By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN

The winner of this year’s US News top overall diet is the dietitian-approved DASH -Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension - eating plan. The DASH diet, which has snagged first place for a second year in a row, was praised by a panel of health experts for its ability to fight chronic disease including diabetes and heart disease. It is also nutritionally complete and doesn’t require cutting out entire food groups such as carbohydrates or fat, making it the perfect diet plan for pregnant women.Best Diet for Pregnancy

Originally designed to lower blood pressure, the DASH diet highlights nutrients that are essential for a healthy pregnancy including potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber. To do this, it is based on plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy, while limiting sweets, high fat dairy, red meats, and salt. This may sound similar to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which makes sense as the DASH diet was developed in-part by the government-funded organization, The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

The DASH diet can help with calorie control to help ensure a woman gains the appropriate amount of weight during her pregnancy. For example, a moderately active female between the age of 31 and 50 years old would need 2000 calories daily in the first trimester and roughly 2,300 calories in the second and third trimesters. The DASH diet then recommends the number of servings from each food group that should be consumed. As every woman’s calorie needs are different (depending on pre-pregnancy weight and how physically a woman is), it is advised to meet with a registered dietitian to discuss individual nutrition requirements.

For a 2000 calorie diet, the DASH eating plan recommends 6-8 servings of grains (mostly whole), 4-5 servings of vegetables, 4-5 servings of fruits, 2-3 servings of low fat or fat-free milk, 6 or less servings of lean meats, poultry and fish, 4-5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, and legumes, 2-3 servings of fats and oils, and 5 or less servings per week of sweets and added sugars. Below is a sample meal plan of what this would look like. To find out more about the DASH eating plan, visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s guide.

Sample 2000 calorie DASH Eating Plan:

  • Breakfast:
    • 1 cup Cheerios or other whole grain cereal with large banana and 1 cup skim or 1% milk.  
    • 1 slice of whole wheat toast with 2 tbsp peanut butter and 1 tbsp jam.
    • 1/2 cup orange juice
    • (Provides 2 servings grain, 3 serving fruit, 1 serving low fat dairy, 1 serving nuts/seeds/legumes, 1 serving sweets/added sugars)
  • Snack:Best Pregnancy Diet
    • 1 ½ ounce low fat cheese (size of 3 dice)
    • Medium apple
    • (Provides 1 serving low fat dairy, 1 serving fruit)
  • Lunch
    • Chunk Light tuna sandwich including 3 ounce tuna on 2 slices whole wheat bread with tomatoes and lettuce.
    • Salad including 1 cup mixed raw vegetables with 2 tbsp salad dressing.
    • An orange
    • (Provides 2 grain servings, 3 servings lean meat, 2 vegetable servings and 1 fruit serving)
  • Snack:
    • 1 cup low fat yogurt with ½ cup dried fruit
    • (Provides 1 low fat dairy serving and 1 serving fruit)
  • Dinner:
    • 3 ounce poached salmon
    • Small/medium sweet potato
    • 1 cup cooked broccoli
    • ½ cup brown rice, and 1 tsp soft margarine
    • (Provides 3 servings lean protein, 2 servings vegetables, 1 serving grain, 1 serving fat)
  • Snack:
    • 1 ½ cup popcorn (flavored with salt-free seasoning)
    • ½ cup low sodium vegetable juice
    • (Provides 1 serving grain, 1 serving vegetable)