If you were eating a well-balanced diet before you became pregnant, you probably won't need to make big changes. But some little changes can make a big difference in ensuring that you and your baby get all the vitamins, minerals and calories needed for a healthy pregnancy. Make sure that you are getting food from the five healthy food groups: grain products, vegetables, fruits, protein foods, and milk and milk products. By eating healthy you can improve the already excellent odds of your child being born healthy.
Following a nutritionally sound diet can better the chances of a normal birth-weight, improved fetal brain development, and decrease the chances of pregnancy complications. Furthermore, healthy eating will benefit you as well as your child. A healthy diet will decrease pregnancy complications in mothers such as anemia, pre-eclampsia, morning sickness, fatigue, and constipation. A healthy diet will also moderate any mood swings and ensure the speediest recovery after your pregnancy. Below is an overview of the groups you should be eating from and how much you should be consuming:
Carbohydrates. Grain products provide carbohydrates, your body's main source of energy. Choose 6–11 servings of whole-grain or fortified products such as whole-wheat bread, cereals, brown rice or pasta. One serving is a slice of bread, or a cup of cooked rice or pasta. When choosing your carbohydrates, try to include more unrefined and/or complex carbohydrates in your diet since they provide you with fiber, essential B vitamins, trace minerals and protein. These include:
- Whole-grain breads
- Fresh fruits
- Beans and peas
- Brown rice
Maintaining an adequate amount of complex carbohydrates will keep your weight gain in check while preventing constipation and nausea, while at the same time providing your child with important nutrients. You should also try to avoid nutritionally simple and/or refined carbohydrates such as:
- White bread
- Refined cereals
- White rice
Fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide important vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber to aid digestion. Choose at least three vegetables and two fruits every day, including a juice or fruit rich in vitamin C, such as an orange. One serving is a cup of raw, leafy vegetables or 1/2 cup raw or cooked non-leafy vegetables, one whole raw fruit, or 1/2 cup cooked or chopped fruit. Green leafy and yellow vegetables, as well as yellow fruits supply the body with vitamin A, which is vital for cell growth, healthy skin, bones and eyes in your developing baby. In addition to vitamin A, fruits and vegetables also provide you with other essential vitamins and minerals including folic acid, riboflavin, other B vitamins and calcium.
Some of the fruits or vegetables that you should have in your diet include:
- Pumpkin or winter squash
- Beet greens
- Broccoli or turnip greens
- Collard greens
- Endive or escarole
- Kale or mustard greens
- Dark green leafy lettuce
- Sweet potato or yam
Protein. Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are the building blocks of human cells and are extremely important for a developing fetus. Protein foods, such as meat, fish and dried beans are crucial for your baby's growth. Choose 3–4 servings per day which should add up to 60 to 75 grams of protein per day. One serving equals 2–3 ounces of lean meat, poultry or fish, or one egg. If you are a vegetarian, be sure to eat eggs, tofu and other soy products, dried beans and nuts, as well as a wide variety of grains every day. Adequate protein intake (defined as 75 grams a day or more) can protect you against problems such as pre-eclampsia and other disorders. It also ensures a great start for your baby. Below is a list of protein-rich foods. Try to have three to four servings of them.
- 24 ounces fat-free or low-fat milk or 16 ounces skim milk
- 1 ¾ cups low-fat yogurt
- 5 large egg whites or 2 large whole eggs with 2 egg whites
- 3 ½ ounces canned tuna packed in water
- 3 ½ ounces fish or shrimp
- 3 ounces lean beef, veal, lamb, or pork (4 ounces if the cuts are not lean)
- 5-6 ounces of tofu
- ¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese
- ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese
- 3 ounces chicken or turkey
- 5 ounces clams, crab or lobster meat
Dairy. Milk and milk products (including calcium-fortified soy milk) help build your baby's bones and teeth. Choose 3–4 servings a day of low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese. A serving is one cup of milk or yogurt or two 1-inch cubes of cheese. If you have trouble digesting lactose (the natural sugar found in milk), lactose-reduced milk products and calcium-fortified orange juice can help you get enough calcium.
Fat. Limit the amount of fat that you eat to no more than 30 percent of your daily calories. In the average American’s diet, 40 percent of calories come from fat. You should use high-fat foods (such as butter, sour cream, salad dressings and gravies) sparingly. Also, try to limit sweets. You don't have to eliminate them but, when possible, make healthier choices. Sugar calories are empty calories and leave less room in your diet for nutritionally substantial calories. Excess fat in your diet could mean excess pounds gained by you. For delicious and nutritious sweet flavor try substituting sugar with fruit – such as ground dates, raisins or apricots – or you can substitute sugar with fruit juice concentrates, such as orange, apple or grape juice. Some fat is required by your developing baby, but only in moderation.
Another thing to remember is if you are not gaining enough weight during your pregnancy, you can try increasing your intake of other nutritious foods first, and then try adding an extra fat serving each day. The concentrated amount of calories that fatty foods provide will help you hit your optimum weight easier.
Water and fluids. You also need to drink plenty of healthy fluids — 6 to 8 cups a day, more if you’re retaining lots of fluid or if it’s very hot. As your bodily fluids increase during pregnancy, so does your need for fluid intake. While water is best, you do get some water from juice. But keep in mind that juice is high in calories, while water has none. Avoid or limit caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea and colas.
