Pregnancy is the only time during adult life when weight gain and an expanding waistline are considered healthy and normal. However, this does not mean that pregnancy is a time to eat with reckless abandon. (A bummer, I know!). It’s quite the opposite, actually. As an expectant mom you now have the responsibility to keep two people healthy instead of just one.
How do you know what and how much to eat when you’re pregnant? Luckily, it’s pretty straightforward. Below are some basic guidelines, adapted from the American Pregnancy Association, for healthy eating during pregnancy.
How Much to Eat
The key here is to listen to your body. If you eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied, and choose mostly healthy foods, you’ll gain a healthy amount of weight. Calorie needs during pregnancy go up by about 100 to 300 calories per day, but your hunger is the best indicator of how much more you should eat.
Most pregnant women find it helpful to eat smaller meals more frequently, which can help alleviate mild nausea, keep energy levels up and avoid the discomfort associated with feeling too full.
What to Eat
Pregnancy is an ideal time to transition to organic food if you’re not already eating organic. Why? Research has shown that some chemicals used in conventional agriculture can cross the umbilical cord and pose health risks to a developing fetus. The more foods you choose to buy organic, the lower your intake of harmful chemicals will be, and the less you expose your unborn child to environmental toxins. Here’s some more information on the benefits of choosing organic.
Pregnant women also need more of a few nutrients:
Folic acid: 800 micrograms, usually from a prenatal vitamin or supplement
Iron: 27 milligrams, usually from a prenatal vitamin or supplement
Protein: 75 to 100 grams of protein per day, equivalent to one extra serving of meat, tofu, dairy or beans
Calcium: Three to four daily servings of dairy like yogurt, milk or cheese
What Foods to Avoid
- Raw meat: Make sure to cook meat, poultry and seafood all the way through and avoid raw, seared or undercooked meats.
Deli meat: If you choose to eat deli meat during pregnancy, make sure to thoroughly heat it first (until it is steaming) in order to avoid possible Listeria contamination, which can be life-threatening to a growing fetus.
Raw dairy products: Choose pasteurized milk, yogurt and cheese to avoid possible bacterial contamination and listeria that may be present in raw dairy. Product packages should be clearly labeled “pasteurized” rather than “raw.”
High mercury seafood: Most experts agree that eating at least two servings of fish per week during pregnancy is good for a baby’s developing brain. But the type of fish you choose is important, so you can avoid excess mercury consumption. Fish with the lowest mercury levels include salmon, sardines and cod. Fish with the highest mercury levels include ahi tuna, mackerel and swordfish. Here’s a full guide to fish and their mercury levels.
Alcohol: No amount of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, so avoid all alcoholic beverages while pregnant.
Unwashed produce: Fruits and vegetables are more important than ever, but make sure to wash them thoroughly before eating to avoid toxoplasmosis and contamination.
Meal & Snack Tips
- Make sure your meals and snacks include a mixture of carbohydrates, protein and fat, since this balance of nutrients helps keep you satisfied. For example, try low-fat yogurt with chopped nuts and fresh berries.
Late in pregnancy you might find that eating full meals is no longer comfortable (since the baby is occupying so much space in your abdomen). Instead, eat small, balanced snacks throughout the day, so you can get sufficient calories and nutrients while still feeling good.
Please note: The above advice is intended to be a general guideline. Be sure to talk with your doctor about your individual nutrition needs during pregnancy.