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The Brewer Diet: What, Why, and How (+ free checklist)

What to eat while pregnant is one of the first things a first-time mom wonders (amiright?). Luckily, there’s a tried-and-true way to know you’re getting what you need: follow The Brewer Pregnancy Diet. Designed by an OBGYN and backed by research, it’s hard to go wrong with this as your guide.

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“Diet” is a word that can spark strong feelings for lots of people, good and bad. So let’s be clear right up front: The Brewer “Diet” isn’t a diet of restricting certain foods and eating more of others to lose weight or bulk up or any of that. The Brewer Diet is just a guide that helps pregnant women know what nutrients they need and in what quantities.

Looking for a checklist?

Good Nutrition is Essential

Adequate nutrition is vital for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Nutrition affects everything – from how mom feels, to how well the baby grows and develops, to how labor and birth go. It can even make postpartum a little easier.

Just like for a non-pregnant person, expecting moms need a well-balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods for their bodies to function properly. 

Our bodies are designed to need certain fuel to function. But that fuel isn’t just a one-ingredient formula. Different nutrients serve different functions in our bodies, and deficiencies of each nutrient can cause different problems. That’s why The Brewer Diet can seem so complicated at first.

So let’s break it down and look at each recommendation and why it’s important.

RELATED >> Why “What Not To Eat While Pregnant” is the Wrong Question

Who is Dr. Brewer?

Before we do that, let me introduce Dr. Brewer.

Dr. Thomas H. Brewer (1925-2005) was an obstetrician who studied the effects of nutrition on pregnancy for more than 50 years. He found that many of the problems that can arise during pregnancy (listed below) have a common denominator: food deficiency and low blood volume.

His research led him to believe that prenatal nutrition (or the lack thereof) had predictable outcomes for mom and baby. He considered nutrition a matter of clinical significance and believed that it should be addressed by the prenatal caregiver at every visit.

So he did something about it! He designed The Brewer Pregnancy Diet.

He didn’t just make it up; everything he taught was backed by research and science, as you’ll see in this article. His claims have held up over the years, as evidenced by people who have published similar work in the years since he published his.

Is the Diet perfect? Maybe not. But it sure is good, especially when compared to conventional guidelines which are far below what they should be.

What is The Brewer Diet?

So what is The Brewer Pregnancy Diet? To summarize very briefly, it is at minimum 2600 calories, 80-120 grams protein, and salt-to-taste.

But it’s so much more than that. Remember as we dive in, it seems like a lot but there’s a reason – it takes a lot to grow a healthy baby. That is surely worth the effort. 

So here it is.

Every day a pregnant woman needs at least:

  1. Milk and milk products – 4 servings
  2. Calcium replacements as needed (2 per soy exchange from group 1)
  3. Eggs – 2, any style
  4. Protein – 6 to 8 servings
  5. Dark green vegetables – 2 servings
  6. Whole grains – 5 servings
  7. Vitamin C foods – 2 servings
  8. Fats and oils – 3 servings
  9. Vitamin A foods – 1 serving
  10. Liver – 1 serving (weekly, optional)
  11. Salt and other sodium sources – unlimited
  12. Water – unlimited
  13. Snacks – unlimited
  14. Supplements – as needed

Note: Some women will need to make adjustments to this baseline diet for reasons such as excessive vomiting, a history of toxemia, serious emotional problems, working full-time at a demanding job, carrying multiples, and more.

For Vegans and Vegetarians

Let me address one thing before we dig in. Even from a brief overview, it’s clear that The Brewer Diet wasn’t crafted for a vegan. Does that mean pregnant women shouldn’t eat vegan (or vegetarian)? Maybe.

Here’s the deal: the efficacy of plant-based diets is backed by more research than you can imagine. I am all for plates full of plants for every meal, as are a lot of nutritionists and doctors.

That said, I still eat animal products regularly. Why?

