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Eating for Two: Healthy Pregnancy Nutrition Tips

How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: What "Eating for Two" Really Means
How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: What "Eating for Two" Really Means

Are you a serial breakfast skipper? Been known to nosh chips for lunch? Now is the perfect time to redeem yourself: When you're pregnant, whipping less-than-stellar eating habits into shape should be one of your first goals. After all, the foods and drinks you take in every day directly impact your growing baby, says Elizabeth M. Ward, R.D., author of Pregnancy Nutrition: Good Health for You and Your Baby (John Wiley). And developing sound eating patterns now can mean a healthier child-not to mention a healthier you-for years to come. In other words, pregnancy is not the ice-cream-free-for-all it's often depicted as being. Sure, you need extra food when you're pregnant-and, oh, yes, you'll most likely experience cravings-but eating a balanced diet now is more important than ever.

So what can you expect? Some days you'll feel ravenous-and on others, you may not want to nibble anything but saltines. And, of course, you can expect to gain weight. If you started your pregnancy at a healthy weight, your goal gain will be roughly 25-35 pounds. Underweight women should gain 28-40 pounds, and overweight women only 15-25. If you're carrying twins, you'll obviously gain more: about 35-45 pounds total.

Though weight gain is absolutely necessary right now, it is possible to gain too much. But forget about drastically slashing calories or following strict diets during pregnancy. Instead, focus on making small, healthy changes, such as switching to non-fat milk; replacing fatty, high-sugar snacks and desserts for lower-fat options or fruit; and choosing lean cuts of meat. Here are more ways to maximize nutrition during your pregnancy.

The top eat-right strategy while you're pregnant: Consume a variety of foods to make sure your baby gets the widest array of nutrients possible. Here's a refresher course on the basics you need-and lots of yummy ways to get them.

Protein

Your body requires 10 extra grams of protein a day to support the growing fetus-but extra protein is not included in your prenatal vitamin, so you'll need to get it from food.

Where to find Protein: Beef, soy, dairy products, chicken, fish, pork, eggs, dried beans and lentils, and peanut butter.

Folate

It may help to prevent neural-tube defects that occur early in pregnancy. It's recommended that women get 400 micrograms (mcg) a day before conceiving-but it's still a vital mineral through your first trimester, when daily needs jump to 600 mcg.

Where to find Folate: Orange juice, spinach, fortified breakfast cereal (check labels), lentils, fortified pasta and bread, rice, oatmeal, broccoli,and strawberries.

Calcium

Your baby gets the calcium necessary for healthy bones and teeth from your bones, so be sure to fit it in (your prenatal vitamin doesn't contain the amount you need every day). Keeping your bones strong now also means less risk for osteoporosis later.

Where to find Calcium: Milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, fortified soy milk, broccoli, almonds, and okra.

Fiber

It helps ward off the constipation and hemorrhoids that often plague women during pregnancy. Fiber-rich foods will also keep you feeling full and satisfied.

Where to find Fiber: Whole-grain cereals, breads, pastas (look for types that pack at least 3 grams per serving), nuts, seeds, fruits (such as apples and pears with skin, berries, oranges), vegetables (such as potatoes with skin, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes).

Fat

Fat is necessary for the proper development of your baby's brain and central nervous system. Fat is also a source of energy, and it helps transport vitamins through your body.

Where to find Fat: Healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, avocados, salmon, olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil.

Surprise! You only need an additional 300 calories per day during pregnancy (500 if you're carrying twins) to support your baby. For most women, this will add up to roughly 2,500 calories, depending on starting weight (but keep in mind that you shouldn't obsess over counting calories right now). What does 300 calories look like in the real world? Here are some nutrient-packed snacks and mini-meals to choose from, compliments of Roxanne Moore, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association:

  • 6 whole-grain crackers, 2 ounces low-fat cheese, a small apple, and a cup of 1 percent milk
  • a container of low-fat yogurt, a medium banana, and 1/4 cup bran cereal
  • a sandwich made with 3 ounces turkey breast meat, on 2 slices of whole-grain bread, and 15 grapes
  • 2 cups unsweetened cereal, a cup of 1 percent milk, and a cup of berries
  • a small bagel with 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup canned tuna mixed with 1 teaspoon mayonnaise, spread on either 2 slices whole-grain bread or 12 whole-grain crackers, and a medium orange

Food borne illnesses are particularly dangerous during pregnancy, so you should avoid foods that may be contaminated with bacteria and other germs. And what about things like coffee, tuna fish, or an occasional glass of wine? You've most likely heard lots of rumors, now here's the bottom line from experts.

Steer Clear of

  • Raw or undercooked meats and seafood, including sushi
  • Deli meats and cured meats, such as Virginia ham
  • Pates and soft cheeses, such as Brie, feta, and goat cheese
  • Shark, swordfish, tuna steak, tilefish, and king mackerel
  • Hot dogs, sausages, and other processed meats that contain nitrates
  • Unpasteurized milk and juices
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, and mackerel (canned salmon and tuna, as well as seafood cooked in a casserole, are safe)
  • Alcoholic beverages

Okay in Moderation

  • Caffeine (don't consume more than 300 milligrams per day, or the amount in 3 small cups of coffee or 6 cans of soda)
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Decaffeinated coffee and tea (they can interfere with iron absorption)
  • Herbal tea (but check with your doctor before taking herbal medications)

We know, we know, all those trips to the bathroom are driving you crazy-but you shouldn't slack off on your fluid intake because of it. Staying hydrated is more important than ever now, due to your body's increased volume of blood. Plus, fluids can help you fight the fatigue and constipation that many pregnant women experience. You should still be sure to gulp down 8 glasses a day, but take heart: All non-caffeinated beverages count toward your goal. Broth-based low-sodium soups and water-rich fruits and veggies can also help keep you hydrated.

Do

  • Try new fruits and veggies each week to maximize your intake of vitamins (brightly colored types pack the most nutrition).
  • Skip empty-calorie snacks in favor of nutrient-packed mini-meals.
  • Give in to cravings now and again, as long as you aim for healthy fare the rest of the day.
  • Take prenatal vitamins, preferably at night when iron is best absorbed.
  • Follow sound food-safety practices: Wash produce well, cook meats thoroughly, and throw away any questionable leftovers.

Don't

  • Follow fad diets to slow or limit weight gain.
  • Give yourself permission to constantly overeat.
  • Consume alcohol.
  • Take any extra supplements or vitamins without consulting your doctor.
  • Eat excessively salty foods; they can cause water retention and block calcium absorption.

Pregnancy may make your cheeks glow, but thanks to the growing fetus's pressure on your organs, it can certainly do a number on your digestive system. But by tweaking your diet and following a few simple tips, you can help ease unpleasant symptoms, says Jeff Hempl, Ph.D., R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Here are some to try.

Nausea

  • Opt for cold dishes, which give off fewer aromas, over warm ones.
  • Keep dry, bland foods, such as crackers and popcorn, at your bedside to quell a.m. queasies.
  • Munch on small snacks throughout the day: A little something in your stomach can stave off nausea.

Constipation

  • Fit in plenty of high-fiber foods every day.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of fluids per day.
  • Ask your doctor whether splitting your iron supplement in 2 doses is an option for you (iron is a possible cause of constipation).

Heartburn

  • Eat small, frequent meals (6 small meals instead of 3, for example).
  • Save beverages for after meals.
  • Avoid reclining or lying down within an hour of eating.

Originally published in the May 2002 issue of Parents magazine.

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