Welcome to the Fortified Family! I’m Katie Ferraro, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and mom of 5 (including quadruplets :) I’m passionate about feeding strong families and making food fun.

5 Bogus Pregnancy Food Tips

5 Bogus Pregnancy Food Tips


I'm hanging out here at the tail end of my pregnancy, waiting for twins to arrive in two short weeks (!!).

When you're this visibly pregnant, everyone else seems to want to talk about it...and I've been getting a ton of unsolicited "tips" {and some from perfect strangers} this time around.

Now...I'm a dietitian and I teach nutrition at the University of San Diego's graduate school of nursing. Last week I did a really fun lecture for second year nurse practitioner students all about prenatal nutrition. In talking with these healthcare providers, I was really amazed to hear some of the things their patients believe about how you're supposed to eat or not eat when you're pregnant.

I decided to put together a quick list of the 5 totally bogus pregnancy food tips that for whatever reason seem to stick around...even though they're not true. So here goes!


I'm Eating for Two...So Twice as Much Food

Technically, when you're pregnant, you are eating for more than one. But so many mamas come out of the gate with this "eating for two" mentality that if applied too early, can lead to unwanted weight gain.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) cites evidence that suggests excessive weight gain during pregnancy can lead to poor health outcomes for both mom and baby. It also makes mom's return to pre-pregnancy weight more difficult, which in turn can increase her risk for other obesity-related chronic diseases like diabetes down the road.

As excited as you may be about the prospect of eating for two, nutrition guidelines actually recommend no increase in baseline calorie intake during the first trimester. If you're not really increasing your calories for the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, you should ideally end up with a weight change ranging from 0-5 additional pounds if you're timing things properly.

In the second trimester you basically bump your calories up from baseline by about 340 and then to 450 extra calories above your baseline (non-pregnancy needs) in the third trimester. The reality is that 340 or 450 calories more than normal doesn't equate to very much extra food - and certainly not the tubs of premium ice cream that some moms-to-be dream of diving into! 

One of the best ways to get these extra calories is to add a small meal of something like a sandwich with protein on whole wheat bread and a serving of dairy, or a bowl of iron fortified cereal with milk and fresh fruit. It's not that glamorous, but these smart calories go a long way in helping you get the extra nutrients you and your baby need need, without overdoing it on the calorie side.


Fish is a No Go

For food safety reasons, you should forego raw fish and seafood when you're pregnant, but that doesn't mean you're totally off the hook when it comes to eating fish!

Certain types of fish and seafood are packed with fatty acids that are important for fetal brain growth - and the benefits of eating fish during pregnancy likely outweigh any potential concerns about mercury contamination. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued updated advice regarding eating fish for pregnant women and parents.

These guidelines say that pregnant and breastfeeding moms should aim to eat:

  • 2-3 servings of fish a week from the "best choices" list (which you can find here), or 1 serving per week from the "good choices" list.
  • Avoid eating fish with the highest mercury levels; this includes king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish and bigeye tuna.
  • A serving is defined as 4 ounces of fish for an adult, slightly bigger than the size of the palm of your hands.

So don't shirk your seafood obligation. It's a great source of protein and other minerals, not to mention those all important fatty acids your baby's developing brain needs.


Cravings Can be "Cured" with Nutrients

It some circles it's thought that if you're craving a food during pregnancy, it must mean your body "knows" you're deficient in some nutrient contained in that food.

As sexy as that sounds, the reality is kind of boring: cravings aren't really affected by nutrition status. In fact, they're just physical manifestations that some women experience that indicate hormonal changes that are taking place in the body during pregnancy.


Iron Means You Must Eat Meat

Iron is no joke during pregnancy. Your blood volume will increase by about 50% during pregnancy - and iron needs jump by just as much too.

A non-pregnant woman needs about 18 mg of iron per day. That goes to 27 mg per day when you're pregnant.

I don't care HOW MUCH meat you like to eat...it's pretty unlikely that you're going to get all that important iron from food sources alone.

But don't fret - that's what prenatal vitamins are for. Your typical prenatal vitamin will provide you with about 100% of this amount (27 mg during pregnancy).

Sure, not all of that iron will be totally absorbed - but the bottom line here is, if you don't eat a ton of meat, you can still get most of your iron needs from supplements and other foods.


Don't Do Deli Meat

One of my nurse practitioner students said she gets a ton of questions from pregnant patients about deli meats. 

Now it's definitely true that pregnant women are more susceptible to listeria infection than are non-pregnant healthy adults. 

Although the likelihood of getting sick from deli meat is rare, it's still a possibility. You can get rid of listeria risk by pasteurization and cooking.

A good rule of thumb in pregnancy - as annoying as this mantra becomes - is, "When in doubt, leave it out." If you're ok with leaving out deli meat, there are plenty of other protein sources out there.

But if you absolutely can't live without your turkey sandwich or ballpark hotdog, just recook or heat the meats until steaming in order to kill the potentially harmful listeria bacteria.


Now that's certainly not an exhaustive list. I got a lot of other pregnancy nutrition questions from the NP students about marijuana edibles, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, over the counter medications and folic acid too. If you're looking for a solid place to learn about food and nutrition during pregnancy, consider talking to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN) and check out some of the ChooseMyPlate resources for pregnant moms here.

Baby-Led Weaning Basics

Baby-Led Weaning Basics