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Debunking Pregnancy Nutrition Myths

Pregnancy is filled with excitement, anticipation, and, likely, questions about nutrition. Expectant moms are often bombarded with conflicting advice on what to eat and what to avoid. We're always here for moms-to-be to support your overall health and the health of your baby - so here's a breakdown on common pregnancy nutrition myths to help clear things up.

Myth: "Eating for two" is necessary during pregnancy.

Fact: While it's true that a pregnant woman's caloric needs increase, they do not increase twofold. What's actually needed is increased nutritional content (i.e. superfoods!). Let’s break calorie needs down by trimester:

First trimester: No increase in calorie needs

Second trimester: About 300 calories extra

Third trimester: About 300 calories extra 

The increase in calories is far below “eating for two”. The increase in calories comes out to about a snack a day. The equivalent to either a medium avocado, or ½ cup of nuts as just two examples.  While nutrition, health, and weight go far beyond calories, women may be surprised to learn the recommendations for healthy weight gain during pregnancy.

Weight-gain recommendations during pregnancy:

Normal weight women: 25-35 lbs

Overweight women: 10-25 lbs

Underweight women: 28-40 lbs

We recognize that health is so much more than weight and that BMI is not the best indicator for health.

Myth: As long as I eat more calories, I’m eating a pregnancy diet

Fact: Pregnancy nutrition goes way beyond eating an extra 300 calories. During pregnancy, needs for certain nutrients increase significantly. Focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods from a variety of sources is essential when considering all the below nutrients that are needed in higher quantities during pregnancy.

Nutrients that are needed in higher amounts during pregnancy:

  • Protein

  • Omega 3 fatty acids

  • Iron

  • Zinc 

  • Selenium

  • Magnesium

  • Iodine

  • Copper

  • Choline

  • Folate

  • Vitamin B12

  • Vitamin B6

  • Niacin

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin A

Myth: Avoid fish entirely due to mercury content.

Fact: Fish is the source of omega-3 fatty acids crucial for fetal brain and eye development. Fish also contains iodine, selenium, zinc and protein. Seafood is a very important part of a pregnancy diet! While some fish contain mercury, not all contain high levels. Consume low-mercury options like salmon, sardines, cod, herring, anchovies, and trout. Shellfish like oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, shrimp, and crab, are also healthy seafood options during pregnancy, as they contain vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 fatty acids, and are low in mercury. 

Rule of thumb: smaller fish have less mercury, larger fish have more mercury. The longer a fish lives, the more heavy metals it accumulates. We recommend eating 3 4-oz servings of wild-caught seafood weekly during pregnancy. Wild-caught options have lower levels of mercury and higher amounts of essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. 

Myth: Avoid all sushi and raw fish for the duration of pregnancy

Fact: This is a controversial topic. There is a risk of listeria in raw fish, however this risk is very minimal with proper refrigeration, preparation, and with quality wild-caught fish. We encourage you to approach this with caution. Only purchase sushi and raw fish from reputable restaurants that you trust. Pregnancy is not the time for cheap sushi. Choose fish that are low in mercury as listed above. A few nutrients are more bioavailable in raw fish: selenium, DHA (an omega 3 fatty acid), and iodine. If you have a craving for sushi during pregnancy, this is the time to splurge on high quality sushi from a reputable source. 

Myth: Avoid soft cheeses and unpasteurized dairy products.

Fact: This is another controversial food safety during pregnancy topic. It is true that women are more susceptible to foodborne illness during pregnancy, which is why conventional medicine’s stance on food safety during pregnancy is to avoid a long list of foods. However, many of these foods have a relatively low risk of contamination. It is false that all raw dairy products are harmful. Raw dairy producers have strict laws regarding cleanliness to avoid foodborne illness. Many people cannot tolerate dairy altogether and experience symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, excess mucus, allergies, and skin issues. For this population, we recommend avoiding dairy. For those who do tolerate dairy products, choosing grass-fed, pasture-raised and hormone-free organic dairy is best. These higher quality more natural dairy products have more nutrients, such as healthy fats, and fewer toxins. If you choose raw- make sure it’s from a reputable source, organic, and do so on a rare occasion.