I’ll tell you. First let me be clear: I am fully aware that opinions on what I’m about to say vary greatly, and everyone seems to have research to back up their side of things. This is one of those things you really have to choose what you feel is best for you. But here’s what I think.

I believe it’s a good idea to eat animal products regularly because they contain nutrients we need in amounts or forms that our bodies need that cannot be found in plants. Many nutritionists agree.

Where to Learn More

If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend the work of two professionals.

First, Lily Nichols, a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author. Her book “Real Food for Pregnancy” is a bestseller and is even used as a textbook in some nutrition courses. She also publishes in-depth articles about various topics on her blog. She is of the opinion that animal products are necessary for optimal health, especially during pregnancy.

Second, Dr. Michael Greger, a physician, author, and professional speaker. In 2015 he wrote “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.” The book is made up of hundreds of studies that Dr. Greger puts into plain english. After presenting the science, he explains ways to easily fit more of the best foods into your diet. He is of the opinion that animal products are unnecessary and do more harm than good.

All that said, you can still follow The Brewer Diet if you want continue eating vegan. The recommended daily quantities for the vegan version of The Brewer Diet are:

  • Fortified soy milk – 4 servings
  • Calcium replacements – 2 per unfortified soy choice
  • Protein – 6 to 8 servings
  • Dark green vegetables – 2 servings
  • Whole grains and starchy vegetables – 5 servings
  • Vitamin C foods – 4 servings
  • Fats and oils – 9 servings
  • Vitamin A foods – 4 servings
  • Salt and other sodium sources – unlimited
  • Water – unlimited
  • Snacks – unlimited
  • Supplements – as needed

Keep in mind that certain nutrients are unavailable, or available only in small quantities, in plant foods, so you will need to take supplements. Lily Nichols outlines these nutrients in her book which I mentioned above. You can also talk with your care provider about it.

The Brewer Pregnancy Diet in Bite-Size Pieces

With that backdrop, let’s dive in. We’ll go through each of the 14 categories of The Brewer Diet and talk about why that food is good for you and how to get it in your daily diet.

Milk and Milk Products

The first element of The Brewer Pregnancy Diet is milk and milk products. Milk contains protein (8 grams in one cup of 2%), fat, and carbs, as well as other essential vitamins and minerals. 

How do you get milk products in your diet? Think milk, yogurt, and cheeses.

I like drinking a plain ol’ glass of milk, but even if you don’t, you can get milk with your breakfast cereal or with some cookies after dinner.

When it comes to yogurt, buy Greek yogurt. It’s much higher in protein and much lower in sugar as compared to other yogurts like Yoplait brand. I like to throw some granola and fruit in with mine or eat it plain and have some toast on the side.

Quesadillas are a great way to get cheese, just make sure to add some other protein sources in there too.

Another cheese you may want to keep in the fridge is cottage cheese. If it makes you gag, that’s fine. I used to think it was nasty too. But when I realized it has 13 grams of protein in ½ a cup, I tried it again and found that it was actually pretty good. Throw in some granola and sliced strawberries and you’ve got a lovely little snack.

Note: Avoid low-fat dairy products. They sound nice, but they’re actually worse for you than full-fat dairy products, as explained in Why “What Not To Eat While Pregnant” is the Wrong Question.

Calcium Replacements

If you choose to replace some or all of your milk products with soy products, The Brewer Diet recommends you add other sources of calcium to your diet that day. Some common foods with good amounts of calcium are almonds, broccoli, black olives, and kale.

Keep in mind that your preferences may change while pregnant. For example, I like almonds generally, but when I tried to snack on them during pregnancy, I gagged every time.

Eggs

Eggs contain protein, healthy fats, and lots of other good stuff. One of the most important reasons to eat eggs is to get your choline.

Choline is a less-known essential nutrient that is important for healthy brain development in a fetus, among other things. Eggs are the #1 source of dietary choline. (You have to eat the yolks, though; that’s where the choline is.)

So scramble ‘em, fry ‘em, stick ‘em in a salad… Just get two a day if you can.

