Pre-Conception & Prenatal Nutrition Guide

Planning a future pregnancy, currently trying to conceive, or already pregnant? Then now is the perfect time for both spouses to hone in on your nutrient intake for nourishing a little one!

If you are hoping to get pregnant later this year, or trying to conceive, it’s important to prioritize your nutrient intake right now. That’s because it takes about 3 months for both egg and sperm quality to improve, since it takes eggs 90 days to mature before ovulation, and sperm about 74 days (1, 2).

For females, this also does not take into account any nutrient deficiencies you might need to address before becoming further depleted in pregnancy, and ahead in breastfeeding. 

While trying to conceive, you should eat the same way during this time that you would be eating while pregnant. That’s because, in addition to nutrients playing a key role in supporting egg and sperm quality, it’s important to your baby’s early development-because if you do become pregnant, much of the neurodevelopment has already happened by the time you get a positive pregnancy test-by week 6 of pregnancy, or 4 weeks after conception (just two weeks after your missed period), the neural tube has already closed (3)!

Preconception nutrition is also an important time to maximize nutrient status before you get pregnant, since the first trimester is often a challenging time for many women to eat the most nutrient-dense foods (ie, animal products like meat and seafood), even those who normally eat these foods on a regular basis. However, if you have built up good nutrient stores in the preconception phase, they can help sustain you throughout a rougher first trimester. 

13 Most essential nutrients to prioritize for preconception and pregnancy

(these will also be important for repleting nutrient stores postpartum and creating nutrient-dense breastmilk that continues to impact your baby’s development and gut health (4, 5):

  1. Vitamin A (as retinol/bioavailable form) to support limbs, facial structure, and organ development, as well as immunity. Best source: liver! (plus small amounts in full-fat dairy and butter, though these on their own will not provide sufficient amounts-so if you are squeamish about liver, try sneaking in small amounts in other dishes with ground meat, or take a supplement of desiccated liver). 
  2. Folate: brain and spinal cord development, red blood cell production, cognitive and neurodevelopment. Often traditionally recommended in its synthetic form (folic acid) , but is best utilized in its active form naturally in food, especially for those with an MTHFR gene mutation, and there is no risk of toxicity like there is with folic acid (6). Folate is found in liver, cooked spinach, and black-eyed peas. 
  3. Choline: fetal brain development. Found in eggs (eating 3/day will supply you with your daily choline needs) and liver. 
  4. Collagen and glycine: help form connective tissues, baby’s skin, nails, teeth, form the placenta, and support the circulatory system. Found in bone broth, slow-cooked meats, bacon, and meat skins. 
  5. Vitamin D: fetal bone growth and helps regulate blood sugar. Get it from the sun (10 minutes daily) or fatty fish. 
  6. Vitamin K2: supports bone development. Found in natto, cheese, and liver. 
  7. Omega 3’s (DHA and EPA): essential for brain development. Found in fatty fish, seafood, and salmon skin (choose wild-caught pacific for fewer contaminants on the skin if you’re able to).
  8. Iodine: supports increased thyroid hormone production in pregnancy (50% increase in thyroid hormone production during pregnancy) (7). Found in cod, seaweed and oysters.
  9. Iron: increased iron needs to support 50% increase in blood flow, support oxygen and nutrient transport via hemoglobin in the blood (8). Found in oysters, liver, sardines, and beef.
  10. Zinc: support placenta, cells, and DNA development, key nutrient for male fertility (9.). Found in oysters, beef, crab, pork. 
  11. Antioxidants: reduce oxidative stress for cell health and immunity. Found in leafy greens, berries, peppers, citrus fruits, and both animal and plant fat sources (ie butter, olive oil, avocados). 
  12. Vitamins B6 and B12: brain and nervous system development. Found in liver, clams, salmon, tuna, and beef. 
  13. Probiotics: support gut health (since you pass along your gut microbiome to your baby in giving birth and continue through breastmilk). Found in fermented foods, miso, and Greek yogurt. 

