Nutrition During Pregnancy
It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy means weight gain. Most of this weight gain is due to the weight of the baby, placenta, amniotic fluid, and other similar things, not due to fat gain on the mother’s part. In fact, during the first trimester, the mother should not eat any more than usual. During the second and third trimesters, she should only eat about 300 extra calories daily, which is about equivalent to a large slice of bread with butter. Calories aren’t the only part of the equation, though. Nutrition is actually more important to your baby. Here are some ways to make sure you and your baby get the proper nutrients.
1. Eat healthy fats.
Only some fats are bad for you. The fat in the donut you ate for breakfast, and the fat in the avocado you ate for lunch do very different things to your body. As much as you can, pick healthy fats; the avocado’s monounsaturated fats are a lot better than the saturated or trans fats found in a donut or pastry—and it has vitamins C and K, as well. Healthy fats are an important part of your diet even if you’re not pregnant. After you give birth, the healthy fats you ate during pregnancy, which were stored in your body, will then be used to produce breast milk for your baby. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are considered the healthy fats, and saturated fats and trans fats are considered unhealthy.
2. Choose nutrient-dense foods.
A nutrient-dense food is a food that contains a lot of nutrients in proportion to how many calories in contains. Yogurt is a good example of this, as it contains calcium, potassion, protein, and probiotics, yet is usually under 200 calories per serving. Other great picks are berries like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries. These are rich in vitamin C and fiber, but they’re also packed with antioxidants, which help fight inflammation. Mushrooms are another great nutrient-dense food. They contain selenium and copper, which are both minerals your body needs. If you’re a vegetarian, eating mushrooms is especially important, because mushrooms are the only vegetarian food that contains vitamin D.
3. Eat a variety of colors.
An effective way to ensure you’re getting a wide variety of nutrients is to eat fruits and vegetables in as many different colors as possible. Try dark green kale, ruby red strawberries, and orange squash. Swinney encourages pregnant women to aim for three cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit each day. In fact, fruits and veggies should fill half your plate at every meal, according to new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). (Want more info? The USDA offers a customized eating plan for moms-to-be that corresponds to your stage of pregnancy.) And while it’s often true that the deeper the color, the more nutritious the veggie, that’s not always the case. Vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage are full of nutrients. So are white potatoes, which often get a bad rap. A medium potato has only 110 calories and provides more than a third of the daily vitamin C needed during pregnancy, plus 2 grams of fiber. (Sweet potatoes are extremely rich in beta carotene but boast less vitamin C.) All the more reason to bake one up, add toppings, and call it lunch or dinner. The dietary danger lurks in the serving size and the preparation: it’s news to no one that French fries – whether they’re made from sweet or white potatoes – are high in fat and salt—not too mention temptingly easy to overindulge in. Nutty brown also counts; try whole wheat breads or pasta to maximize your nutrients. Oatmeal and brown rice are good whole grains, but you’re probably already familiar with those, in which case you might like to try grains like millet, quinoa, and bulgur.
4. Some foods provide more nutrients when eaten together.
There are some food combinations that are meant to be together! No, we’re not talking about peanut butter and jelly (though that can be a tasty, healthy snack), but rather about foods that enhance each other’s nutritional benefits. For example, foods rich in vitamin C – like citrus fruit, melon, berries, broccoli, cabbage, and tomatoes – help your body absorb the iron from beans, grains, and eggs. So spoon salsa on your scrambled eggs or black bean tacos, or serve them with a side of melon or steamed broccoli. Or try pairing a prebiotic food with a probiotic food to boost the effects of both. Prebiotics (such as bananas, artichokes, asparagus, onions, and whole grains) encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut, while probiotics like yogurt, kefir, aged cheese, sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh contain gut-healthy bacteria already—so one supports the other. A few dishes that combine these two food types include: asparagus and miso soup, yogurt with chopped banana, and artichoke hearts with a tangy Greek yogurt-based sauce drizzled on top.