Protein

Oh, protein. If my midwife taught me one thing, it’s that a pregnant woman needs protein, protein, and more protein. The Brewer Diet recommends 80-120 grams per day. That’s a lot of protein.

Why is protein so important you ask? Two reasons.

First, proteins are the building blocks that help your baby develop. The amino acids in protein are the things that help new cells grow. As a bonus, foods that are high in protein are also usually high in other nutrients, such as vitamin B12, choline, zinc, iron, and more.

Second, in addition to helping your baby’s body develop, protein is important because it plays a role in maintaining sufficient blood volume, which helps you avoid preeclampsia and other complications, like I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

In short, eating protein-rich foods protects us by helping our bodies produce a special kind of protein called albumin. Albumin keeps more fluid in your bloodstream which means your blood volume stays at adequate levels throughout pregnancy. And keeping blood volume at adequate levels is vital for a healthy, full-term pregnancy (more on that in a moment).

Unfortunately, most protein intake recommendations you can find online are imprecise at best, as you’ve probably noticed. You’ll find people saying that pregnant women need anywhere from 40-100 grams of protein per day. Gratefully, new research has a more concrete answer to give.

How Much Protein We Need, According to the Research

Studies show that a pregnant woman needs at least 1.22 grams of protein per kilogram of her weight. That equates to 67 grams of protein for a 120-pound woman or 83 grams of protein for a 150-pound woman.

Get this though: those numbers are for early pregnancy AND they’re on the low end, even for the first trimester.

If a woman is in the second or third trimester, that number goes up to at least 1.52 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. (That comes out to be 83 grams for a 120-pound woman or 104 grams for a 150-pound woman.)

If a woman is larger, has a more active lifestyle, or is carrying multiples, her protein needs go up even more.

For ideas on how to get more protein in your diet, check out How to Get Enough Protein During Pregnancy: 5 Easy Tips.

The Importance of Blood Volume

A lot of things on this list of foods to eat are important, at least in part, because they help pregnant women maintain an adequate blood volume and healthy blood pressure throughout pregnancy.

To understand why that’s important, let’s start with an analogy.

The blood in your body is like a river. At times, the river may be low and flow slowly. At other times, the river may be full and rushing. Anyone who has stood in a river of water knows that rushing water is powerful and exerts a lot of pressure.

Said a different way, when volume goes up, so does pressure.

During pregnancy, your arteries naturally expand. Ideally, your body then compensates by increasing how much blood is in your body, which is called blood volume. If it doesn’t, your blood pressure drops to dangerous levels.

When that happens, your body responds as if it were in an emergency – like it would if you were bleeding profusely – and goes into protection mode. It does this by constricting blood vessels. When blood vessels get smaller, blood pressure starts to increase, just like the power of a river would if its bed suddenly shrunk.

If you don’t change anything (i.e. if you don’t start to eat the foods your body needs to produce more blood), your body will continue to think there’s an emergency, and you’ll have consistently high blood pressure. High blood pressure in itself can be an issue. It’s also the first warning sign of preeclampsia.

In short, if you want to avoid serious complications, your best bet is to eat the foods your body needs all throughout pregnancy in order to build and maintain sufficient blood volume.

Dark Green Vegetables

I’m guessing dark green veggies aren’t your favorite foods. You’re not alone. It wasn’t until recently that I found a new love for green vegetables. I think the key is to prepare them the right way.

First off though, why are dark green veggies so good for you? Well, according to Dr. Michael Greger, “Dark green leafy vegetables are the healthiest food on the planet.” Greens offer the most nutrition per calorie over every other food and help protect you against most major chronic diseases, including cancer.

As far as nutrients go, dark green veggies typically contain vitamins A, C, K, and a B vitamin called folate; minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium; and fiber. 

Fiber helps with constipation, which some pregnant women struggle with. Iron (combined with vitamin C) helps you maintain a healthy blood volume, like I talked about earlier. Folate promotes normal brain and spinal development in your baby.

