Food To Eat When Pregnant First Trimester & Nutrient Needs 2023

Blanca Garcia

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

foods to eat when pregnant first trimester

Eating healthy during the first part of your pregnancy is important and necessary, but that does not mean you may be all for it. Morning sickness can be the first obstacle to choosing healthy options. Every pregnancy is different; how you react during your first trimester of pregnancy varies from woman to woman and even within your pregnancies. 

Your body is experiencing hormonal changes that can affect what you are willing to eat or even tolerate. During the first trimester of pregnancy, you may experience morning sickness, vomiting, food aversions, acid reflux, and constipation, all triggered by the pregnancy hormones. 

Whether you experience these symptoms or not, knowing what foods to eat when pregnant first trimester can be helpful for a healthy pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby. Eating a well-balanced diet can help you gain weight slowly and steadily, reduce the likelihood of developing iron-deficiency anemia, and provide your baby with much-needed nutrition[1].  

Does Nutrition Matter in the First Trimester?

Nutrition is important; you are growing a human being with so many needs for growth. What you eat, your baby eats; if you don’t provide the necessary nutrients, your baby will get them from your body. Not having enough nutrition for both can be detrimental to you and your baby. 

Things to keep in mind are how many extra calories you need, how much weight gain should happen and when, what foods to eat, and what foods to avoid. The idea is that you are aware of all you need to do for a healthy diet that provides a variety of foods you like and gives you the necessary nutrients.

It is typically said that a pregnant woman needs more calories to support a baby, but to know how much exactly is best determined by a Registered Dietitian; these health professionals may specialize in women’s health and are up to date in knowledge. They can quickly identify prenatal nutrition needs, teach you to eat healthy for your pregnancy, and help with tips on how to combat nausea. 

The calorie needs of pregnant women will depend on their weight gain goals; their weight before they get pregnant determines these goals. A woman in a healthy weight category should gain between 25-30 pounds, if underweight then 28-40 pounds, if overweight between 15-25 pounds, and if in the obese category between 11-20 pounds to be gained throughout the whole pregnancy[2]. During the first trimester, the weight gain should be slow and gradual, about two to four pounds for the whole first trimester, which is about an additional 100-200 calories per day.

Your pregnancy diet should include as many nutrient-dense foods as possible. If you don’t know what type of foods to choose, you can always consult a Registered Dietitian or visit family health centers specializing in maternal health. 

Essential Nutrients in Early Pregnancy

All nutrients are important for a developing fetus; some are crucial for a healthy growing fetus. Expecting moms are at higher risk of nutrient deficiencies. 

Folic Acid

One of the most important nutrients during the first trimester is folic acid, also known as vitamin B9. It’s important to prevent neural tube defects; any congenital disabilities (birth defects) related to the brain or spine develop in the first three to four weeks after conceiving. 

Folic Acid is so important that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that all women of reproductive age take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily[3]. In the case of an unplanned pregnancy, you need to start fortifying yourself with folic acid; even before pregnancy, it is so important to a baby’s development.

The recommended intake for pregnancy is 600 mcg per day through food[4]. You can quickly get folic acid through boiled spinach, black-eyed peas, and fortified breakfast cereals. 

Calcium

Another important nutrient is calcium; even though it’s the most abundant mineral in the body, you still need to add extra into your diet. If you don’t have enough for your baby, your baby will use it from your body stores. That means it will come from your bones and teeth that could have a long-term effect on your body, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. 

Calcium is important to help your baby grow healthy bones and teeth; you can quickly get the recommended 1300 mg dose through foods[5]. Foods rich in calcium are plain yogurt, fortified orange juice, and fortified cereals. 

Iron

Your blood supply naturally increases to meet the demands of the new baby and the placenta that sustains its life. Therefore, iron, the mineral that carries oxygen in the red blood cells to the body, increases in need. Not having enough iron in the diet can lead to iron deficiency anemia, low birth weight, premature birth, or risk to the mother and baby’s life. 