What foods and nutrients are most important for supporting an optimal pregnancy? 

Here is a list of the top most essential foods and nutrients for both spouses to consume to support egg and sperm health before pregnancy, and a growing baby’s development during pregnancy:

(Note: there is no one “superfood” that contains it all, but together, these will take care of the most essential nutrients for you to include in your pregnancy diet to support your baby’s growth and development. This list highlights just a few of the most nutrient-dense superfoods for pregnancy, though a well-balanced prenatal diet includes many more foods beyond this list. However, this is a great place to start, and if you are including all these as often as recommended, you are doing a great job providing your baby with what he or she most needs to grow!)

1) Liver: Liver is truly nature’s multivitamin (and the most nutrient-dense food on the planet), high in B vitamins, choline, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Try sneaking small amounts of liver to other meat dishes, like meatloaf, chili, and mixing it with ground beef. Chicken liver also has a more mild taste and can be a more palatable option to try first.  

2) Beef (as well as other red meat, especially slow cooked roasts) (3+ times/week-daily if you want!): Whether slow-cooked beef for glycine, ground beef for a luscious taco salad, a juicy burger or steak for iron, zinc, and B vitamins, any red meat is a super nutritious food for pregnancy! 

Easy red meats for snacking: beef jerky, roast beef deli meat

3) Eggs (2-3 daily-including the yolks!): Eggs are easy-to-prepare, and packed with nutrition. With the exception of folks with an egg allergy, eggs should be a part of every prenatal diet, since just 2 eggs provides you with your daily choline needs! They are also packed with protein, B-vitamins, minerals, vitamins A, D, E, and K, and DHA.

Enjoy eggs in daily omelets, cook up 14 hard boiled eggs for your week (they last up to a week in your fridge),or add on top of salads or as deviled eggs.  

4)  Oysters (buy canned, smoked oysters for an easy, ready-to-go and portable snack!): high in iron, B12, iron, zinc, and B12. They are also a good source of DHA. They contain some of the most critical prenatal nutrients in high amounts that are bioavailable (easily used and absorbed in the body).

Enjoy oysters as hash with eggs and veggies for breakfast, in paella, in smoked oyster deviled eggs for a snack, in a salad with bacon, wrapped with bacon, as a tapenade dip (enjoy with veggies or seed crackers!), or in a stew.

5) Salmon: salmon is rich in Omega-’s like DHA to support your baby’s vision and brain development. It also contains selenium, iodine, zinc, and vitamin B12.

6) Bone broth: Though this one is technically a drink, not a food, bone broth is an essential beverage to include regularly throughout pregnancy! Enjoy a mug of it as you would coffee or tea for extra glycine, and minerals like calcium and magnesium to support your baby’s skeletal growth. 

If you don’t enjoy bone broth, collagen peptides are another (flavorless) option that can easily be added to any hot beverage to provide you with similar benefits. 

7) Sauerkraut & other fermented foods: (3+ times/week-or better yet, daily!): fermented foods such as sauerkraut are an important source of probiotics to support your gut health. Probiotic-rich, fermented foods are important during pregnancy because as a mom, you pass on your bacteria (often called your microbiome) to your baby. Having a healthy balance of bacteria in your body sets the stage for good digestion and a healthy immune system for your baby as well.

8) Seaweed: (3+ times/week-ideally, daily!): Seaweed is rich in iodine (which you need 50% more of during pregnancy!), which helps build a healthy placenta to support fetal nourishment and growth. 

9) Kale/spinach/leafy greens (at least 2+ cups of greens/day): No prenatal diet is complete without leafy greens. They are some of the richest dietary sources of folate. Kale is also packed with minerals, including magnesium and potassium, fiber, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and many antioxidants.

Add kale to your eggs, mix it with olive oil and lemon juice as a base for salads, or add wilted to any hot dish. 

10) Full fat, grass-fed dairy (Including plain whole milk Greek yogurt, butter, cream, and cheese-at least a few times per week or daily): Not only is dairy an excellent source of calcium and other minerals. When you purchase full-fat, you get the benefit of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), which ensures you absorb all those minerals. When you eat Greek yogurt, you also get more probiotics.

