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Your pregnancy diet: Fruit and vegetables

Your pregnancy diet: fruit and vegetables Green light

Summary

Packed with essential vitamins, minerals and fibre, fruit and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy pregnancy diet. Find out how eating your 5-a-day can influence your baby’s future development and learn how to include more fruit and vegetables at mealtimes.

Going green (red, orange and yellow)

As well as adding variety and colour to your diet, fruit and vegetables are packed with powerful nutrients that support you and your baby during pregnancy2.

Fruit and vegetables are an excellent source of many well-known vitamins and minerals, in addition to fibre and antioxidants1. They provide key nutrients, such as ascorbate, carotenoids, folate and magnesium, which all contribute to your baby’s growth and development.

A role to play in your baby’s birth weight

During pregnancy, your diet can have a direct impact on your baby’s birth weight. A well-balanced diet that meets the recommended calorie and nutrient intakes is more likely to result in a healthy birth weight1, which can reduce your baby’s risk of disease and other health issues3.

A good way to achieve this is to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables throughout pregnancy. As the most nutrient-dense of all the food groups, fruit and veg provide a comparatively high level of nutrients per calorie. At a time when your recommended intakes of many nutrients is higher than usual, yet your recommended calorie intake doesn’t change much, if at all, it’s wise to make every mouthful count by choosing nutrient-dense foods. Fruit and vegetables are an excellent choice.

“Eat a rainbow of colours for a wide variety of nutrients.”

Vegetables, in particular, have been shown to have a beneficial effect on baby’s birth weight2, so include plenty of these in your diet to support your baby’s growth and development.

The protective properties of fruit and vegetables

The antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables can help protect your baby's cells from damage caused by harmful compounds present in the environment.

A good intake of fruit and vegetables as part of a well-balanced pregnancy diet may also help to protect your baby from developing allergies and allergic symptoms later in life4.

Studies have found various connections between a mother’s fruit and veg intake and their baby’s health:

  • A higher intake of leafy vegetables and apples in pregnancy has been linked to less wheeziness in infancy5
  • Vitamin E, which can be found in spinach, broccoli and butternut squash6 is thought to help prevent wheezing and asthma7
  • Some research suggests that green and yellow vegetables, citrus fruit, and those containing orange-hued beta-carotene, such as sweet potatoes, carrots and oranges may reduce the risk of childhood eczema7

Fruit and vegetables

Packed with essential vitamins, minerals and fibre, fruit and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy pregnancy diet.

Key nutrients provided by fruit and vegetables

Vitamin C: Important for normal immune protection. Sources include9:

  • Broccoli
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Red, green and yellow peppers
  • Blackcurrants

Potassium: Helps to maintain blood pressure. Sources include17:

  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Dried apricots
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Coconut water

Folic Acid: Helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Sources include8:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus

Calcium: Contributes to your baby’s developing bones and teeth. Vegetable sources of calcium include:

  • Dark leafy veg, such as broccoli, kale, watercress
  • Green French beans
  • Brussels sprouts

Fibre: Aids digestion and prevents constipation. All fruit and vegetables provide some fibre, with some being especially good sources, including:

  • Peas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnips
  • Legumes

5-a-day (or more) for a range of nutrients

You’re probably well aware of the 5-a-day guideline. This is based on the fact that a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables helps to lower the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease10, stroke11, diabetes12 and obesity13.

Eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day as part of a healthy pregnancy diet will provide many of the nutrients needed to support your own health and your baby’s development.

With regards to which fruits to eat during pregnancy, fresh, frozen, dried and tinned varieties all count14, and the skin is often a good source of fibre. A glass of fruit juice counts as 1 of your 5-a-day, but due to the nature and quantity of the sugar it contains, can only be counted once towards your 5-a-day.

“During the first trimester, you should take a folic acid supplement of 400mcg per day.”

Folate: A first trimester essential

Folate, the food source of folic acid, is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in certain vegetables and other foods8.

Due to its role in protecting against neural tube defects, it’s recommended that all pregnant women get 400mcg of folic acid per day until the 12th week of pregnancy. It would be difficult to get this through food sources of folate, so a folic acid supplement is advised8. Folate-rich foods help to increase your intake even further.

Folate-rich vegetables to eat during pregnancy include8:

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
Vitamin E, which can be found in spinach, broccoli and butternut squash is thought to help prevent wheezing and asthma in your baby7.

There is no limit on vegetable intake, the campaign was originally intended to help people meet a minimum of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. In fact, eating more than five portions each day could be even more beneficial for yours and your baby's health16.

One portion equates to17:

  • 30g of currants, dates or figs
  • Half a fresh grapefruit
  • 2 broccoli spears
  • 4 heaped teaspoons of cooked kale
  • 1 medium pear
  • 3 apricots

Next Steps

Try these easy ways to increase your intake of fruit and vegetables:

  • Buy frozen fruit and veg – it’s often cheaper than fresh varieties, doesn’t go off, and the nutrient content is well preserved
  • Snack on vegetables, such as carrot or celery sticks with hummus
  • Add extra vegetables to home cooked soups and sauces
  • Try tinned fruit and vegetables – make sure they’re in natural juice or water with no added salt or sugar
  • Use fruit and vegetables to make nutritious smoothies

View references

Hide references

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1. NHS UK. Why 5 a day? [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/Why5ADAY.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

2. Ramón R et al. Vegetable but not fruit intake during pregnancy is associated with newborn anthropometric measures. J Nutr 2009;139(3):561- 567.

3. Stephenson T and Symonds M. Maternal nutrition as a determinant of birth weight. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed 2002;86(1):F4–F6.

4. Allergy UK. Allergies and the unborn child [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.allergyuk.org/causes-and-risks-of-allergy/allergies-and-the-unborn-child [Accessed September 2016]

5. Erkkola M et al. Risk of asthma and allergic outcomes in the offspring in relation to maternal food consumption during pregnancy: a Finnish birth cohort study. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 2012;23(2):186-194.

6. Public Health England. McCance and Widdowson. The Composition of Foods. 7th summary edition. The Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015.

7. Miyake Y et al. Consumption of vegetables, fruit, and antioxidants during pregnancy and wheeze and eczema in infants. Allergy 2010;65(6):758-765.

8. NHS UK. Vitamins and minerals – B vitamins, folic acid [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-B.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

9. NHS UK. Vitamin C [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-C.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

10. NHS UK. Coronary heart disease [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Coronary-heart-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

11. NHS UK. Stroke [Online]. 2014. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/Stroke/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

12. NHS UK. Diabetes [Online]. 2016. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diabetes/Pages/Diabetes.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

13. NHS UK. Obesity [Online]. 2016. Available at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/Obesity/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

14. NHS UK. 5 a day - what counts? [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/Whatcounts.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

15. Oyebode O et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. J Epidemiol Community Health 2013;10.1136

16. NHS UK. 5 A DAY portion sizes [Online]. 2015. Available at: www.nhs.uk/Livewell/5ADAY/Pages/Portionsizes.aspx [Accessed September 2016]

Last reviewed: 9th September 2016
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