The journey to becoming a new mom can be exciting, scary and quite honestly, one big emotional rollercoaster ride. But one thing is for certain, you’re going to experience the biggest change of your life. Like really, everything will change from your sense of smell to your sleeping habits and even your taste buds!
While the entertainment world would have you believe that pickles and ice cream are a pregnant lady’s best friend, chances are you’ll need a bit more than that to aid your body in this life creating experience.According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, pregnant women need between 2,200-2,900 calories per day, gradually increasing from their current calorie intake as the pregnancy progresses. A good way to measure whether you are getting enough food is to eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day. This will keep you properly nourished and ensure that your energy levels don’t bottom out.
Let’s face it. Your body is now a baby making machine and it needs all the fuel it can get. This fuel not only provides energy for your body but it is essential to the healthy development of your child’s brain, bones and organs. During the course of your pregnancy, you’ll find that some of your favorite foods may not be beneficial for your child, while foods that never “tickled your fancy” are at the top of your cravings list. Most OBGYN’s would prefer you to adopt a healthy nutrition plan during the conception phase however, it’s not too late to change once you find out you are expecting.
You should be aware that healthy eating is key to maintaining your overall health. Poor eating habits can increase your risk of Gestational Diabetes and birth complications such as pre-eclampsia, high blood pressure etc. Also, how you eat during your pregnancy directly influences your child’s eating habits beyond the womb. Studies show that women who consume a high amount of junk food during pregnancy are more likely to have children who are addicted to high-fat, high-sugar diets.
What to Eat
While pregnancy doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your current eating habits, it is beneficial to evaluate what you eat. In reviewing your current diet, you will be able to pinpoint important foods that may be missing from it. Oftentimes you hear about the importance of having folic acid and DHA, but there are more nutrients that play a vital role in your child’s growth and development.
Proteins provide the body with amino acids with are essential to the building of your child’s cells. Proteins are an important nutrient that should be consumed throughout your entire pregnancy, even more so during the second and third trimester as they are the times when your child experiences rapid growth. How much protein to add to your diet varies according to your weight.
Your required intake can range between 40 grams to 70 grams. Choosemyplate.gov is a great resource that has a tool where you can create a custom meal plan as well as a calculator to help you manage your pregnancy weight. You should aim to achieve the recommended grams of protein on a weekly basis. Most Americans eat an adequate amount of protein, so you shouldn’t have trouble maintaining the proper amount. So what foods provide protein? Here are some of the foods you should consume during your pregnancy:
Eggs, lean meat, nuts, beans, milk, tofu, cheese, fish and shellfish and yogurt. You should eat 3-4 servings of protein daily as part of your diet. If you’re wondering how what 70 grams of protein may look like, you can consume that in two 8-ounce glasses of milk, a 5-ounce chicken breast or one 7-ounce container of nonfat Greek yogurt.
Proteins like salmon, sardines and walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which supply our bodies with DHA. DHA is key to building and maintaining healthy brain, eyes and nervous system function.
During pregnancy, you need increase the level of calcium in your diet in order to meet the needs your growing child. Dairy products contain several proteins including casein and whey and is the best nutritional source of calcium. It also provides a high amount of zinc, phosphorus, vitamin B and magnesium.
Dairy consumption shouldn’t be limited to just milk. Probiotic yogurt should be part of your diet as well. Probiotics are live bacteria that are for your digestive system and helpful in keeping a balance with the not-so-good bacteria in our bodies. Because your immunity is decreased during pregnancy, Probiotics are important in reducing the risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, allergies and vaginal infections.
If you’re lactose intolerant, most health stores carry probiotic supplements that are safe for pregnant women. Other foods that are rich with probiotics are kefir, miso, Kombucha tea, high quality dark chocolate and surprisingly, pickles! Who knew?!
Fruits and Vegetables
All of our lives we’ve heard our mothers say “eat your vegetables”! and at no other time in our lives could this advice be more relevant than during pregnancy. Fruit are a major source of fiber, water and healthy carbohydrates among other things. Oranges are a source of vitamin C, potassium and folic acid, which protects your child’s brain and spinal cord from birth defects. Avocados, which have more folate than any other fruit, contains a high amount of monosaturated fats, fiber and iron which is essential for creating adequate amounts of blood for you and your baby. The fats in avocados aid in building the skin, brain and tissues along with protecting from neural tube defects.
Like berries, dark green, leafy vegetables are rich in antioxidants. They boost the immune system, digestion and prevent constipation. Consumption of dark, green leafy vegetables have also been linked to the prevention of low birth weight. Another vegetable to add to your diet is sweet potato. The beta-carotene component of sweet potatoes transforms into vitamin A in the body, a key vitamin needed for the proper formation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, bones along with the circulatory and central nervous systems.
