Nutritional variety and important nutrients for pregnancy

The Dietitians of Canada suggest that, like all Canadian women, if you are pregnant you should choose a variety of foods daily from the four food groups;  grain products, vegetables and fruit, milk products, and meat and alternatives.

Choosing foods from each of the four food groups of Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating can help you meet your special nutritional needs. It is important to eat regularly and enjoy nutritious snacks. The guidelines suggest that you eat three meals and three snacks daily. These should include:

  • milk products: 3-4 servings (1,200 mg of calcium daily)
  • grain products: 5-12 servings
  • fruits and vegetables: 5-10 servings
  • meat and alternatives: 2-3 servings (60-75 g of protein daily)
  • others: in moderation (e.g., sweets, condiments, dressings, deep fried or fast foods, commercially baked goods)

Important nutrients for you and baby

Nutrient or VitaminWhat is it for?Where can I find it?
Iron Healthy blood cells and adequate oxygen supply Lean red meat, dried peas and beans, whole grains, enriched cereals, dark green vegetables, dried fruits and nuts
Folate/folic acid* Brain and nervous system development, healthy blood cells Dark-green leafy vegetables, dried peas and beans, cantaloupe, orange juice, grapefruit, nuts
Calcium Protects bones and teeth, and helps reduce high blood pressure Milk & milk products, sesame seeds, almonds, blackstrap molasses, fortified soy milk, soy beans, broccoli, turnip
Zinc Building and healing tissues (baby tissues too!) Meats, whole grains, nuts and seeds, milk products
Vitamin A Overall growth and development, vision and immune system Orange and dark green fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, cheese
Vitamin D Helps calcium in protecting and building strong, healthy bones and teeth Sunlight, milk and milk products, eggs
Vitamin B12 Makes new cells (especially blood cells) and builds a healthy nervous system Lean meats, certain fish**, eggs, milk, hard cheeses, fortified breakfast cereals, soy products
Vitamin C Strengthens the immune system and helps build healthy tissues Citrus fruits, vitamin-enriched apple juice, green vegetables, tomato juice
Essential fatty acids Development of the brain and nervous system, hormone production,       and vision Soybean, canola oils and non-hydrogenated margarine, some soy-based products (e.g., tofu)
Protein Builds, repairs and replaces tissues; maintains fluid balance and immune system; aids in blood clotting Lean meats and poultry, combined grains and legumes, seeds, nuts, and egg and milk products***
*Do you have a female relative or friend wanting to conceive? Make sure she knows about the importance of folic acid before she gets pregnant. ** For a list of certain fish and other foods to avoid during pregnancy, see "What foods or substances should I avoid?" in this health feature. *** For pregnant women who follow a vegetarian diet, see "Vegetarianism During Pregnancy" in this health feature.


Folic acid is a member of the B-vitamin family. It acts with vitamin B12 in making red blood cells. Folic acid helps reduce a baby's risk of developing a type of birth defect called neural tube defect, or spina bifida. Neural tube defects happen early in pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Make sure you get enough folic acid daily before you become pregnant. Since it's hard to get enough from dietary sources alone, most doctors recommend that   healthy women take 0.4 mg (400 µg) of folic acid every day for several   months before becoming pregnant as well as during pregnancy. Make sure the supplement contains no more than 1 mg of folic acid, unless your doctor recommends otherwise.

Other tips to increase folic acid intake:

  • Choose fortified breads and cereals.
  • Eat more foods rich in folic acid/folate: reach for asparagus, broccoli, spinach, oranges, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  • Avoid overcooking vegetables.

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