Myth: Caffeine needs to be completely avoided 

Fact: A small amount of caffeine is considered safe in pregnancy. The amount depends on the person. For women who experience anxiety or irritability or digestive distress with caffeine, they may consider avoiding it altogether, or listening to their body when they’ve reached their limit. A general rule of thumb is to limit caffeine intake to 16 ounces of coffee per day. Keep in mind that caffeine is also found in tea, soda, energy bars, chocolate, and some supplements. Caffeine can also contribute to morning sickness. For this reason and for our adrenal function, it is best to consume caffeine with a meal that contains healthy fat and protein. Caffeine should never be consumed on an empty stomach. Caffeine should not be taken after 12 pm, as it easily interferes with sleep. Sleep is essential during every stage of life, especially pregnancy. 

Myth: A vegetarian or vegan diet is a healthy pregnancy diet.

Fact: Eating an exclusively vegan or vegetarian diet puts you at great risk for nutritional deficiencies. As we discussed above many vitamins and minerals and omega 3 fatty acids increase during pregnancy. Many of these nutrients are difficult to get enough of on a vegetarian diet, or the forms the nutrients are in on a vegetarian diet are difficult to absorb by the body.

For example, iron needs increase by 50% in pregnancy. The form of iron consumed on a vegetarian diet, non-heme iron, is not well absorbed by the body. Low iron during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth.

Another example: Vitamin B12 needs increase slightly during pregnancy. Vitamin B12 is virtually nonexistent in a vegan diet and needs to be supplemented. Risks of low B12 during pregnancy include birth defects and preterm delivery.


We recognize that a vegan or vegetarian diet is often an ethical or religious choice. We are not here to challenge anyone’s ethics. It’s important to arm yourself with the knowledge that not all nutrient needs can be met from diet alone on a vegetarian diet and that nutrients are best absorbed in their food forms, as opposed to supplemental forms. Having this knowledge helps you make the best possible decision when it comes to food choices and supplementation during pregnancy.

Some vegetarians and vegans opt to add bivales into their diets to fill nutrient gaps. Bivalves are a type of shellfish that do not have a nervous system, thus they cannot feel pain. Bivalves include oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops. Oysters contain high amounts of vitamin B12, selenium, iron, and zinc, as well as some omega 3 fatty acids. 

Myth: Avoid runny eggs for risk of salmonella 

Fact: The risk of salmonella in runny eggs is about 1 in 30,000. That’s a low risk compared to the many health benefits of eggs. Eggs are pregnancy superfoods as they are an excellent source of choline- the best source of choline in any food! Choline is essential in pregnancy as it is required for fetal brain development, placenta function and helps prevent neural tube defects. The risk of food borne illness from eggs decreases dramatically in organic pasture-raised eggs: 7x less likely!

If you like your eggs with cooked yolks, go for it! There is no harm in a cooked yoke. If you only like your eggs with runny yolks, this is not as problematic as we were once led to believe, especially if you buy quality eggs that are organic and pasture-raised. Just make sure you eat the yolks- that’s where the choline is.

Myth: Avoid liver during pregnancy as it contains toxins and too much vitamin A

Fact: Liver is a pregnancy superfood! It is often called “nature’s multivitamin” because it contains so many vitamins and minerals. The forms of these nutrients are in bioavailable forms that the body can easily use. One nutrient to note is vitamin A. Vitamin A helps regulate gene expression and fetal growth. Vitamin A needs increase during pregnancy. Vitamin A is most absorbable from animal foods as it is in the preformed vitamin A, retinol, form. Too much retinol from supplements can cause problems, but vitamin A from animal foods is not of concern. If you enjoy liver, continue to incorporate it into your pregnancy food plan. If you’ve never had liver, we recommend starting with a chicken liver pate. This can be mixed into other foods, such as meatballs. One serving of pasture-raised organic liver weekly is an ideal amount.

Myth: Choosing low fat foods during pregnancy is healthy

Fact: This statement is false. Fats are essential for fetal brain development- and so much more for both mother and baby. Fats are needed to digest and absorb our fat-soluble vitamins: vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K, as well as other nutrients like choline. Choosing the right type of fats makes a difference for baby’s growth and development, as well as minimizing inflammation for mom.

Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are commonly known to be essential for fetal brain development. These fats are obtained from fatty fish and are found in small amounts in certain seaweeds. For mothers on vegetarian diets, an omega 3 supplement containing EPA and DHA is essential. The plant-based form of omega 3s, ALA, is converted to EPA and DHA, but at very low rates so it is not an equal choice. Choosing fats from whole foods, like salmon, eggs, avocados, pasture-raised meats, nuts, seeds, and full-fat organic pasture-raised dairy products are anti-inflammatory choices. For cooking oils, we recommend coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed ghee, and pasture-raised animal fats like lard or tallow. Having a source of fat at every meal is essential for blood sugar balance and the prevention of gestational diabetes. 

Myth: Herbal teas are harmless during pregnancy.

Fact: Many herbal teas are marketed as safe alternatives for expectant mothers. However, not all herbs are benign. Certain herbs may have adverse effects on pregnancy. For instance, herbal teas containing licorice root or chamomile could potentially trigger uterine contractions. Peppermint tea, while safe in pregnancy in moderation, can reduce milk supply in lactating mothers, so it’s best to avoid leading up to birth. Consulting with a licensed nutritionist or licensed herbalist and opting for pregnancy-safe herbal teas ensures peace of mind without compromising maternal or fetal health. Just ask and we'll share our list.

Myth: Supplements can compensate for poor dietary choices during pregnancy.

Fact: While prenatal supplements play a crucial role in filling nutritional gaps, they shouldn't serve as a substitute for a balanced diet. We recommend all pregnant women and women trying to conceive take a prenatal vitamin, however nutrient needs from diet are equally as important. Obtaining nutrients from whole foods is essential as they offer a synergistic blend of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that the body can easily absorb. Supplements should complement a nutrient-rich diet rather than serve as a primary source of nutrition.

Note: Keep in mind that the best prenatal vitamins out there usually recommend at least 4-8 capsules a day. There is no way to get the quality nutritional intake you need in 1 capsule.

Myth: All prenatal vitamins are created equal.

Fact: Not all prenatal vitamins are formulated with the same attention to quality and efficacy. We recommend specific prenatal supplements containing bioavailable forms of nutrients, and free from additives. Choosing brands that are third party tested ensures what’s on the label is what’s in the product. To have a personalized supplement plan tailored to your unique needs, schedule a consultation with one of our functional nutritionists today. Schedule a FREE 15-Minute Call

Myth: Pregnancy cravings are crazy and don’t mean anything

Fact: Cravings can provide insight into our nutrition status. Cravings can sometimes mean that we’re simply not eating enough. Carbohydrate and sugar cravings are indicative that we are not getting enough protein and healthy fats at every meal. In pregnancy, cravings for items like clay, dirt, or ice chips, called pica, are often seen with iron-deficiency.

If you’re having food cravings, the first step is to establish a healthy pregnancy diet with protein, healthy fats, slow-digesting carbohydrates, and plenty of vegetables at every meal. Make sure you’re well hydrated with filtered water. Choosing high quality foods- organic, pasture-raised meats and dairy, wild-caught seafood, have higher nutrient values and less toxic burden on your body. Choosing a variety of different foods is best for having a variety of nutrients in the diet. A prenatal vitamin helps fill in the gaps. If you’re still experiencing food cravings- honor them by mindfully eating the food you’re craving, as long as it’s safe to consume while pregnant. Learn more about what cravings actually mean HERE.

Myth: Gestational diabetes is solely determined by genetics.

Fact: While genetics play a role in predisposing some women to gestational diabetes, lifestyle and nutrition factors significantly impact its development. Maintaining a healthy weight, regular physical activity, balanced nutrition with protein and fat at every meal, and limiting refined carbohydrates mitigates the risk of gestational diabetes. 

Pregnancy nutrition myths are abundant and controversial leaving expectant mothers confused on what the heck they should eat. Check out the blogs From Bump to Birth and Prenatal Powerhouses for a full breakdown on the pregnancy diet. We look into the scientific studies and weigh the costs and benefits of including controversial foods so you don’t have to. Prioritizing nutrient-dense whole foods, choosing quality, variety, and adding a trusted prenatal vitamin to fill in the gaps goes a long way for a healthy mom and baby.


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