Guest Post by Laurel Kimball, RDN, LDN
You’re pregnant, and like they say, you’re now eating for two! However, eating for two doesn’t mean chowing down double portions of everything, but rather, making the decision to eat a more nutritious diet for the health of you and your developing baby. Here are the basics to proving the best start of life for your little one.
Balancing Your Diet
Vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy—proper nutrition during pregnancy requires nothing new. Eating a variety of these foods, plus taking a prenatal vitamin, is essential for getting all the nutrients you and baby need.
Plant foods (vegetables, fruits, and grains—especially whole grains) should be the star of every meal and snack. They provide minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients that are important during pregnancy. These foods provide your body with energy, and are also rich in fiber which will help you maintain healthy digestion throughout the pregnancy.
Consuming enough protein during the entire pregnancy is also very important. You are building a baby after all, and the building blocks of body cells are made mostly of protein. Poultry, meats, eggs, beans, seeds, nuts, milk, yogurt and cheese are all good protein sources, and also provide numerous other nutrients vital for you and baby. Lean fish is also a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to brain development of the baby, but should be limited to 8 to 12 ounces per week of pregnancy.
Nutrients of Concern
Folic acid: Also known as folate, this B vitamin helps prevent major birth defects of the baby’s spine and brain called neural tube defects. The current recommendation is 600 micrograms of folic acid per day. Grain products are often fortified with folic acid. Other good sources includes vegetables and fruits, beef liver, peas, beans, nuts, and eggs.
Iron: Used by the body to make a substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your organs and tissues. Extra iron (27 micrograms, about double the amount recommended for non-pregnant women) is needed in pregnancy to help your body make more blood to supply oxygen to your baby. Iron rich foods include red meat, poultry, fish, iron fortified cereal, and are better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C-rich foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes.
Calcium: Used in pregnancy to build baby’s bones and teeth. All women should consume 1000-1300 micrograms calcium daily. The best sources of calcium are milk and other dairy products like yogurt and cheese, but is also found in broccoli, dark leafy greens, and sardines.
Vitamin D: Calcium’s needed side kick in building baby’s bones and teeth, also essential for healthy skin development and eyesight. Vitamin D is also plays an important role in immune function. Recommended values are still debated, but studies have found levels up to 4000 IU to be safe and beneficial. Food sources are few, including egg yolk, salmon, cod liver oil, and fortified foods like milk and orange juice. Daily sun exposure and supplementation are the best ways to ensure adequate vitamin D intake.
The recommended intakes for each of these nutrients may be hard to reach by eating a well-balanced diet alone, making it important to include a vitamin supplement, such as a prenatal vitamin, as part of your daily intake. Make sure to check that your supplement includes each of these nutrients by reading the label, especially the gummy versions, which often lack iron or fall short of the recommended values.
Diet and Pregnancy Symptoms
Though eating a well-balanced diet full of variety and flavors is ideal, it may be hard to achieve when dealing with common symptoms that come with pregnancy. Here are some common symptoms and diet-related coping strategies that may relieve or keep them at bay.
Heartburn: Figure out foods that are triggering the heartburn and indigestion and minimize or avoid them. Common trigger foods include chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods, and citrus. Avoid lying down for a few hours after eating. Antacids, like Tums, may help relieve heartburn and are safe to consume during pregnancy.
Nausea: Eat small, frequent meals; try not to let your stomach become empty. Drink plenty of water in order to stay well hydrated. Sometimes sipping ginger ale or eating a few salty crackers may help an upset stomach. Take advantage of when you are feeling well and hungry by eating a nutritious meal.
Constipation: Drink more liquids and consume more high fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits). Keep up on daily, low-impact physical activity.
Edema (swelling): It is normal for the body to retain more water during pregnancy. Do not restrict sodium (salt) from your diet. Sodium is critical for the development of immune cells in the brain, and development of the nervous, respiratory, and cardiovascular system of the baby. It also plays a part in ensuring adequate birth weight and metabolic function.
It’s up to you!
What you choose to eat during your pregnancy will have life-long lasting effects on the health of your little one. Choosing to eat healthier doesn’t need to be complicated or hard. Keep it simple. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every single day. Choose whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, and rice. Remember the importance of getting enough protein to support your body in making the baby. Stay hydrated. Add in some exercise, remember to take that prenatal vitamin, and you’re set for giving your baby a healthy head start in life.