8 Essential Nutrients for a Healthy Pregnancy

Pregnancy is such an important time in a woman’s life and health.

Proper nutrition during pregnancy plays a significant role in the well-being of both the mother and the developing baby.

But we know that pregnancy is a journey full of remarkable changes, both physical and emotional.

Changes that can lead towards craving certain foods more than others while possibly avoiding certain foods all together.

In this article, I will delve into the essential nutrients that play a pivotal role in a healthy pregnancy, while also offering suggestions on how to incorporate these nutrients in an easy and natural way.

  • Proteins: Key macronutrient, essential to support the structural growth of both the mother and the foetus during pregnancy.  The majority of protein deposition occurs in the third trimester of the pregnancy so that is when appropriate protein intake is the most important to ensure a healthy outcome. The recommended protein intake will vary through the pregnancy, and it will depend on weight and other considerations.
    • Easy way to ensure adequate levels is by having proteins with every meal, including breakfasts and snacks. Main sources of proteins include lean meat, poultry, fish, pulses (chickpeas, peas, beans, lentils…), eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds.
  • Folate (Vitamin B9): Probably the most talked-about micronutrient when it comes to pregnancy and whose importance starts in the preconception phase. The WHO recommends 400ug folic acid supplementation at least one month prior to conception, to reduce the risk of Neural Tube Defects (NTD) in the baby’s brain and spine. Higher levels are recommended in cases where there is history of NTD, pre-pregnancy diabetes mellitus, a BMI >30 or risk of malabsorption. Aside from possible supplementation, daily consumption of folate rich food sources during pregnancy is also vital for healthy cell division, early growth and development of the foetus and placenta and it is required for cell proliferation of maternal organs.
    • Main sources of folate include green leafy vegetables, pulses like lentils, avocado, citrus fruit.
  • Iron: A powerhouse nutrient, essential in pregnancy due to the increased blood volume needed to support the growing baby. It also plays a crucial role in development of the foetal cardiovascular system. Data from the WHO shows a 14% incidence in iron deficiency anaemia across pregnant women in developed countries, so it is not very uncommon. Poor maternal iron status has been associated with preterm delivery and low birth weight, but supplementation should only be considered when required and based on individual needs. One common side effect of iron supplementation is constipation and nausea, and supplements should ideally be taken every second day to maximise absorption.
    • Iron rich sources include poultry, red meat, fish, seafood. They contain heme iron, which is easily absorbed.
    • Non-heme iron is found in beans, lentils, and leafy greens. The intake of vitamin C containing foods, like tomatoes, peas, oranges, will help with the conversion and the absorption.
  • Calcium: Known for its role in maintaining strong bones, it is equally important during pregnancy for the normal development and maintenance of the skeleton. It is also required for neuromuscular and cardiac function, especially in the last trimester. Daily recommended intake does not change during pregnancy given the increased intestinal absorption, however worth noting that caffeine can interfere with the absorption of calcium, alongside iron, magnesium and B vitamins.
    • Calcium rich foods include dark leafy greens, sardines, yogurt, nuts and seeds.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Critically important building blocks for the development of foetal brain and retina. Likewise important in reducing inflammation and supporting maternal cardiovascular health.
    • Sources include oily fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herrings, trout, however worth limiting intake to twice a week, as recommended by the NHS, in order to avoid high levels of mercury.
    • Plant-based sources such as chia seeds, nori sea weed, and walnuts are also great.
  • Vitamin D: Important for the musculoskeletal and neurological development in babies, especially in the second half of the pregnancy. Supplementation is recommended and common during pregnancy, but it is always important to monitor blood levels to ensure appropriate dosage.
    • Main source of Vitamin D is obviously sunlight, however it can be difficult to achieve daily exposures especially in winter. Dietary sources include oily fish, egg yolk, mushrooms and fortified food.
  • Vitamin B6: Known for its possible role in alleviating nausea and vomiting in the mother, it also contributes to a healthy immune system, the production of red blood cells and the synthesis of key neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. When it comes to the baby, it is essential for the development of brain and nervous system.
    • Good dietary sources of vitamin B6 include lean meats, fish, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, avocado, bananas and leafy green vegetables.
  • Vitamin B12: Also known as cobalamin, essential for the production of red blood cells and normal neurological function. Like Folate, it is very important during the early stage of pregnancy given its role in cell division and growth and its contribution to the proper development of the neural tube in the foetus.
    • Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal-based foods. Sources include meat, fish, eggs, dairy products. Worth considering supplementation in case of restricted vegan and vegetarian diets. As usual, before starting any supplement, ensure you speak to a healthcare provider first.

How can you incorporate all of the above in a simple and natural routine?

  1. Include protein at every meal. Make sure there is variety between animal and vegetable sources.
  2. Include at least 5 colourful vegetables in the main meals, ensuring variety.
  3. Aim for 1 or 2 pieces of fruit, ideally eat them alongside nuts.
  4. Have small oily fish (like sardines, salmon) twice a week, plant omegas all other days.
  5. Ensure a good fibre intake, like wholegrains and legume. This will also help with constipation.
  6. Look for calcium sources beyond milk, like sardines, tahini, yoghurt.
  7. Introduce seeds, nuts, olive oil, avocado.
  8. Ensure a good water intake, hydration is key.

Need some recipes ideas?

Here are some breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack recipes I prepared for you.

Enjoy it!


  1. Protein and Amino Acid Requirements during Pregnancy –
  2. World Health Organisation. Guideline: Daily Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation in Pregnant Women. Geneva (CHE): WHO; 2012
  3. Gestational iron deficiency anemia is associated with preterm birth, fetal growth restriction, and postpartum infections:
  4. Calcium supplementation during pregnancy for preventing blood pressure disorders and related problems –,women%20on%20low%20calcium%20diets.
  5. Vitamin B12 insufficiency and the risk of fetal neural tube defects –
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