Spinach and kale are big players in the game of greens, but this category also includes

  • broccoli, 
  • arugula,
  • sorrel,
  • brussels sprouts,
  • collard, turnip, beet, and mustard greens,
  • asparagus,
  • sprouts, and 
  • swiss chard.

Now for the good stuff: how to get greens in your diet in yummy ways.

Yummy Ways to Eat Your Greens

My all-time favorite way to eat kale is a chicken, rice, and kale salad. It is DELICIOUS. Kale chips are also quite good.

Broccoli and asparagus make great healthy fries. To make them, slice broccoli florets in half and place flat side down on a baking sheet, then season with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Broil until soft enough to bite into and almost burnt.

Season asparagus the same, but add a bit of parmesan cheese too. So yummy.

I use spinach as the base for my salads, but if you’re not there yet, just try adding a little bit in to your lettuce whenever you use it. You can also sneak a handful of spinach into smoothies without changing the taste.

Whole Grains

The typical American diet includes lots and lots of refined white flour – think bread, pasta, cookies, cakes, and cereals. “Refined” sounds good but it’s really not that great. Without getting too deep into it, refined white flour products can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and even depression.

But if you’re used to eating white flour products, switching over to whole wheat may seem daunting, not to mention not that appetizing.

If it feels overwhelming, just start small. You could try buying honey wheat instead of white bread, or, even better, a nice soft 100% whole wheat. Whole grain doesn’t mean it has to be the seedy, grainy kind that makes you gag. (Yes, that was me a few years ago.)

Try switching out your white rice for brown. (Just make sure to rinse it before cooking to get the sticky, starchy stuff off.) Buy wheat tortillas instead of white and whole wheat or brown rice pasta instead of white.

If whole wheat foods don’t taste good to you, just give yourself a little time. Your taste will adjust and soon you’ll find, I’m sure, that not only do they taste alright but you feel better, too.

By the way, “whole grains” doesn’t just mean replacing white foods with wheat. Foods like oatmeal, quinoa, and even corn tortillas fit in this category, too.

Vitamin C + Iron

Vitamin C isn’t just good for your immune system. It’s also important for a healthy pregnancy. Vitamin C is important during pregnancy for two big reasons.

First, it plays a role in producing collagen, which supports healthy tissues – for mom and baby.

Second, vitamin C helps your body (and your baby’s body) absorb iron better, and, as I mentioned in in the greens section, iron is important because it helps to regulate your body’s blood volume.

You can get vitamin C from citrus fruits, as you probably know, but that’s not all. Other foods with high levels of vitamin C include tomatoes, strawberries, bell peppers, and leafy greens.

Fats and Oils

Fat gets a bad rap. After all, we use the same word for this nutrient as we do for excess, unwanted body weight. But fat is an essential nutrient, as you learned in the first letter.

No, not all fats are created equal and, yes, eating more than a fair share of fat can have negative effects, for pregnant and non-pregnant people. But beware of blanket statements warning against eating fats. It’s more than a black-and-white issue. 

For a review of the importance of fats generally, go here.

During pregnancy, fats provide a good source of energy. Omega-3 fatty acids, one type of fats, are some of the main building blocks for your baby’s brain and eyes. In fact, studies have found that children of mothers who get sufficient omega-3s during pregnancy do better in areas such as general developmental milestones, problem solving, and language development.

Getting fats in your diet is as simple as including oils in your cooking, putting butter on your toast or mayonnaise on your sandwiches, and buying full-fat products instead of low-fat. Avocados are also a good source of fat, so feel free to enjoy some avocado toast or guacamole, too.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient; our bodies can’t produce it so we have to get it in our diet. The main function of vitamin A is to support normal vision and eye function. In addition to that, vitamin A helps our skin, bones, organs, and immune system and aids in normal growth and development.

