What Pregnant Women REALLY Eat
American Baby and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, in Chicago, surveyed more than 2,300 women—and nearly all said they wanted to make healthy choices while expecting. But how quickly do good intentions turn greasy? See how your diet compares with these juicy confessions!
You Have a Love-Hate Relationship with Veggies
Doing right by your baby is high on your list: 70 percent of women told us they started eating healthier when they became pregnant. But only 37 percent often eat the five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables recommended. Sixty-three percent eat less than that, and among this group, 12 percent eat one serving a day or less. The reason? Many admit they never liked produce, or they developed an aversion to it while pregnant. "Just the smell of pineapple, grapes, and bananas is revolting to me," says Jessica Purdy, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Seven-months pregnant Sarah Prince, of Salt Lake City, agrees: "I try to eat healthy, but vegetables do not sound good to me right now. I may have a few servings of fruit a day, but only one and sometimes zero servings of veggies." Prince's attitude reflects our survey results: Moms-to-be did much better in general with fruit than they did with vegetables.
Nutrition fix Make a smoothie. It's the best way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet when you really don't care for them. "There's something about the combo of liquid and cold. Women tolerate smoothies better than, say, spinach omelets," says registered dietitian nutritionist Tamara Melton, R.D.N., of Atlanta, a spokesperson for the Academy. So sneak in those carrots and beets. Give yourself an incentive too. "If I want a cookie after lunch, I have to earn it by eating my fruit and vegetables," Melton adds.
You Cave to Candy, Chips and Ice Cream
A third of the women we surveyed admit that they indulge their appetite because they are "eating for two." And 36 percent say they give in to unhealthy cravings most days; 84 percent reach for ice cream, chips, chocolate, candy, and cookies. "I craved carbs—mashed potatoes, toast with butter and salt, rice with soy sauce, and Egg McMuffins, which I'd never eaten before in my life," says Erin Schurtz, of San Diego. "I felt so miserable that I just ate comfort foods, which made me feel more normal and less nauseous. I thought that's what pregnant women did."
Nutrition fix Eating for two is a myth. "You don't need extra calories during your first trimester—and only 350 to 450 more calories a day in your second and third trimesters," notes Melton. Top that mark and those calories are going to you, not your baby, says Sarah Krieger, R.D.N., of St. Petersburg, Florida, a spokesperson for the Academy. Schurtz learned that the hard way: She gained 25 pounds in the first four months—and 75 pounds overall. Avoid this scenario with a free app like MyFitnessPal. During your first tri, plug in your info as if you were trying to maintain your prepregnancy weight. Then give yourself an extra 400 or so calories a day for the second and third trimesters, suggests Melton. By tracking your meals, you'll realize when you're overindulging.
You're Taking Chances with Risky Foods
A staggering 8 in 10 women surveyed admit they've consumed something they know is off-limits. Forty-eight percent have eaten cold deli meats; 32 percent have had undercooked eggs, meat, or fish; 20 percent have had premade deli salads, like potato or chicken salad; and 7 percent have eaten unpasteurized cheese. All these foods may contain listeria, a bacteria that causes flu-like listeriosis, and in rare cases can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, or low birthweight. (E. coli and salmonella can also be found in these foods, but while they can make you sick, they rarely harm the baby.) Nearly a quarter of the moms in our poll who admit to eating food they shouldn't say they did so because they didn't think it would cause any harm—and 47 percent believe "a little" can't hurt. Also, an alarming 36 percent say
a medical professional told them it was OK. Not so. "You're actually 13 times more likely to contract listeriosis when pregnant because of your compromised immune
system," says Jennifer McDaniel, R.D.N., of Clayton, Missouri, a spokesperson for the Academy.
Nutrition fix Don't eat those things! If you're craving a deli sandwich, the only safe option is to heat the meat until steaming (160 degrees), which will kill any bacteria. Cook your eggs, fish, and other meats all the way through. Avoid all types of sushi; uncooked fish can harbor parasites, and the cooked or veggie varieties are super susceptible to cross contamination with the raw stuff during preparation. Premade egg or potato salads are also iffy because you don't know how they were prepared or how fresh they are.
You're Confused About Fish
According to the Food and Drug Administration, pregnant women should consume 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of low-mercury fish a week. Yet 89 percent of the women we surveyed eat fish only once a week or less—and more than a quarter of this group never eats fish. This was unequivocally the most confusing topic for the women
in our poll. Twenty percent admit they don't know which fish to avoid and which are good for them. And many believe seafood that is actually beneficial—like salmon,
shrimp, trout, and scallops—are no-nos. "I couldn't keep straight which ones are high in mercury or remember how many servings I could have a week. I had to look it up on my phone every time I went to buy fish, which, to be honest, wasn't very often," says Dalia Strum, of White Plains, New York. The result of this confusion is that
many moms-to-be just avoid the fish counter altogether, which means their babies are missing out on the brain-boosting healthy omega-3 fats that seafood provides.
Nutrition fix If you're uncertain, remember smaller swimmers are healthier. Big fish, like ahi tuna, king mackerel, or swordfish, dine on smaller fish and live longer,
so they accumulate higher, more concentrated levels of mercury, notes Krieger. In canned tuna, opt for the "chunk light" variety. (Just remember: Light is all right!) As for
those of you who just won't go there, no matter what? Melton recommends eating omega-3 rich eggs (the carton's label will say if they are fortified), or foods like
walnuts and avocado, which are high in the essential fatty acid as well. You can also talk to your care provider about taking a supplement.
The Bottom Line
Make smart eating decisions as often as you can. "Indulge in a treat now and then, but have something nutritious like fruit with it," says Krieger. You'll be glad you did when your gorgeous, healthy baby finally arrives.