Staying hydrated has many benefits for the healthy pregnancy, including avoidance of early labor, healthier skin (meaning more elastic), and general decrease in pregnancy symptoms that are annoying (constipation, swelling, etc.). In addition, extra fluids rid your body of toxins and waste products, and reduce excessive selling and the risk of urinary tract infections. Though water is the best, you can also obtain significant amounts of fluids from milk, fruit and vegetable juices, soups, caffeine- and sugar-free soft drinks. Juice has it's time and its place but the majority of your fluids should be water.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is critical in tissue repair, wound healing, bone growth and many other metabolic processes, which is why you and your baby both require it during your pregnancy. The problem is that your body cannot store large amounts of this nutrient, so you must ensure that you obtain sufficient amounts. It is recommended that you have three or more servings of vitamin C per day.
Some of the most vitamin C-rich foods include:
- ½ Grapefruit or ½ cup of grapefruit juice
- 1 small orange or 1/3 cup of fresh orange juice
- ½ papaya
- ½ cup of strawberries
- ½ red pepper or 1 green pepper
- 1 ½ tomatoes or 1 cup tomato juice
- ¾ cooked cauliflower
- 1 ½ cups of raw cabbage
- ½ a mango
- ¼ cantaloupe
- 1 1/3 cups raspberries or blackberries
- 2/3 cup cooked broccoli
- ¾ cup of vegetable juice
- 1 kiwi
Calcium. Calcium is required by your growing fetus for strong bones and teeth. Obtaining sufficient calcium in your diet is also important because calcium is vital for muscle, heart and nerve development, blood clotting, and enzyme activity. Ensuring you obtain enough calcium will also help you. If your diet is deficient in calcium, your body will draw on calcium from your bones to help meet its increased demand for your growing child. This can predispose mothers to early osteoporosis or other bone abnormalities. Thus be sure to get four servings of calcium per day (1,200 mg daily).
Some women believe that milk is the only good source of calcium, but that is not the case. If you don’t think you could consume enough calcium from milk, there are many other sources listed below. For vegetarians, or those who are lactose intolerant and cannot obtain enough daily calcium, a calcium supplement may be recommended.
You should get four servings of the following each day:
- 8 ounces fat-free or 1 percent milk, 5 ounces of calcium-fortified or skim-plus milk, ½ cup evaporated nonfat milk
- soy milk and soy protein or rice milk
- 1 ½ cups low or nonfat cottage cheese or 11/4 ounces of cheddar or Swiss cheese.
- 6-8 ounces low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt or ½ cup fat-free frozen yogurt
- 6 ounces of calcium-fortified orange juice
- 3-4 ounces of canned mackerel, salmon or sardines with bones
- 2-3 tablespoons of ground sesame seeds
- 1 ¾ cups of broccoli or 1 cup of collard greens
Iron-rich foods. You should make sure that your diet includes an increase in iron-rich foods. This is because your child requires iron for the development of its blood supply as does your body for its own blood supply. It is important to know that you can increase the efficiency of iron absorption by eating foods rich in vitamin C at the same time. Thus, it should be taken between meals with a fruit juice rich in vitamin C. Since many women have difficulty filling their iron requirement through diet alone, many pregnant women take a daily supplement of 30-50 mg of iron in addition to their prenatal vitamins. Also, if you are anemic, your doctor may prescribe 60-120 mg of iron. Though small amounts of iron are found in most of the fruits, vegetables, grains and meats that you eat every day, you should still try to have some of the following foods daily that are high in iron:
- Lean beef
- Liver and other organ meats
- Cooked oysters
- Green peas, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, soybeans and tofu
Salty foods. Salty foods should be consumed only in moderation. While a moderate amount of sodium is needed to maintain adequate fluid levels in the body, very large quantities of salt and salty foods are linked to high blood pressure. Increased blood pressure in a pregnant woman is especially dangerous because it can potentially cause some serious complications during pregnancy, labor and delivery. An easy way to decrease your sodium levels is do add salt your food to taste at the table rather than adding salt during cooking.
Keep a food log if you're having problems with your diet. It's a lot easier than trying to remember what you ate and can give you a good idea of the variety you're taking in.
Sticking to a healthy diet is very challenging for most women and takes lots of self-discipline and commitment. It is important that you follow your diet closely. Dietary habits that you’ve had for years can be changed and adhering to your new, healthy diet will become easier as you progress in through your pregnancy and you get used to it.
Although it is best to follow a healthy diet from day one of your pregnancy, some people find that changing out of their old habits into new ones gradually is the best way to go. Try to encourage your spouse or friends to eat healthy with you. This will help you adhere to your new healthy diet while improving the diet of those around you. Lastly, don’t stop your diet after the delivery. A healthy diet and lifestyle will improve your general health and reduce the risk of many diseases including diabetes and cancer.
Pregnancy Nutrition & Iron Deficiency. Iron supplements are an easy way to boost the body’s iron stores, especially for women who may not get adequate iron from their diets. If you have had heavy periods in the past, or if you subscribe to a primarily vegetarian diet during pregnancy, you may be at a higher risk for iron deficiency and may need supplement your iron intake. If you have doubts about your dietary intake of iron, talk to your physician about iron supplements.
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