Nutrition guidelines for a healthy pregnancy seem to change on a daily basis. One day seafood is good, one day it’s bad. Eating healthfully can be confusing for anyone, a pregnant mom, even more so. Pregnant women need to eat not only to nourish themselves, but the growing fetus as well. Here are some tips to help you choose wisely.
1. Be sure to include nutrient dense foods, especially those with important minerals.
Nutrients such as folate, calcium, iron and zinc are especially important even before conception begins. This is true for men as well as women. Even before conception begins couples should focus on optimizing nutrient intake. Folate is crucial for healthy fetal development and can reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Food sources of this nutrient include: beans, legumes, citrus fruit, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables (such as kale, collard greens, Swiss chard and dark green leafy lettuces) Poultry, pork and fish are also good sources. The daily recommendation is 400 mcg per day, and 600mcg in the first trimester. Often times it is difficult for pregnant women to consume adequate amounts from the diet, and therefore supplementation with folic acid is suggested.
Calcium is important, especially in the second and third trimesters when the baby’s bone and tooth development reaches its peak. Additionally, calcium leaches from your own body as the developing fetus’s needs increase. Food sources of calcium include dark green vegetables, nuts and seeds, especially sesame and pumpkin. Unprocessed soy products, collard greens, fortified orange juice and nondairy milk such as almond, hemp and rice milk are packed with calcium. Daily recommended dose is 1200mg per day.
Iron can be difficult to obtain from the diet especially given the increased need during pregnancy. Recommended dose for pregnancy is 27mg. Good food sources are lean cuts of red meat. Plant sources include beans and legumes, as well as deep leafy greens. Including a vitamin C rich food source along with your veggies will enhance the iron absorption.
Zinc requirements increase by 15 percent during pregnancy. Birth defects have been associated with low levels of zinc. Zinc can be found in nuts, whole grains and legumes, however, this mineral is best absorbed from meat and seafood.
2. Eat along the rainbow
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure that your body receives all of the important nutrients it needs to support a growing fetus. Additionally it exposes the baby to a variety of new tastes through the amniotic fluid. Deep colored fruits and veggies also provide important antioxidants and immune boosting compounds.
3. Let’s not forget the fiber
Fiber is an essential component of any healthy diet. It’s not only important for the baby but for Mom’s health as well. It helps to reduce constipation, a common issue for many women, especially in the first trimester. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important for maintaining proper GI health not only for mom, but for baby as well. Good sources of fiber include oat bran and wheat bran, vegetables, legumes, beans and berries.
4. Limit exposure to pesticides and other toxins
Pre-natal pesticide exposure has been linked to premature births, birth defects, and immune related diseases later in life. Research reveals that there are over 270 different toxic chemicals in the umbilical cords of newborns. A frightening statistic for any new parent. Limiting toxic exposure is critical for a baby’s health. Organic produce is not treated with these pesticides and fungicides and helps reduce toxic exposure. For a detailed list of the worst offenders go to ewg.org/thedirtydozen
5. Be sure to get your Omega 3’s
Foods rich in Omega 3 fatty acids will help boost your baby’s neurological development before birth. Research also indicates that a diet high in omega 3’s can help prevent post-partum depression. Food sources such as fatty fish are the best absorbed sources of the important omegas EPA and DHA. Salmon, mackerel, anchovies and sardines are great sources of both essential fatty acids. Plant sourc- es such as flax seed, chia and walnuts are good sources of omega 3’s as well, but are lacking in the important compo- nents of DHA and EPA. Be sure to include a variety to ensure a proper balance of all the omega 3 fatty acids.
6. Choose quality over quantity
Half of all women gain too much weight during pregnancy. Studies suggest that excess weight gain during pregnancy can increase the chances of babies becoming obese later in life. Additionally it makes it more difficult to lose that baby weight after pregnancy. During the first and second trimesters additional calorie requirements are only 350 additional calories per day, and 450 during the third trimester.
It’s important to increase amounts of nutrient rich foods, not calorie rich foods. This would include whole food based meals. This means avoiding calorie dense foods such as sweets, white breads and processed foods, sodas and fast food. Healthy nutrient rich food sources include grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal. Fresh organic veggies and fruits, and rich protein sources such as fish (wild caught), lean grass fed beef, poultry and eggs.
7. Food safety is important too
It is important to protect yourself and your developing baby from harmful foodborne bacteria. Salmonella and E. coli are dangerous to both you and your baby’s health. Do not consume raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Be sure to stay away from raw food such as sushi. Additionally, be wary of blue cheese and other soft cheeses such as Brie, Feta and Goat cheese unless they are labeled as being pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk.
8. Don’t go more than three hours without eating
It is important to keep your blood sugar levels steady. Consuming nutrient rich foods every three to four hours will help keep your energy level constant and keep you from becoming lightheaded and dizzy. Consuming balanced meals will help avoid those blood sugar “lows” that tend to drive us to eat sugary, quick fixes that offer little nutritional value.
9. Be sure to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day
It can be difficult to stay well hydrated during pregnancy. Much of the fluid you drink will leak from blood vessels into the body tissues. Hydration is essential for preventing many complications during pregnancy including pre-term labor. Maintaining adequate hydration will also help prevent headaches, kidney stones, dizziness and constipation. Keeping the urine a light yellow to clear color is a good indication that you are well hydrated.
10. Everything in moderation
While it’s important to eat properly during pregnancy, allowing yourself an occasional indulgence will help keep you satisfied and help avoid food binges from feelings of deprivation. Remember those extra 350-450 calories shouldn’t come from sugary sweets, however an occasional indulgence will keep both you, and baby, happy and healthy.