Iron can easily be obtained through foods; the recommended dose is 27 mg/day[6]. You can quickly get iron-rich foods through fortified breakfast cereals, salad greens, white beans, lean meats, or lentils. 

Vitamin C

It’s important to help improve iron absorption and develop tissue and bones for a baby’s growth. 

You need 80 mg/day through foods[7], and you can quickly get your dose through red peppers, orange juice, grapefruit juice, or cooked broccoli. 

Vitamin D

This vitamin is typically absorbed from the sun but can be found naturally in foods as a fortification. The recommended intake for pregnant women is the same as any other adult at 15 mcg/day. Vitamin D is helpful in that it helps in the absorption of calcium, among other functions[8]Recent studies [9] have shown that obtaining 100 mcg/d (4,000 IU) of vitamin D in pregnancy and lactation is not harmful and may prevent complications.

Protein

Is Important for the development of tissue for you and your baby. As the pregnancy continues in development, a low protein intake can cause growth restriction in the uterus and growth difficulties after birth. The recommended intake for pregnancy is 1.1 grams of protein/kg; for a woman of about 150 pounds, that is about 75 grams/day[10]. A kilogram (kg) is 2.2 pounds.

Good sources of healthy proteins can come from plant-based foods or animal-based foods. These foods include lentils, beans, chickpeas, chicken, eggs, lean red meat, and yogurt. 

DHA

Also known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, is crucial in developing an infant’s brain and vision acuity. Not having enough DHA has been associated with the development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), cystic fibrosis, and aggressive hostility[11]

You can get DHA through seafood; choose low-mercury fish, like herring or sardines. When pregnant, always cook seafood to decrease foodborne illness exposure. 

Best Food For The First Trimester of Pregnancy

Choosing the best foods to eat during the first trimester can be easy when you know what healthy foods to choose. To create a meal plan for early pregnancy, remember to eat foods that make you happy and contribute various nutrients. Always include protein, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Healthy food choices don’t always have to be daunting and tedious. 

Some women may experience morning sickness, with symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Experiencing these symptoms can happen at any time of the day, not just in the morning. It can usually start at around six weeks of pregnancy and last up to twelve weeks; in some cases, it can last the whole pregnancy. If you are trying to eat healthily, this can affect your ability to tolerate foods, but it usually is not severe enough. 

In some cases, morning sickness can become severe enough that you can develop hyperemesis gravidarum[12] which can make retaining enough food long enough to get nutrients and electrolytes. If nausea and vomiting have become so severe that you cannot eat anything, your urine is a dark orange, you are urinating very little, you feel like fainting or dizzy; consult with your doctor. 

In the meantime, options to manage morning sickness can be crackers, ginger ale, eating smaller portions, homemade soups, and plenty of fluids. 

Dark Leafy Greens

Green Leafy vegetables offer a variety of nutrients the body needs. Still, by adding dark leafy greens, you are guaranteed fiber, calcium, folate, iron, vitamin A, C, E, and K. 

Citrus Fruits

Are best if consumed as fresh fruit; you will get fiber and vitamin C. It will make an excellent dessert alternative. 

Fatty Fish

Getting your source of DHA and healthy fats, choose salmon, tuna, or trout. 

Lean Meats

Animal-based protein sources can be healthy if you choose lean meat like chicken breast, turkey, red meat, or lean beef. The idea is that you avoid fatty meats that may raise cholesterol levels. 

Whole Grains

To maintain sugar levels and energy, complex carbohydrates are essential. These include brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, and whole-grain toast. 

Fortified Cereals

Some foods don’t naturally come with the key nutrients a woman needs during pregnancy. You can now rely on ready-to-eat cereal fortified with various vitamins and minerals essential for pregnancy. 

Dairy Products

Include milk, cheese, and yogurt, although milk is usually fortified with vitamin A and D for additional nutrition support. Dairy products are also a good source of protein. 

