carry.

According to the LARN parameters (Reference Intake Levels of Nutrients and Energy for the Population of the Paesena) the caloric requirement should increase as follows:

  • + 69 kcal / day in the first trimester;
  • + 266 kcal / day in the second trimester;
  • + 496 kcal / day in the third trimester.

In total there are 76.530 calories in total for the whole pregnancy.

The values ​​are similar to those established by the European Food Safety Authority: 

  • + 70 kcal / day in the first trimester;
  • + 260 kcal / day in the second trimester;
  • + 500 kcal / day in the third trimester.

Diet in pregnancy: carbohydrates, fats and proteins

In general, during pregnancy the need for proteins increases significantly, while that of carbohydrates and fats remains unchanged. Let's see how many of these micronutrients to take during pregnancy. 


They are the main energy source in the population. They provide about 45-60% of the total daily energy. The amount should not be less than 175 grams per day to ensure adequate supply to the maternal and fetal brain. When choosing foods, it is better to prefer whole grains which also provide fiber, which is important to combat any constipation. Watch out for simple carbohydrates (such as fruit sugars): they should not be abused. 


The quality of the fats consumed is fundamental to guarantee the correct development and growth throughout the developmental age, starting from pregnancy, through the placenta, up to breastfeeding. Extremely healthy are the so-called polyunsaturated fatty acids, better known as omega-3 and omega-6. In particular, they should not be neglected in the third trimester when the child's greatest neurocognitive development occurs. They are a source of omega-3 oils and flax seeds, oils and vegetables in general, nuts, seaweeds, avocados, green leafy vegetables, soy beans. They contain good amounts of omega-6 seeds and oily fruit, vegetable oils and margarines, whole grains, legumes, meat, eggs, fish. 


They support protein synthesis in the maternal tissues and fetal growth, especially in the third trimester. Low protein intake is associated with negative effects on the weight and length of the fetus at birth. Excess, on the other hand, can interfere with fetal development. The proteins with high nutritional value are those contained in foods of animal origin (meat, milk and derivatives, fish, eggs). The recommended intake levels (54 g / day for an adult woman) should be increased during pregnancy by 1 g / day in the first trimester, 8 g / day in the second and 26 in the third.

Diet in pregnancy: which nutrients to integrate 

Often gynecologists prescribe multivitamin products to their pregnant women. Apart from folic acid which must always be integrated to avoid neural tube defects, a complete diet during pregnancy provides all the right micronutrients: vitamins A, of group B (especially if you take 5 servings a week of fruit and vegetables and 2 of legumes and if you eat dried fruit and whole grains), C, D (in some cases, however, vitamin D supplementation is recommended, after an evaluation by the doctor) and others. 

As for minerals, in case of deficiency the gynecologist could recommend an iron-based supplement, especially in case of anemia. Always remember that some foods interfere with iron absorption, such as caffeine. Calcium supplementation - important for bone development - is recommended for women at risk for hypertension and / or gestosis from the 20th week of pregnancy onwards. 

A varied and balanced diet guarantees the correct intake of other substances such as phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, chlorine, potassium, zinc, selenium and copper. As for iodine in pregnancy, remember to use iodized salt, in order to guarantee the right amount.

Diet in pregnancy: prohibited foods and drinks

Toxoplasmosis, salmonellosis, hepatitis A, anysakis, listeriosis: the dangers to health come from some foods that, during pregnancy, are best avoided. Let's see a list: 

  • raw or undercooked meats (including cured meats such as raw ham, speck, bresaola, pancetta).
  • Raw or undercooked eggs. 
  • Unpasteurized milk and derivatives.
  • Alcoholic.
  • Unwashed and unpeeled fruits and vegetables. 
  • Soft cheeses such as brie, gorgonzola, camembert.
  • Raw or undercooked fish, seafood, crustaceans.
  • Sauces and creams with raw or lightly cooked eggs (mayonnaise, tiramisu).
  • Fast food food.
  • Smoked fish or meats.
  • Ready meals of delicatessens.

