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Pregnancy Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid

Published | 8 min read

A pregnancy diet should include all food groups because it supports your baby's development in the womb. Here’s a list of essential nutrients.

Pregnant woman eats an apple while standing in the kitchen.

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it also brings worries. For instance, you might wonder what a pregnancy diet entails and how it changes your eating habits. Is coffee really off-limits? Do you double your meal serving now that you’re eating for two? 

The quick answer is you can consume coffee but in limited amounts. But meal portion size doesn’t necessarily mean doubling your consumption. Healthy eating during pregnancy means practising balance, moderation and variety. Here’s a guide to help ensure you get proper nutrition. 

Essential nutrients during pregnancy 

While foods to eat and avoid can change throughout your trimesters, a typical pregnancy requires you to enjoy all food groups to reap the benefits of different nutrients. Stick to the recommended servings to ensure your weight doesn’t change drastically. 

In most cases, doctors will advise an increase in the intake of energy and nutrients to support the changes in your body and your baby’s development. These vitamins and minerals ideally come from food sources – your doctor will only prescribe supplements if they see gaps in your nutrition.

Here are some dietary adjustments you can make.


The extra calories you need will depend on your pre-pregnancy weight. A general guideline is consuming an additional 300 to 500 calories daily starting from your second trimester. According to the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), your energy needs increase by 18% in the second trimester and 23.5% in the third. 

NSM states you can meet the additional energy requirements by eating daily 2½ servings of cereal, rice or oats, bread or noodles during the second trimester. By the third trimester, you can increase it to 3 servings. 


Leafy green vegetables piled up on each other with roots visible.
Adding plenty of leafy green vegetables to your diet will increase your folate intake.

Adequate intake of folate before and during pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects, which can affect a baby’s brain and spine. The recommended daily folate intake for pregnant women is 600 to 800mg. 

Leafy green vegetables, okra, and fortified grain products contain folate. However, it can be challenging to get enough folate through diet alone. Your doctor may advise you to take a daily prenatal vitamin containing folic acid, the synthetic form of folate. 


Lean proteins like chicken, fish, and eggs can provide essential amino acids for foetal growth and development. 

NSM also recommends adding one extra serving of legumes (dhal, lentils, beans) to increase protein intake. You can also try soy products such as tempeh or tofu. 


Meeting your calcium requirement, which increases during pregnancy, can be as simple as adding one glass of milk to your diet, NSM states. Cow’s and goat’s milk are good options. They provide protein, calcium, and vitamin A. While goat milk is less popular because of its unusual flavour, it has higher protein, calcium, and essential fatty acid than cow milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, choose lactose-free milk, calcium-fortified soymilk, or yoghurt as alternatives to milk. 

Regardless of the type you choose, avoid drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk during pregnancy, as it may contain bacteria that can harm you and your baby. 

Other calcium-rich foods are:  

  • Cheese  
  • Fish  
  • Beans and bean products (tofu, tempeh) 
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Calcium-fortified breakfast cereals  

Vitamin D 

Get enough vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is crucial to bone health. Your body can synthesise vitamin D when you spend 10 to 15 minutes twice a week outdoors. But your doctor may recommend vitamin D supplements to ensure a healthy pregnancy. 

Some food sources of vitamin D include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, egg yolks, and fortified foods such as milk, cereal and orange juice. 


Iron is vital in your pregnancy diet, especially during the second and third trimesters. Your baby stores and uses it in the first six months after birth. 

If you don’t get enough iron, it can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which happens when there are insufficient red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. You may take an iron supplement only if your doctor recommends it because too much iron can be harmful. 

Good dietary sources of iron include lean meat, chicken, eggs and dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kangkung

Vitamin A 

Foods high in beta-carotene, like carrots and spinach, are ideal for pregnant women because the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Medium-sized sweet potatoes contain more than 100% of this vitamin’s recommended daily intake. 

Vitamin A supports your baby’s development in the womb, particularly in cell and tissue growth, immune system and vision. 

Doctors typically advise caution with vitamin A because too much can harm the foetus. You want to avoid taking supplements or eating foods like liver, which contain excessive amounts of vitamin A. 

How Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help

Ginger root and powder styled on top of a wooden table.
The World Health Organization recommends taking ginger and chamomile, and undergoing acupuncture to relieve nausea in early pregnancy.

You may want to supplement your meals with extra herbs and spices if you prefer a meat-free and animal-product-free pregnancy diet. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Lim Sock Ling suggests ginger (gan jiang, 干姜), cumin, and cinnamon (rou gui, 肉桂), which can warm the stomach and Spleen yang, balancing the yin obtained from most vegetables. 