During pregnancy, vitamin A keeps your thyroid healthy and helps your baby develop properly. (Your thyroid needs to stay healthy because impaired thyroid function can cause complications during pregnancy and can have negative effects on your baby.)

The Brewer Diet Falls Short: Two Forms of Vitamin A

It’s common to hear that orange and yellow fruits, among other plant foods, are good sources of vitamin A. That’s not necessarily wrong. Here’s the thing though: vitamin A comes in two forms. One is “bioavailable” meaning it’s in a form our body can use immediately. The other kind has to be converted, a process that happens inside our bodies, before it can be used.

Interestingly, only animal products contain the bioavailable form. So while eating sweet potatoes, for example, will give you some vitamin A, your body may or may not be able to convert and use that vitamin A very well. 

This is one area where The Brewer Diet falls short. It teaches the right idea – pregnant women do need vitamin A – but misses the mark with the application. (The recommended foods are apricots, carrots, sweet potatoes, and the like.)

Eggs and some dairy products have the bioavailable form of vitamin A, but the main source of vitamin A is by far and away liver meat, which is exactly what we’re going to talk about next.

Liver

Liver is not a common food for many of us, but maybe it should be. Why? Because liver meat is one of the most nutrient-rich foods on the planet. Like you learned in the previous section, liver is high in vitamin A. It also contains lots of iron, folate, and vitamin B12, to name only a few.

I’ve never eaten liver, but I’ve heard that if it’s prepared the right way, it can be good. I should probably try it one of these days.

You can find lots of ideas online about how to incorporate liver into your diet in ways that don’t make you want to gag.

Salt + Electrolytes

Depending on who you ask, you’ll probably be told one of two things about salt: 1) stop eating it or 2) eat more. So how are you supposed to know who to believe?

Like most things, the answer is to not be extreme, and the fact of the matter is that misinformation is widespread.

The Brewer Diet’s rule on salt is “salt to taste.” In other words, use as much salt as you want – whatever tastes good.

What does the research say? Basically the same thing.

The Research on Salt

One group of researchers concluded that “salt consumption during pregnancy should remain a matter of personal preference.”

The truth is that salt is necessary for some functions of our body, including nutrient absorption and nerve function.

It’s also important to recognize that salt – known scientifically as sodium chloride – is one (well, two – sodium and chloride) of a few minerals called electrolytes. The others on the list are calcium, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and bicarbonate.

Electrolytes are special minerals that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They perform many different essential functions in our bodies, including keeping our heart pumping. It’s common for our electrolyte levels to get messed up and be imbalanced. That can happen because of things like exercise, vomiting, drinking too much water – or growing another little human.

Many foods contain these minerals and, as always, it’s good to get them from food first before supplementing. Because of the intense physical demands of pregnancy, my midwife recommended that while I was pregnant 1 of the 5 or so bottles I was drinking per day during pregnancy contain electrolyte powder.

My favorite electrolyte powder is Redmond ReLyte. I think it tastes the best + it has no sugar + it has real Redmond salt + it’s the cheapest one I’ve found. Beat that. (If you like it, you can sign up for a subscription on their website and I think it’s cheaper that way than on Amazon.)

Why Salt is Important

When it comes to pregnancy, salt is important for two general reasons.

First, salt helps your body retain water which in turn helps you maintain a sufficient blood volume, along with protein and iron.

Second, and likely related to the first, a low-salt diet is linked to pregnancy and birth complications such as premature labor, low birth weight, a higher rate of perinatal death, and an increased chance of disease and organ dysfunction in adulthood.

Water

Staying hydrated is always important. It becomes even more important once you get pregnant.

Water plays a role in maintaining an adequate blood volume, like so many other items on the list. It does more than that, though.

Water makes it possible for your body to absorb water-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins C and B12. It also aids in digestion, which is why drinking enough water while pregnant can ease symptoms of constipation, a common pregnancy complaint.

