Your Pregnancy Diet: What to Eat for Optimal Nutrition and Healthy Weight Gain
Congratulations! You’re pregnant! Whether you’ve been planning this moment for years or just suddenly find yourself unexpectedly “expecting”, your body has embarked on a wonderful journey full of many changes. From head to toe, it seems no part of your body escapes the effects of this life-altering event. One of the most important questions you should ask yourself is, “Am I eating right, now that I’m eating for two?” There are many dos and don’ts for the expecting mother’s diet, and the following guidelines will help you navigate some of the most commonly asked questions.
How much more do I need to eat? The answer to this question is, truly, not much more – at least not in terms of calories. During the first trimester, your calorie requirements are the same as pre-pregnancy. From about 13 weeks onward, your calorie requirements are about 300 calories above your normal intake. What is very important is the quality of these calories. You need to jam-pack as many nutrients as possible into your diet – and this means that you may actually have to reduce the amount of junk food and empty calories you consume in exchange for healthier, more nutritious choices. You’ll want to include servings of vitamin C rich foods, green leafy vegetables, yellow-orange vegetables, protein, whole grains and calcium every day. In addition, you should take a prenatal vitamin as extra insurance, should you miss out on any vital components of your healthy diet. Healthy eating should lead to more regular weight gain and better health overall, meaning it’s a great way to keep you (and your skin) glowing, prevent fatigue, and give your body the appropriate nutritional support for the hard work of creating a healthy baby.
Do I really need folic acid? Yes, you do, and its best to begin supplementing before you try to get pregnant. If you didn’t supplement pre-pregnancy, start getting a minimum of 400 mcg a day the moment you know you’re expecting (many doctors recommend 600 – 800 mcg a day.) Pregnant women require more folic acid than other women, so a choose a multivitamin formulated specifically for pregnant women to ensure you get enough. Getting the recommended amount of folic acid helps prevent spinal cord defects, and since the spinal cord forms and fuses in the first four weeks of pregnancy, it is never too soon to start getting the RDA of folic acid. Dietary sources of folic acid include oranges and orange juice, leafy green vegetables and enriched cereals, grains and pastas.
How much should I gain? The general rule is that women of average and healthy weight should gain between 25- 35 pounds. This translates to about 5 pounds in the first trimester, and approximately a pound a week thereafter. Overweight women should generally gain about 15 pounds, and women carrying twins generally gain between 35 – 45 pounds. Of course, these are just general rules. Your physician will monitor your weight gain at every visit, and offer suggestions to manage your diet if you’re gaining too quickly, or not enough.
Never diet to lose weight during pregnancy! If you gain too much early on, simply look at how you’ve been eating and modify your diet to gain more moderately from that point forward. Remember, the growing fetus inside you needs a fresh supply of calories and nutrients every day to aid in weight gain and development.
What should I eat? Years ago, when weight gain was limited to 15 to 20 pounds, women were told to eat a high protein, high calcium diet with plenty of fiber and whole grains. The same holds true today, although we have since determined that a healthy weight gain for a normal weight woman should be slightly higher (25 – 35 pounds.)
You need plenty of complex carbohydrates every day as a rich source of B vitamins, fiber, and trace minerals such as zinc, selenium, chromium and magnesium and more. Dietitians encourage you to strongly emphasize whole grains and the breads, cereals, pastas and more that are made from them, while avoiding sugary foods, full of empty calories. This means choosing whole wheat bread, oatmeal, buckwheat pancakes, whole grain cereals and the like over white bread, cookies made with sugar and white flour, commercial muffins and similar foods. Sprinkle wheat germ on foods as well – one quarter cup of wheat germ contains 15% of the RDA for protein, vitamin E and iron; 30% for thiamine; 10 % for riboflavin and B6; 20% for folic acid and magnesium, 35% for phosphorous and 30% for zinc. Whole grains simply pack more nutritional punch than even enriched refined grains, so read labels carefully. As an added bonus, many women find these whole grains help calm a queasy stomach during the first trimester, and are a quick fix for low blood sugar which can occur at any time during pregnancy, and lead to lightheaded, dizzy feeling if you go too long between meals. (Always report all of your symptoms, included dizziness, to your doctor.)
You need more protein, and should aim to include two or three servings of protein in your diet every day, of about three ounces each. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs and poultry. Higher fat sources of protein, for those having trouble gaining enough weight, include peanut butter. Choose lean sources if you’re gaining too rapidly. If you’re a vegetarian, work hard to include complete vegetable protein combinations in your diet using portions of legumes and grains together, or dairy protein by combining dairy and either legume or grain servings.
You need about 900 milligrams every day, and 1200 milligrams during the third trimester. Get your calcium from skim milk and cheeses, and remember hard cheeses have more calcium per ounce than softer cheeses. Eat non-fat yogurt, and you’ll be getting protein as well. Snacks such as almonds, baked good made with soy flour and dried apricots and figs also contain calcium.
GREEN LEAFY AND YELLOW VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
These vegetables are excellent sources of fiber and vitamin A (you need 5,000 international units of vitamin A a day while pregnant and 6,000 when nursing.) They also offer many trace vitamins, minerals and metals. Again, you can choose double duty foods – like cantaloupe, broccoli, peppers and tomatoes (including tomato juice, sauce and paste) which also provide vitamin C. Try to eat three servings a day.
You need iron-rich foods because your body is working hard to create the extra blood supply you need to support you and your growing baby. Your pregnancy supplement should include about 30 – 60 mg of iron. You don’t want to oversupplement if you don’t need to, because iron supplements can cause diarrhea or constipation in some women. Try to include a iron-rich foods such as these in your diet every day, but do take your supplement as well: beef, chickpeas and other dried beans and peas, raisins and other dried fruits, spinach, pumpkin seeds and soy products.
VITAMIN C FOODS
Have two servings of vitamin C-rich foods every day, for about 100 milligrams. Try to eat fruits and vegetables raw, whenever possible, as cooking reduces their vitamin content. Examples of tasty vitamin C sources include berries of all kind, oranges, tangerines, cantaloupe, grapefruit, mango, papaya, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, peppers and spinach.
Start a Pregnancy Journal. A great way to stay on track! One way to help you remember your nutritional goals is to make notes about what you need to eat every day and keep a food journal throughout your pregnancy, to monitor how effectively you are incorporating all the components of a healthy diet. Especially in the early days, this journal will help you become aware of what you eat and support you in forming good dietary habits, which will serve you well throughout your pregnancy and beyond. If you fall short of your requirements for a few days due to illness or lack of planning, simply begin being more fastidious again as soon as you are able, without agonizing too much over your lapse. Also, use the journal to keep track of your weight gain, so you can modify your diet if you’re gaining too quickly or not enough. In fact, a pregnancy journal is an excellent way to track much more than your nutritional progress: you can record all the exciting emotions and milestones on the journey to motherhood. Make notes on everything from what you want to buy for the baby’s room to notes from doctor’s appointments, and a list of questions you want to ask at your next visit. (And don’t forget to document the delivery, too – time can fade even the most vivid memories, and you’ll certainly want a detailed account of that landmark occasion to keep forever!) Your journal will become a cherished keepsake of this special time, as well as an excellent way to help you stay organized and on track with your nutritional goals!
The information contained in or made available through This Site cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any treatment, drug, food or supplement. You should regularly consult a doctor in all matters relating to physical or mental health, particularly concerning any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.