Diet in pregnancy: foods and drinks to limit

  • Coffee, tea, cola drinks.
  • Sweets (if they are not completely prohibited by the gynecologist).
  • Cooked cured meats (mortadella, cooked ham, turkey breast, chicken breast).
  • Canned tuna.
  • Large fish (tuna, swordfish).
  • Sugars.
  • Salt.
  • Fat. 
  • Carbonated drinks. 

Diet in pregnancy: preferred foods and drinks 

  • Blue fish.
  • White meat.
  • Fresh and seasonal fruit and vegetables.
  • Dried fruit.
  • Fresh or aged cheeses.
  • Whole grains.
  • Still water. 
  • Freshly squeezed fruit juices. 
  • Extra virgin olive oil.

Restrictive diets: yes or no in pregnancy?

Let's focus immediately on the main point: in pregnancy you cannot afford the luxury of improvising. Restrictive diets, to lose weight or not to accumulate too much, must be prescribed only and exclusively by a specialist. In many cases the gynecologist works in synergy with a nutritionist, the best who can support him. 

When can a diet be useful? In some specific cases identified by your doctor, certainly not when we decide because we see ourselves more "swollen" than usual. If you are very overweight, losing some pounds may be right to continue your pregnancy, while if you suffer from high blood sugar, gestational diabetes or gestosis, the diet will be very important to keep the blood sugar level under control. In this case, the pregnant woman may be prohibited from certain foods, such as bread, pasta, potatoes, sweets.

Apart from the habit - dangerous in pregnancy - of do-it-yourself diets, there is another phenomenon that must be kept under close observation. Phantom "wellness programs", proposed by "wellness coaches" without ad hoc scientific preparation, are rampant more and more often. They are mostly plant products, therefore harmless after all. In pregnancy, however, not everything that is natural can be taken. The rule is always one: consult your gynecologist before taking any action. 

Diet in pregnancy and physical activity

Good eating habits cannot be separated from moderate physical activity. Apart from some cases of prohibited sports during pregnancy, moving around is very good. Here are the recommendations contained in "Nutrition during pregnancy and lactation", a report produced in 2022 by the Confalonieri Ragonese Foundation on behalf of the Del Paesena Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics (SIGO), the Del Paeseni Hospital Obstetricians Gynecologists Association (AOGOI) and of the Association of University Gynecologists Del Paeseni (AGUI), which we used as a source: 

  • In healthy women, moderate-to-intense aerobic activity is recommended for 150 minutes / week. 
  • Pregnant women who had a sedentary lifestyle prior to pregnancy should be encouraged to progressively exercise. 
  • Although a safe level of exercise intensity has not been established, women who exercised prior to pregnancy with an ongoing pregnancy without complications can undertake high-intensity aerobic activity without adverse effects. Prudential criterion seems to be not to exceed 130 bpm. 
  • The activities particularly recommended, in addition to swimming and walking, are: the exercise bike, running / jogging, yoga, pilates; however, the following are contraindicated: horse riding, skating, diving, water skiing, surfing, artistic gymnastics, in general all sports at risk of falling. 
  • Bed rest before childbirth is of no benefit and makes no sense to recommend it in healthy women. 
  • Prolonged or intense exercise beyond 45 minutes can cause hypoglycemia, so it is good to adjust your calorie intake before starting exercise or reduce the duration of the exercise itself. 
  • Prolonged physical activity should be carried out in an environment with adequate temperature. 
  • It is recommended to drink water before, during and after the activity. 
  • Physical activity of 30 min / day is recommended for obese women. 

Pregnancy and vegetarian diet

There are many women who, by choice of health or ideology, choose to follow a vegetarian diet which therefore excludes meat and fish. Are there any dangers in pregnancy? Is the child at risk of some nutritional deficiency? We talked about it HERE with a nutritionist biologist.

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