Your Pre-Conception Diet Makeover

What you eat while trying to conceive is as important now as it will be when you're pregnant. Here's what you should -- and shouldn't -- be eating (and drinking) to make sure your pregnancy is in the pink. (Or blue!)

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Load Up On Leafy Greens

Greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are great sources of folate, a key B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida, during the earliest stages of fetal development. But this doesn't mean you have to eat salads every day. There are plenty of other ways to prepare greens. Tear pieces of kale, sprinkle them with olive oil and kosher salt, and roast on high for crunchy kale crisps. Or toss baby spinach with hot whole wheat pasta or brown rice.

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Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Drink Milk

It's high in calcium, which is crucial for the developing skeleton of the fetus. Because it takes a while to raise calcium levels in the body, you should be getting your share of calcium now. If you're lactose-intolerant or not a fan of dairy, keep in mind that loads of non-dairy foods are rich in calcium too, says Paola Mora, Registered Counseling Dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Fish (with bones), tofu, legumes, kale, broccoli, and fortified foods are abundant in the mineral.

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Peter Krumhardt

Abstain from Alcohol

Multiple federal and local health agencies and organizations, including the March of Dimes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Surgeon General, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists warn women against drinking any alcohol when planning to become pregnant. Why? The very beginning stages of pregnancy are some of the most crucial in fetal development. Your baby's nervous system -- the complex network that communicates messages back and forth between the brain and various parts of the body -- is forming even before you miss your first period. Because alcohol is the leading known preventable cause of mental and physical birth defects in the United States, it's best to abstain when you're trying to conceive.

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Jason Donnelly

Reach for Raspberries

Raspberries (as well as blueberries and strawberries) are more than a tasty treat. They're jam-packed with phytonutrients -- plant compounds that help fight disease. They also contain lots of vitamin C, which is necessary for proper collagen formation, a key to strengthening your membranes. One study found that women with a diet low in vitamin C were at increased risk of pre-term delivery. So grab a bunch of berries and layer them with yogurt and high-fiber cereal for a morning fruit parfait.

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Snack on Yogurt

It contains probiotics, good bacteria that help to boost your immune system. This is particularly important in pregnancy because your body naturally suppresses the immune system to protect the baby (treated as invading tissue by your body). Look for "live active cultures" on the label to ensure that your yogurt has probiotics. If eating yogurt by the spoonfuls isn't your taste, strain it and use it as a base for dips instead of sour cream.

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Say "No" to Non-pasteurized Milk or Cheese

Soft cheeses like Brie, feta, and blue cheese may cause an infection (listeria) that pregnant women are particularly susceptible to. Listeria can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or other serious health problems. Hot dogs and luncheon meats can also cause listeria, so stay away from the deli counter.

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Gordon Beall

Go Out for Oysters

Oysters contain high levels of zinc, a nutrient that is vital for sexual growth and maturation in both men and women. Studies show that deficiencies in zinc can hamper male and female fertility, impede growth and development, and delay sexual maturation. Maintaining the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of zinc (11 mg a day for men, 8mg a day for women) can help keep your reproductive system in check. (But if you think the aphrodisiac power of oysters will aid your babymaking, we're sorry to say the theory has never been proven.)

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Peter Ardito

Stay Away from Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, and Tilefish

Of all fish, these have the highest concentration of mercury, which can be harmful to your unborn baby. The United States Environmental Protection Agency warns women who are trying to conceive against eating these fish. That said, other fish can safely provide brain-building omega-3 fatty acids. Feel free to eat two 6-ounce servings of low-mercury fish such as wild salmon, chunk light tuna (in water), and tilapia. And always make sure to cook fresh fish thoroughly to help reduce the risk of bacterial exposure.

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Romulo Yanes

Go Ahead -- Eat (Lean) Red Meat

About six million women of reproductive age are iron-deficient, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and that can be dangerous in early pregnancy. Iron-deficiency anemia during the first two trimesters of pregnancy doubles the risk for preterm delivery and triples the risk for delivering a low-birth weight baby. It can also lead to an increased risk of blood loss during delivery and, as a result, may warrant the need for a blood transfusion following childbirth, says Mora. Try grass-fed beef or leaner varieties like buffalo. Even better, combine meat with tomato sauce, which contains vitamin C, to boost iron absorption. Spaghetti and meatballs, anyone?

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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