You knew folate was important before conception and during your first few weeks of pregnancy, but your needs for the B vitamin stay high the whole nine months. Experts advise getting 400 micrograms per day through vitamin supplements or fortified foods (breakfast cereal is an easy way to do it, since many brands contain 400 micrograms per bowl), and another 200 micrograms through foods that are naturally high in folate, such as asparagus and black-eyed peas.
All women need 10 extra grams of protein a day during pregnancy (for a total of at least 60 grams); beans and lentils are an excellent source, with about 15 grams per cup. They're also high in fiber, which helps to combat constipation. And 1 cup of cooked lentils meets half of your daily folate requirement. "Add them to rice dishes and salads," suggests Lola O'Rourke, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
It's not only packed with nutrients that are necessary for a healthy pregnancy -- such as calcium and folate -- but broccoli is also rich in fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants. And since it contains plenty of vitamin C, this popular green vegetable will help your body absorb iron when it's eaten with an iron-rich food, such as whole wheat pasta or brown rice.
Your body absorbs roughly twice as much calcium from foods while you're pregnant, so your daily needs remain the same. But since most of us get too little calcium to begin with, drinking more nonfat milk is a smart move. Each 8-ounce glass supplies about 30 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of 1,000 milligrams.
Bananas are rich in potassium and offer quick energy to fight off pregnancy fatigue. "They're also easy on your stomach if you're nauseated," says O'Rourke. Slice them up into cereal or whip one into a breakfast smoothie with yogurt, berries, ice, and a splash of orange juice.
Healthy eating is especially important during pregnancy. Here's what to eat when pregnant.
Your daily iron needs double during pregnancy, so it's important to include plenty of iron-rich foods now. "If you don't have good iron stores, you're more likely to feel tired," warns Jo Ann Hattner, RD, a dietitian in Palo Alto, California. Meat delivers a form of iron that's easily absorbed by your body.
Soft cheeses are off-limits, but varieties such as cheddar and mozzarella can be a big help in meeting your calcium requirements -- each ounce contains between 150 and 200 milligrams. Cheese is also high in protein.
Many women develop aversions to meat while pregnant. Eggs are an excellent alternative protein source, since they contain all the essential amino acids your body needs, says Hattner. There's nothing better for a quick dinner than an omelet with lots of chopped vegetables and a bit of cheese. If cooking aromas make you feel sick, hard-boil a batch of eggs to keep on hand in the refrigerator: Eat them whole for grab-and-go breakfasts and snacks, or chop them up into green salads.
It's easy to get your day off to an energizing start by trading in your usual morning bagel or muffin for a bowl of oatmeal a few times a week. Why? Complex carbohydrates like oatmeal keep you satisfied longer, and the oat bran it contains can help lower your cholesterol levels. Instead of buying high-sugar flavored oatmeal, cook up the plain kind and swirl in a teaspoon or two of maple syrup or jelly.
Cooked spinach has high levels of folate and iron, and kale and turnip greens are both good calcium sources. Increase the nutrient value of your salads by passing up traditional iceberg in favor of darker-colored lettuces (the deep colors signal higher vitamin content). You can also add greens to a sandwich or stir them into soups and pasta dishes.
By swapping your traditional white bread for a whole-grain variety, you can make sure you're consuming the recommended 20 to 35 daily grams of fiber (scan labels to find a loaf that offers at least 2 grams of fiber per slice). Whole-grain bread also supplies you with a good share of your iron and zinc.
They're packed with vitamin C, folate, and fiber, and since they're nearly 90 percent water, they'll also help you meet your daily fluid needs (skimping on your fluid intake can leave you feeling fatigued).
Fat is critical for your baby's brain development and it also helps keep you fuller longer. Experts recommend replacing some saturated fats (such as those found in meat and butter) with unsaturated, a form of heart-healthy fat found in nuts. But because they are high in fat and calories, stick to 1-ounce servings of nuts and 2-tablespoon servings of nut butters. There is one caveat, however. If you have any sort of allergy, experts recommend that you avoid highly allergenic foods, such as peanuts, during your pregnancy; some data suggests that babies can be sensitized to certain foods in utero, raising their risk of food allergies later on in childhood.
It's perfectly safe to follow your vegetarian eating plan while you're pregnant -- as long as you're diligent about getting necessary nutrients such as protein (your doctor or a dietitian can help you devise a healthy plan). So be sure to include foods like tofu, which packs 10 grams of protein per half cup.
It's a tasty, portable snack that's especially helpful when you're craving something sweet. Choose dried fruits such as apricots, cherries, and cranberries (which can also help to prevent urinary tract infections), but stay away from dried bananas, since they're processed in oil and loaded with fat.