Beyond normal functions, water makes up most of the amniotic fluid that surrounds your baby, and that water has to come from you. Amniotic fluid is vital to the health and safety of your baby. It protects your baby in several ways, including:

  • Absorbing the impact if you were to fall or get hit in the abdomen,
  • Acting as a cushion so that the umbilical cord doesn’t get pinched between the baby and your uterus,
  • Providing nutrients and natural antibacterial protection, and
  • Allowing space and mobility so that your baby can rotate into a good position for birth.

Dehydration is more common in pregnant women but most of the time neither you nor your baby are in danger. 

How much is enough?

So how much water is enough water?

The Brewer Diet doesn’t have a recommended amount of water to drink daily. The two guidelines given are that it should be “unlimited” and that you should never force liquids.

The general recommendation you’ll find elsewhere is to drink somewhere between 64 and 100 ounces of water per day while pregnant. Feeling thirsty is the first sign of dehydration, so just drink enough so you don’t get to the point where you’re super thirsty.

Snacks

Snacking can have some downsides, but when you’re pregnant, snacks are a great idea. The Brewer Diet recommends eating a snack between breakfast and lunch, a snack between lunch and dinner, a snack after dinner, and a snack in the middle of the night.

Of course, you are the only one who can determine when you need a snack and when you don’t, but snacking in between meals can accomplish two things.

  1. You eat a few more calories, which you need, especially in the last half of your pregnancy.
  2. It might help keep the nausea at bay.

When I was in my first trimester, eating a little snack every hour (and once in the middle of the night) helped to keep my stomach happy so I wasn’t too nauseous.

Snacks can also be a great way to get in some more of the important stuff, like protein. 

These are some of my favorite pregnancy snacks:

  • Cubed sharp cheddar cheese + cashews + cranberries
  • Cottage cheese + granola + fresh fruit
  • Hard-boiled eggs (plain or deviled)
  • Wheat toast with nut butter
  • Avocado toast
  • Greek yogurt with granola
  • Homemade protein bars

Supplements

The Brewer Diet doesn’t have much to say about supplements. In part, that is probably because getting nutrients from food is always better than getting them from a supplement if you can.

Nutrients are synergistic; they work together to help your body function and, often, you need one for your body to absorb another.

For more information on supplementing, I recommend the work of Lily Nichols and the work of Dr. Chris Kresser.

Tracking What You Eat

And that’s The Brewer Diet! Now you know what you should be eating and how much. But how are you going to keep track of it all?

For at least a few weeks, I recommend you write down everything you eat so you can get a solid idea of which foods have which nutrients and in what quantities, especially protein.

The trick with The Brewer Diet is that each thing you eat only counts as one diet item. For example, if you drink a glass of milk, don’t count that as a protein and a milk product if you want to meet the needed recommendations for each nutrient.

To make things simple for you, I made an easy-to-use printable tracking sheet that you can download for free in the box below.

Some Encouragement

Now you know what The Brewer Diet is all about! If you feel a little overwhelmed, I get it. It’s A LOT.

When you feel overwhelmed, remember, this is for your baby. The effort you put into your nutrition while pregnant is your surest way of giving your baby everything he or she needs to be healthy and strong at birth and beyond.

If you miss a few things every day (which you surely will, as I did), don’t beat yourself up. Just start again the next day. Remember, life isn’t an all-or-nothing game. Even if you only get half your checkmarks some days, that’s better than none. You can do this!

Until next time,

Allison

P.S. If you want to do everything you can to avoid complications during pregnancy, labor, and birth I recommend you also check out The Cascade of Interventions [Explained].

A Great Place to Find Easy Meal Ideas

While I’ve got you here, let me recommend a great resource for meal ideas and planning: The MealLime App. MealLime is fantastic. It not only has awesome meal ideas that are quick and easy to make but has a built-in shopping list feature so you don’t have to go through each recipe to make sure you add all the right stuff to your list. 10/10 would recommend.

What do you think?

If you’re already using The Brewer Diet, how’s it going? If you’re thinking about starting, what’s holding you back? Let us know in the comments!

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