Maintaining Your Nutrition in the 1st Trimester

If you are newly pregnant and find yourself wanting to eat nothing but toast, you are not alone! In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 90% of women experience “morning sickness” in their first trimester. As a mama of two boys under the age of two, this is a feeling with which I am all too familiar.  When I was pregnant with my older son, I survived primarily on brown rice tortillas slathered in ghee, and although with the following pregnancy the nausea was far less severe, I wanted nothing to do with most vegetables.

According to Melissa Hemphill, Mind Body Nutrition Coach and BIRTHFIT Coach Seminar Director, we are biologically wired to have an aversion to certain foods in early pregnancy (when baby is most vulnerable). This is a protective mechanism that is meant to minimize exposure to potentially harmful bacteria, which are more likely to contaminate foods like meats and vegetables.  Additionally there’s just something so much more comforting about a crusty piece of bread versus a bowl of broccoli, right?

If you’ve been feeling guilty about eating nothing but carbs, please know that it’s okay! Grant yourself some grace, and check out the following strategies for supporting optimal nutrient levels in your first trimester:

Enjoy veggie-packed smoothies

Smoothies are an easy way to get a lot of nutrients in a easy-to-stomach form and it’s a great trick for masking the taste of green veggies like spinach. Plus they tend to be fairly palatable, even when you’re dealing with food aversions. You can even open up your prenatal vitamin (if it’s in capsule form) and add it to your smoothie,  a super handy trick when you’re having trouble taking it.

Although I generally recommend getting your macronutrients from whole foods, adding a protein supplement to your smoothie can be a lot easier than throwing down a chunk of steak.  Since protein requirements are higher in pregnancy, particularly for active mamas, it’s important to be mindful of this (1).  I love to add a scoop of a plant-based protein powder to my daily smoothie! Here is my favorite recipe:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves

  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder

  • 1 tbsp sunflower seed butter

  • ¼ avocado

  • ½ med banana

  • 1 cup ice

Nut butters are your friend!

Although chomping on a handful of almonds may not sound super appealing, a spoonful of almond butter tends to be gentler on a queasy tummy. Nut butters are a great source of healthy fat and protein, and nuts like cashews are great sources of minerals like magnesium. Consuming them can help maintain a steady blood sugar level, which is a key factor in the occurrence of nausea. Try slathering a piece of sprouted grain toast with cashew butter or add a big scoop to your smoothie (see recipe above).

All the collagen protein

Preliminary studies indicate that the consumption of collagen protein can help to maintain the integrity of the gastrointestinal lining, while also supporting healthy skin and joints: all good things for the pregnant woman (2). It’s important to note however, that this form of protein isn’t ideal for supporting muscle growth or maintenance. Nevertheless a healthy gut is key for nutrient absorption!

The beauty of collagen protein is that it can be added to just about anything, since it is soluble in both hot and cold liquids. I typically enjoy a couple scoops in my morning coffee, and it can also be added to tea. Just make sure to check the sourcing of your collagen; it should come from animals who were grass-fed and/or raised on a quality organic diet.

Paleo “BRAT” Diet

The BRAT diet is often recommended during times of GI distress, such as the stomach flu, so it’s a great protocol for morning sickness. The recommended foods were selected because they can ease digestive upset, replace lost electrolytes, and are both easy to eat and easy to digest. The traditional diet consists of:

B- bananas

R- rice

A- applesauce

T- toast

A few years ago I was introduced to what I consider to be a significant the improvement over the BRAT plan, known as the SCABB diet.  On her blog, the Paleo Mom recommends the following foods:  

S- soups and stews

C- coconut water

A- apple sauce

B- bone broth

B- bananas

I prefer this approach for a few reasons, but mostly because these foods are more nutrient dense than those recommended on the BRAT plan (3).

Soups and stews are a great way to soothe an upset stomach and are a simple option for meals. Who doesn’t love a big bowl of chicken soup? Along that vein, bone broth is rich in minerals, protein, and amino acids so it’s a great option when you have no desire to eat. You can drink it on its own, or use it as the base of your favorite soup.

Coconut water is a fantastic source of potassium and magnesium, and it’s an easy way to replenish electrolytes if you’ve been throwing up. It’s also something I recommend mamas consume during workouts, in place of sports drinks like Gatorade.

Applesauce and bananas both support healthy gut bacteria and fluid balance in the GI tract, which makes them ideal foods when you’ve been throwing up. Additionally, they are great sources of fiber, which can help ease constipation (a super common pregnancy complaint).

Those first several weeks of pregnancy can be so challenging, and hopefully now you’re  equipped with a few strategies to keep yourself nourished in spite of feeling poorly. Although you may have little desire to eat, giving your body quality fuel can improve energy levels and even minimize nausea. For most women, these symptoms disappear or significantly improve early in the second trimester, so hang in there!


Brittany Anderson, WHNP

BIRTHFIT Nashville