Whole grains are more than the oats and seeds you see on whole wheat bread. This food group includes corn, rice and barley among others. Grains are a great source of magnesium, iron and selenium. They also provide the B vitamins (B1, B2, niacin and folic acid) that growing fetuses need. One of the most notable benefits from whole grain consumption is fiber. Fiber is a pregnant women’s best friend as it prevents constipation and the development of hemorrhoids.
Dieticians recommend a daily intake of 28 grams during pregnancy. In order to reap the benefits of whole grains, make sure you read the label. Foods that have “refined” or “enriched” ingredients lack the same advantage of real whole grains.
A few options to add to your diet are:
Whole grain cereal, oatmeal, wheat bagel, whole wheat bread and brown rice. Quinoa, though often thought to be a grain is actually a protein derived from spinach and chard family. It can however be a gluten-free substitute for rice or oatmeal, as it is cooked in the same manner and carries the some of the same benefits as a whole grain.
Foods to Avoid
Just as there are foods that are beneficial for you during pregnancy, there are some that you should be precautioned about.
Excessive Fish and Shellfish
While fish and shellfish are listed as good sources of protein, not all fish are considered safe for pregnant women. The reason is because of methylmercury (mercury), which is a neurotoxin that can be toxic to the nervous system. Fish like swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish contain high levels of mercury and should be avoided. In addition to that, canned tuna is also high in mercury, but if you feel like you just have to have canned tuna, it is recommended that you opt for the light version.
Raw or undercooked foods
Foods like sushi, rare, medium rare steak or any other meat that is pink or bloody inside should be avoided. Consuming these foods increases your exposure to bacteria such as salmonella and toxoplasma parasites, both which can do great harm to your unborn child. Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by parasites can be hazardous, especially in the beginning stages of pregnancy. While it is a mild illness for you as the mother, you heighten the risk of miscarriage and even stillbirth.
Undercooked meat can expose you to salmonella, which leads to food poisoning. As an expectant mother, your immune system is slightly weakened in order for your body to house the baby. Because of this, you become susceptible to bacterial illnesses more than you were prior to your pregnancy. With this in mind, you must be proactive and ensure all meat is well-cooked before you eat it. A few ways to avoid salmonella contamination are:
- Keep all raw meat and cooked meat separate. Do not place cooked food on the same surface that was used for raw meat without washing with hot, soapy water.
- Wash your hands and utensils before and after handling raw meat.
- Cook all meats until there is no pink in the middle. Cut meat in the thickest part to make sure juices run clear and that the meat is well done.
- Use a meat thermometer and cook the meat according to the recommended temperature on the package.
Who doesn’t love a good sandwich? Places like Subway and Jimmy Johns are very popular and oftentimes considered as healthy fast food options; however, it doesn’t work like that for an expectant mom. Unpasteurized deli meat has been known to be contaminated with Listeria, a bacterium found in water and soil. While deli meats are the only foods that can carry Listeria, they are the most commonly associated with it.
As of recent, the American Pregnancy Association has become lenient on its prohibition of deli meat consumption during pregnancy. According to their website, the probability of being infected with Listeria has decreased as more deli’s are pasteurizing their meats. To err on the side of caution, you may want to consider reheating the meats until they are steaming.
Excessive Sugar and Caffeine
If you are a Starbucks lover or if you can’t function without your morning coffee, this one is bittersweet. While you don’t have to kick coffee to the curb all together, it is recommended that you cut down on your caffeine intake. How much so? Down to one 12-ounce serving per day. So, if you drink coffee and colas, you’ll have to make a choice of which one gets the boot.
Why the limitation? Well, caffeine is a stimulant as well as a diuretic and when you’re pregnant, the effects don’t fair well. It has the ability to raise your blood pressure, heart rate as well as cause the kidneys to produce more urine. Excessive caffeine intake has been linked to miscarriage, so it’s better to play it safe and only consume the recommended amount.
High sugar consumption is another concern. Most children born to mothers who consumed junk food throughout their pregnancy are predisposed to childhood obesity and juvenile Diabetes (Type 1). Sugar from natural sources like fruit are fine but try to decrease your consumption of processed sugars as much as you can.
Caffeine and sugar can be found in more than coffee and candy. Be mindful of your portions when you consume: Coffee flavored products, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and hot cocoa to name a few.
No alcoholic drink albeit wine, wine coolers, cocktails etc. have been proven safe for pregnant women. Alcohol passes directly into the mother’s bloodstream and can permanently damage the baby’s brain and spinal cord cells. It can also cause the child to have physical and/or mental issues for the rest of their life. Therefore, by all means, you should avoid alcohol during pregnancy and if you’re breastfeeding.
Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is easier than it may seem. Always consult with your physician before trying any new foods or diets to make sure it is safe for you and your baby.