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What to Eat When the Thought of Food Makes You Nauseous
Updated on
September 2, 2022

What to Eat When the Thought of Food Makes You Nauseous

By Barbara Brody
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What to Eat When the Thought of Food Makes You Nauseous

Ask any pregnant person if they experience morning sickness, and there’s about a 75% chance they’ll say yes. That’s right: Three out of every four birthing people deal with the trademark nausea and vomiting that, despite its name, can strike any time of day.

Unlike queasiness that stems from a virus or food poisoning, morning sickness is rarely a sign that something is wrong. In fact, research suggests pregnancy-related nausea and food aversions might even be beneficial, because they steer you toward bland (safe) food and away from items more likely to carry dangerous bacteria or potentially harmful chemicals. Still, when you’re subsisting on pretzels and Saltines, it’s easy to worry about whether you’re giving your baby the nutrition they need.

Morning Sickness and Your Baby: The Reassuring Reality

Rest assured that 99% of the time, morning sickness does not cause any birth defects, growth problems or other abnormalities. (If you’re among the lucky 1% that has hyperemesis gravidarum—a.k.a. persistent, severe vomiting that results in weight loss and dehydration—talk to your ob-gyn or seek emergency care right away.)

“As long as the fetus is growing and the mom is not getting dehydrated or going into ketosis, meaning she’s so deprived of food that her body has started breaking down fat and muscle for energy, she is doing okay,” says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at Yale University School of Medicine.

With the possible exception of folic acid, which you can take in liquid form if you’re having trouble keeping pills down, what you really need to focus on during the first trimester is calories. And you don’t require any extra calories beyond what you were getting pre-pregnancy until the second trimester.

“So many women think they need to eat a perfectly balanced diet, but I encourage those with severe nausea and vomiting to eat what appeals to them,” Dr. Minkin says. “If the only thing you want is chocolate cake, by all means eat the chocolate cake. The quantity of calories is more important than the quality in this circumstance.”

Most people with morning sickness find it resolved by about week 18 of pregnancy, at which point they can probably resume eating more normally. If that doesn’t happen—nausea and vomiting sometimes persist into the third trimester or even until delivery—you should be in close contact with your ob-gyn, who might advise taking medication to treat the nausea.

7 Realistic Ways to Get Some Nutrients With Morning Sickness

No matter how far along you are or how severe your nausea is, it’s worth knowing about some foods that tend to be palatable for queasy folks without being totally devoid of nutrients you and your baby need. Here are seven examples.

1. Fruit Smoothies

Cold foods are often easier to tolerate than hot ones, and sipping on an icy smoothie is an easy way to get much-needed calories, antioxidants and an array of vitamins and minerals, says registered dietician Lyssie Lakatos, co-author of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. Fruits like bananas, oranges and melons are loaded with potassium, an important electrolyte that you’re likely short on if you’ve been throwing up.

Sneak in some spinach and you’ll get an added boost of folate, a nutrient that helps prevent neural tube defects early in pregnancy, as well as iron, which you’ll need more of as your belly grows and your blood volume increases. While you’re at it, experiment with adding a little ginger or lemon—either may help quell nausea, Lakatos says.

2. Pasta

It unfairly gets a bad rap for being high in carbs, but the truth is that pasta is a good source of energy, and a one-cup serving has about six grams of protein and two grams of fiber. If it says “enriched” on the box, that means it also contains added nutrients like folic acid and iron; check the nutrition label to be sure.

If you can tolerate it, opt for whole-wheat pasta, which tends to have more vitamins and minerals, along with extra protein and fiber. Or try out a bean-based pasta, which usually has twice as much fiber and protein compared to the plain white variety, Lakatos says.

3. Toast with Peanut Butter Powder

Spring for whole-wheat if possible, but white toast is more nutritious when you add a little peanut butter powder. “If you can handle regular peanut butter, that’s great, but some find the thick texture unappealing, plus fat can cause more nausea because it stays in the stomach longer,” Lakatos says.

Peanut butter powder, on the other hand, has had much of the fat removed and it still packs a significant amount of protein (about six grams in two tablespoons). Just sprinkle a little on top of the bread, or reconstitute it first by mixing it with a little water.

4. Orange Juice

Fortified, 100% orange juice has no added sugar but plenty of vitamin C and potassium, along with added calcium and vitamin D. Plus, oranges are a natural source of folate. Sip it slowly, or try freezing it and enjoying it in popsicle form.

5. Pea Protein Powder in Homemade Baked Goods

Extracted from split and yellow peas, pea protein powder can always go in your smoothies. But if you’re sick of sipping all your meals, try adding a scoop to waffle batter or your favorite muffin recipe. You can also mix it into oatmeal (cold, if you prefer), Lakatos says. Most people find that pea protein is easy to digest, and two scoops will add more than 20 grams of protein to your meal or snack.

6. Dried Fruit

Snacking on dried fruit is a good way to get some extra fiber as well as a variety of other nutrients. For example, just two Medjool dates will give you three grams of fiber along with a significant helping of copper, a trace element you need for forming new blood cells.

7. Cereal or Oatmeal with Ground Flaxseed

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your baby’s brain and nervous system development. The best way to get them is by eating fatty fish like salmon, but seafood and morning sickness rarely mix. Instead, try sprinkling ground flaxseed on top of your cereal or oatmeal (cold, if preferred), Lakatos suggests. Just two tablespoons packs about four grams of fiber, three grams of protein, and four grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids (which includes the omega 3s).


Mary Jane Minkin, MD Clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at Yale University School of Medicine

Lyssie Lakatos, RDN Dietitian and co-author of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure

Barbara Brody

Barbara Brody is a New York-based writer, editor, and mom. A health and wellness specialist, her work has appeared in outlets including WebMD, Health, and Prevention.

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