5. Cook your own meals as often as possible.
When you cook from scratch, you have full control over the foods and ingredients you use. If you’re mindful of what you eat, this means cooking at home will give you a healthier meal, and for less money. For example, many store-bought salad dressings use less expensive – and less healthy – oils than those you’d use at home. One idea: Make your own olive oil-based salad dressing to pour over a spinach or kale salad, then add avocado. Olive oil and avocado help your body absorb more lutein, which is important for eye and brain health, and beta-carotene, important for the immune system. Many people are intimidated by cooking fish, but it can be a snap. Cover a slab of salmon with some pesto sauce or olive oil, salt, and pepper, and cook in the microwave for about 3 to 5 minutes or the oven for 12 to 15 minutes at 450 degrees. Salmon has omega-3 fats that help build your baby’s brain and eyes.
You can also make sweets like quick breads or cookies at home using healthier fats (canola oil or mashed avocado) and less sugar. (You can usually cut the sugar in a recipe by a third without noticing.) Try replacing some of the oil with high-fiber foods like black beans or prunes. Adding nuts or dried druit to your favorite recipes is a tasty way to add extra nutrition.
6. Be smart about your beverage choices.
Staying well-hydrated is crucial when you’re pregnant. Even though any beverage will hydrate you, that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. Steer clear of soda, sweet tea, and sugary fruit drinks and juices – they’re full of empty calories. Water, milk, or vegetable juice are better choices. Drinking 100% juice (without added sweeteners) can be a great way to get one serving of fruit. Juice has a lot of natural sugars and calories, though, so limit your intake to one cup a day. Pick juices with powerful nutrients. Cranberry juice may help prevent urinary tract infections; apple juice contains phytochemicals linked to improved respiratory health; and orange juice is rich in vitamin C, potassium, and folic acid, which are important for your baby’s development. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try adding a splash of lemon or lime juice, or infusing your water with fruits like cucumber and strawberry.
7. Don’t forget about eggs!
Eggs are very cheap, yet very versatile. They’re also packed with nutrients. A large egg is roughly 80 calories, over half of which comes from the yolk. Speaking of which, if you’ve been an egg-white omelet aficionada until now, pregnancy is a time to rethink that. Both the egg yolk and the white contain healthy lean protein. And yolks are packed with vitamins such as choline, which is important for your baby’s developing brain – and may help your memory, too. One great way to add those 300 extra calories per day when you’re pregnant is to snack on hard-boiled eggs. Although eggs do contain cholesterol, eating a normal amount of eggs per day shouldn’t harm you. They’re super nutritious!
8. Beans are your best friend.
Beans are super cheap, super good for you, and there are so many dishes you can make with them. To make a big pot, soak dried beans overnight in water; drain the next day; add water to cover; and toss in garlic, onion, and spices; then cook until tender. Add them to a salad, combine them with rice, or team with a portion of meat for a well-balanced meal. Beans offer a variety of nutrients including carbs, fiber, protein, and iron. Plus, they’re filling and delicious! Peas and lentils are also very similar to beans in terms of satiety and nutritional content.
9. You don’t have to give up sweets.
Just choose the right ones! A serving of dark chocolate per day is great for you. It contains antioxidants that can help you keep a healthy blood pressure level. One to two tablespoons of cocoa, or a half-ounce of dark chocolate, is enough to give you the benefits. (That’s about what you’d get in a cup of hot cocoa, three dark Hershey Kisses, or one and a half Dove Promises.) Another healthy splurge: dark chocolate-covered almonds. Just 11 contain 25 percent of your vitamin E for the day. Or go for frozen yogurt or low-fat ice cream, which contains protein and calcium. Make it even better for you by adding sliced banana and almonds.
10. Eat smaller meals, but more frequently.
Rather than eating two or three large meals per day, it’s a better idea during pregnancy to have four or five small meals, or three small meals with snacks in between. This will reduce heartburn and morning sickness. And healthy snacking provides a steady stream of nutrients to your developing baby. But don’t let regular snacking morph into all-day eating. Brush up onhow much extra you need to be eating, which may be a lot less than you think. Again, you only need an extra 300 calories per day. It’s best to get these calories through a healthy source. For example, instead of an ice cream bar after dinner, opt for cheese and crackers, or an apple with peanut butter. This way, you can fill yourself up, satisfy cravings and get nutrients all at the same time.