Choose dairy products from grass-fed or pasture-raised animals if possible, to get even higher levels of these fat-soluble vitamins. 

Now that you know what foods are important to prioritize for fertility and pregnancy, which should you avoid?

Though these are often vilified, especially during pregnancy, the following are not supported by current evidence to actually be at a high risk of food-borne illness or contaminants during pregnancy: 

  • Deli meats
  • Soft cheeses (just verify on the label that they are pasteurized-most are!)
  • Skipjack & light tuna 
  • Canned foods (in BPA free cans)
  • Soft-serve eggs if you prefer them that way: although the best practice is to cook eggs all the way through, if you don’t like eggs in any cooked variety, the benefits vastly outweigh the risks of eating undercooked eggs (you are nearly 8 times more likely to get sick from lettuce than from eating an undercooked egg (x)!

Pregnancy Avoid List

Though any food or beverage has the potential to cause foodborne illness, these foods are best to avoid due to higher risk for contamination and other risks (such as endocrine disrupting chemicals in BPA. However, not all of these are absolutes, and with anything, use your own judgment and risk discernment for each). 

  • Alcohol (fine to use in dishes where alcohol content is cooked out, such as fondue or vodka sauce)
  • Caffeine (though generally recommended to be “safe”, there are no benefits in it for your baby, and even lower amounts such as 150mg and below can be risky, especially if you have a history of pregnancy loss (4, 5). Consume at your own risk, and limit as much as you are able, especially if you already have a higher risk pregnancy)
  • High mercury fish (fresh albacore, bluefin, & big eye/ahi tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish)
  • Raw shellfish 
  • Highly processed foods
  • Unwashed produce
  • Raw sprouts (often on the food borne outbreak list)
  • Foods containing seed oils, or refined vegetable oils
  • Premade/store bought salads and items in the grocery store
  • Buffets and salad bars
  • Precut fruit and veggie trays (ie, pre cut fruit salad-make your own during this time!)
  • Unfiltered/tap water
  • Canned drinks (due to BPA lining)

Fertility and Prenatal Shopping List

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully provides some inspiration and makes your life a little easier by giving you ideas for your next shopping trip!


  • Red meat: ground beef (grass-fed if possible), roast beef for stews, burgers
  • Rotisserie chicken (for a ready-to-go protein-use the carcass for homemade bone broth when you’re done with it!)
  • Pot roast
  • Pulled pork 
  • Chicken /beef livers 
  • Smoked sausage and pre-cooked bacon for pre-made proteins
  • Frozen pre-cooked shrimp
  • Frozen pre-cooked meatballs


  • Plain whole milk Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Irish butter/grass-fed butter
  • Whole milk (best source of protein, vitamins, and minerals than any other non-dairy milk)


  • Leafy greens: ie kale or spinach 
  • Avocados (10g fiber per whole avocado-⅓ of your daily intake!-plus B vitamins for nausea and healthy fats) 
  • Any other veggies you love-try to switch it up for a variety of micronutrients and antioxidants), especially non-starchy veggies-try frozen veggies if cooking is a challenge 


  • Nuts and seeds you enjoy
  • Smoked sardines
  • Smoked oysters
  • Guacamole single-serve packs
  • Pre-cooked bacon
  • Smoked sausage
  • Beef jerky
  • Deli meats
  • Seaweed snacks


  • Sauerkraut/kimchi 
  • Bone broth 
  • Raspberry leaf tea
  • Baking: almond flour 
  • Cooking/baking/eating fats: ghee and butter (grass-fed if possible), coconut oil, lard, tallow, macadamia oil, extra virgin olive oil, unrefined avocado oil 


Claire Gilmore, CNS, LDN

Functional nutritionist & licensed dietitian

Claire Gilmore is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) with a master’s in clinical nutrition, but her favorite title is mom (to two precious girls).

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