The Pregnancy Diet Plan – What you need to know!  

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA

3 Minutes

A big congratulations is definitely in order! Whether you have just taken a home pregnancy test or just left the Doctors, no doubt you are experiencing a lot of emotions. There may be many questions on your mind…..where do I start? How will I hide it from my friends when we meet up for drinks this weekend? Can I still have my morning latte? So many questions to consider including what type of diet to follow for the next 9 months. The good news is that there is no special diet when you are pregnant but there are definitely things you need to know so that you and your growing baby get all the nutrition that's required for a healthy pregnancy. 


What can I eat?  

Although you will now be thinking of two people to nourish, it doesn't mean eating for two! In fact, there is only a slight increase in the amount of food you need to eat each day. So when it comes to food, think quality rather than quantity. Quality meaning nutrient dense foods that will nourish you and your rapidly growing baby.  


Key nutrients for your growing bub 

1. Protein  

Protein is needed for cell growth and repair and is important for building strong muscles. During pregnancy, the amount of protein you need to eat increases. Most Australians get enough protein from their diet so there is no need to supplement. You can get protein from a variety of animal and plant sources including red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, legumes, beans, pulses and soy foods including tofu, tempeh, soymilk and soy yoghurt. 


2. Iron  

Iron is an important mineral needed during pregnancy and found in many foods we eat. Iron helps to transport oxygen around the body and is a key player in producing energy, building a healthy immune system and storing oxygen in our muscles. Overall, a much needed mineral to help us function every day! Iron rich foods include: red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, pulses, beans and wholegrain breads and cereals. To increase the way your body absorbs iron from plant foods, include vitamin C rich foods at the same time such as citrus fruits, red capsicum or kiwi fruit. Think tomatoes with your morning wholegrain toast or sliced kiwi on your morning wholegrain cereal! Including meat, fish or chicken can also increase absorption of iron in plant foods when eaten at the same time. Think red capsicum in your beef and rice stir-fry or a spinach and chickpea salad with tuna and lemon. 


3. Folate 

Folate, also known as folic acid, is a B group vitamin naturally found in food and is essential for the healthy development of the foetus in early pregnancy and preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida. In fact, 7 out of 10 cases of neural tube defects are preventable by increasing your folate intake to 500 micrograms per day. It is now recommended that women who are planning pregnancy (or at least 3 months before falling pregnant) or in the early stages of pregnancy should take a supplement of 500 micrograms of folic acid daily plus include dietary sources. 

Folate comes from the Latin word ‘folium’ so think foliage i.e., your green leafies!  Here a few foods rich in folate:  

  • Green vegetables – spinach, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, lettuce; Asian greens including bok choy, choy sum, gai choy, gai lan, kang kong (Chinese watercress), mizuna, pak choy, snake bean, tatsoi and wombok.  

  • Fruit - citrus, berries and bananas 

  • Legumes – chickpeas, dried beans and lentils 

  • Bread and cereals - many breakfast cereals and breads are now fortified. Since 2009, it became a legal requirement in Australia for all bread making flour (except organic) to contain added folic acid. 

  • Nuts 

  • Yeast extracts – Vegemite, Marmite  


4. Iodine 

Iodine is a mineral that we only need in small amounts but it is very important for your unborn baby and its first first few years of life. Foods naturally high in iodine include *oysters, sushi, canned salmon, bread (except organic), cheese, milk and eggs. However, raw seafood is not recommended during pregnancy. So your best bet is to get iodine from cooked seafood, like salmon, bread or from a supplement.  

The National health and Medical Research Council recommend that all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms per day. 

*Avoid oysters, sushi and raw seafood and certain types of cheese during pregnancy. Speak to your dietitian about much cooked seafood you are able to eat each week.  


Putting it all together  

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating outlines the recommended food serves from each food group and examples of serving sizes (food portions) for pregnancy (see below) 


Recommended number of daily serves during pregnancy  

Food group 

Sample serve  

                 No. serves 



                  19–50 yrs 

Vegetables of different types and colours, and legumes/ beans 

half cup cooked green or orange vegetables; half cup legumes;1 cup raw green leafy vegetables; 1 small potato; half cup sweet corn; 1 medium tomato 




1 medium fruit, such as apple, banana, orange 
2 small fruits, such as apricots, kiwi fruits or plums 
1 cup diced or canned fruit (no added sugar)  



Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley 

1 slice bread; half cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles; half cup porridge; 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes; quarter cup muesli; 3 crispbreads; 1 crumpet or English muffin or plain scone 



Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans 

65 g cooked lean red meat; 80 g cooked  chicken; 100 g cooked fish fillet; 2 large eggs; 1 cup cooked lentils or canned beans; 170 g tofu; 30 g nuts, seeds, peanut or almond butter or tahini or other nut or seed paste 



Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives (mostly reduced fat) 

1 cup milk; 200 g yoghurt;40 g hard cheese; 1 cup soy/ other cereal drink with added calcium 



Approximate number of additional serves from the five food groups or discretionary choices (sometimes foods) 




In Summary: 

  • There is no special diet to follow when you're pregnant  

  • It's about including more quality, nutrient-dense foods rather than eating for two 

  • Base your diet around the five food groups, ensuring you meet the recommended serves. 

  • Key nutrients that need more attention during pregnancy include protein, Iron, folate and Iodine 

  • For a healthy growing little chick, pregnant women need to supplement their diet with extra folate and iodine. 


The Australian Dietary Guidelines. 

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