Goji berries (gou qi zi, 枸杞子) contain antioxidants that nourish the Kidneys, Liver, and blood. They also include the essential amino acids to fulfil your protein needs. Similarly, black sesame seeds (hei zhi ma, 黑芝麻) and longan (long yan rou, 龙眼肉) are beneficial in nourishing the blood. 

These TCM herbal remedies can be beneficial during pregnancy. 

  • Si shen soup (四神汤) can enhance the digestive system, boost immunity, and relieve bloating. 
  • Li zhong wan (理中丸) can improve digestion, stimulate qi or energy flow, and reduce minor indigestion and bloating. 
  • Shou tai wan (寿胎丸) is beneficial for stabilising pregnancy and nourishing the kidneys. 

It’s essential to seek guidance from your TCM practitioner to receive herbal remedies that match your body’s specific requirements. 

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy 

Knowing the foods to avoid is part of making informed choices for a healthy pregnancy. Some foods can pose a risk to your baby’s health and cause pregnancy complications. 

Physician Lim advises steering clear of “cooling” (chilled) and raw food and beverages if you’re in your first trimester and have a weak digestive system. 

You may want to skip eating and drinking the following throughout your pregnancy. 

  • Raw or undercooked meat and eggs can contain harmful bacteria like e. coli and salmonella, which can cause foodborne illnesses that can harm the foetus. 
  • Avoid eating mercury-rich fish like sharks, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, as these can harm the baby’s developing nervous system. 
  • Deli meats, hot dogs and unpasteurised dairy products can contain listeria, a bacteria that can cause severe illness and miscarriage in pregnant women. 

“You can drink coffee as long as you limit caffeinated drinks to 200mg or approximately two cups daily while pregnant. Abstaining from alcohol is a must.” 

TCM Physician Lim Sock Ling

If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor or nutritionist will develop a meal plan tailored to your body’s needs. For example, you may be asked to eat certain foods in controlled amounts, depending on your blood glucose levels. 

A restrictive pregnancy diet may mean: 

  • Limiting your intake of sugars and sweet foods 
  • Controlling your consumption of foods cooked with coconut milk or cream, salad dressings, and fried, oily and spicy foods 
  • Keeping sweet sauces like tomato ketchup and chilli sauce to two teaspoons a day  

Stay healthy during your pregnancy

Four pregnant women performing a yoga standing tree pose.
Exercise can help promote a healthy pregnancy but consult your healthcare provider before starting any new regimen.

Knowing what foods to eat and avoid is one of the essential ways to help ensure your health and that of your baby. Complementing a well-balanced pregnancy diet with the following self-care habits would be best. 

  • Stay hydrated. Drink eight to 10 cups of water daily to help maintain energy levels and prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue.  
  • Get enough rest. Aim to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night and take breaks during the day when needed. 
  • Exercise regularly. Target at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity daily exercise, such as walking, swimming, or yoga. Consult your healthcare provider before starting any fitness routine.  

Part of self-care requires going to all your medical check-ups, even if your pregnancy feels fine. These prenatal visits allow your doctor to regularly monitor how you and your baby are doing and identify potential problems before they put your pregnancy at risk. 

Pregnancy often demands a team of healthcare experts to feel your best. Developing a healthy pregnancy diet and exercise plan may necessitate the expertise of your primary doctor or obstetrician, nutritionist and dietitian, TCM practitioner and fitness coach. It does take a village to raise a child, and the journey begins before your baby is born. So, eat well and have a safe delivery!  

Got tips for a healthy pregnancy to share? Tell us in the comments below.


  1. Health Hub. 2021. Nutrition During Pregnancy—Eating Right for Two.  [Accessed on 4 April 2023]
  2. Nutrition Society of Malaysia. 2011. Healthy Eating during Pregnancy & Lactation. [Accessed on 4 April 2023]
  3. World Health Organization. 2016. WHO recommendations on antenatal care for a positive pregnancy experience. [Accessed on 4 April 2023]
  4. National Institutes of Health & Human Services. 2021. Moderate Daily Caffeine Intake During Pregnancy May Lead to Smaller Birth Size. > [Accessed on 4 April 2023]
  5. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2019. Goji Berries as a Potential Natural Antioxidant Medicine: An Insight into Their Molecular Mechanisms of Action. [Accessed on 4 April 2023]
  6. Frontiers in Immunology. 2020. Goat Milk Consumption Enhances Innate and Adaptive Immunities and Alleviates Allergen-Induced Airway Inflammation in Offspring Mice. [Accessed on 4 April 2023]

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