First Trimester Meal Plan 1-Day Sample

Breakfast

  • 2 slices of sprouted grain bread
  • 1 egg with spinach, scrambled 
  • 1 apple
  • 6 oz orange Juice

Snack

  • 6 oz greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup blueberries

Lunch

  • 3 cups spring mix salad
  • 1 oz sunflower seeds
  • 1 oz pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup of corn
  • ½ cup black beans
  • 3 oz chicken breast

Dinner

  • 3 oz salmon cooked with lime
  • ½ cup of rice cooked with corn and tomato paste, a dash of salt
  • 1 cup of sauteed zucchini 

Snack

  • 1 slice of sprouted grain bread
  • 2 Tbsp peanut butter
  • 8 oz of milk (cow or plant-based)

First Trimester Meal Plan for Morning Sickness 1-Day Sample

Breakfast

  • 1 cup of fortified cereal
  • 6 oz. of milk (cow’s milk or plant-based)

Snack

  • 4 salty crackers
  • 2 tbsp. of peanut butter

Lunch

  • 1 slice of whole wheat bread
  • 2 tbsp. Hummus (unflavored)
  • 8 oz. of water or ginger tea

Snack

  • ½ cup of cantaloupe 
  • ¼ cottage cheese 

Dinner

  • 1 cup of chicken soup
  • Ginger tea

Snack

  • 6 oz yogurt with blueberries

Bedtime Snack

  • Cheese stick

Foods to Avoid 

During pregnancy, the immune system is increasingly delicate and can easily fall susceptible to foodborne illness. Avoid fish with high levels of mercury (tilefish, shark, swordfish), cold foods like deli meats, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, and uncooked meats. 

Foods that don’t help are fast foods, convenience foods, sodas, pastries, and fruit juices. These tend to add unnecessary calories fast and can cause weight gain that goes out of control and may not provide a variety of vitamins and minerals the body needs.


+ 12 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1.  International Food Information Council Foundation (2016). Healthy Eating During Pregnancy. [online] Available at: https://foodinsight.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Healthy-Eating-FINAL-Web.pdf
  2. Womenshealth.gov. (2021). Staying healthy and safe | Office on Women’s Health. [online] Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/staying-healthy-and-safe
  3. CDC (2021). Folic Acid. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
  4. ‌National Institutes of Health (2017). Office of Dietary Supplements – Folate. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/.
  5. National Institutes of Health (2020). Office of DietarSy upplements – Calcium. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/.
  6. National Institutes of Health (2016). Office of Dietary Supplements – Iron. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/.
  7. National Institutes of Health (2021). Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/.
  8. National Institutes of Health (2017). Vitamin D. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/.
  9. Acog.org. (2021). Vitamin D: Screening and Supplementation During Pregnancy. [online] Available at: https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2011/07/vitamin-d-screening-and-supplementation-during-pregnancy#:~:text=Although%20data%20on%20the%20safety,during%20pregnancy%20or%20lactation%2012.
  10. Herring, C.M., Bazer, F.W., Johnson, G.A. and Wu, G. (2018). Impacts of maternal dietary protein intake on fetal survival, growth, and development. Experimental Biology and Medicine, [online] 243(6), pp.525–533. doi:10.1177/1535370218758275.
  11. HORROCKS, L.A. and YEO, Y.K. (1999). HEALTH BENEFITS OF DOCOSAHEXAENOIC ACID (DHA). Pharmacological Research, [online] 40(3), pp.211–225. doi:10.1006/phrs.1999.0495.
  12. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Morning sickness – Symptoms and causes. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/morning-sickness/symptoms-causes/syc-20375254‌

Blanca Garcia

Written by:

Blanca Garcia, RDN

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Blanca is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance nutrition writer from Los Angeles, CA. She has more than 8 year’s experience in nutrition and dietetics. She is a Latina and enjoys traditional Mexican and Salvadoran cooking, eating flavorful meals and sharing her knowledge about food and nutrition with others through her writing.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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