Eating Well During Pregnancy

If you're pregnant, you know you need to pay special attention to what you eat and drink. Your body needs extra calories to help nourish your body and your growing baby. But it's the quality, NOT the quantity of those calories that counts.

Quality, Not Quantity

During pregnancy, your body needs nutrients to help you grow a healthy baby. You get nutrients from what you eat. Some foods may fill you up, but they don't have a lot of nutrients. Other foods pack a lot of nutrients into just a few bites. These are the foods you want to choose most often.

Folic acid, also called folate, is one of the most important nutrients for all women. Folic acid is a B vitamin. It helps prevent birth defects such as brain and spinal cord problems, cleft palate, and congenital heart disease.

If you are pregnant, or could become pregnant in the next few months, you need to get at least 600 micrograms of folic acid every day. You can get folic acid from foods such as broccoli, spinach, and peas. It's also added to many packaged foods and drinks, such as bread, cereal, and orange juice.

But the best way to make sure you get your folic acid is to take a multivitamin or a prenatal vitamin every day. These vitamins are made with the right amounts of folic acid and other nutrients you need to grow a healthy baby.

Iron is another important nutrient during your pregnancy. Iron is a mineral that helps your blood carry oxygen to your organs and to your baby. You need extra iron during pregnancy because your body is making extra blood for your baby. You need at least 27 milligrams of iron a day. You can get iron in foods such as beef, spinach, kale, and beans.

Calcium is a mineral that helps grow strong bones and teeth. It also helps keep nerves and muscles healthy. During pregnancy, you need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. This helps your baby grow, and protects your bones.

You can get calcium from dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. It's also found in soy and almond milk, as well as dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale.

But vitamins aren't enough. You also need protein, fat, and carbohydrates to keep your body and your baby healthy.

The best way to make sure you are eating well is to eat a variety of foods. You need:

  • Fruits such as oranges, bananas, apples, berries, peaches, and melons
  • Vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, squash, and peppers
  • Low-fat dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Lean protein, found in chicken, turkey, and other lean meats as well as in seafood, eggs, beans, nuts, and tofu
  • You also need grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain cereal, and
  • Healthy oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil

As for how much you should eat, a good rule is to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. The other half is divided equally between grains and protein.

Keep oils to no more than 5 to 7 teaspoons a day. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, and choose whole grains when you can.

Remember, your baby is small. You only need an extra 300 calories each day. That's about the same as a medium apple and 6 ounces of flavored yogurt.

Eating for 2 means eating healthy food to nourish your baby, not eating a lot of food.

Being pregnant also means you have to watch out for some Risky Foods.

Risky Foods

Fish and shellfish are a great source of lean protein. But be careful about which fish you choose.

Most fish contain some mercury. Mercury is a metal that can be harmful in large amounts. Fish with lower amounts of mercury are salmon, shrimp, pollock, tilapia, catfish, cod, and chunk light canned tuna.

Albacore, or white, tuna has more mercury. Try not to eat more than 6 ounces of white tuna per week. And, skip all fish that's high in mercury, such as tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.

Overall, you should try to eat 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish every week -- that's about 2 to 3 servings.

Other foods can also cause problems while you're pregnant. Pregnancy is hard on your body.

This means that you and your baby are more at risk for getting an illness from food.

Bacteria such as listeria, E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and vibrio can be found in certain foods. Even if you don't feel sick, some of these bacteria can infect your baby and cause problems. Undercooked fish can have parasites. Other foods contain chemicals or toxins that can harm your growing baby.

Government experts recommend that women avoid foods like these during pregnancy:

  • Foods with raw or undercooked eggs
  • Hot dogs, dry sausages, and some lunch meats
  • Meat , fish or shell fish that is uncooked or undercooked, and
  • Unpasteurized milk and cheeses made from unpasteurized milk

You can find a complete list of foods to avoid at www dot food safety dot com. []

Other common foods and drinks you should limit or avoid are caffeine, alcohol, and some herbs and home remedies.

Keep in mind that just because these products are used every day by millions of people, it doesn't mean they won't harm your baby. Talk with your health care provider about what's healthy and what's not, and remember these 5 Tips for Eating Well During Pregnancy:

5 Tips for Eating Well During Pregnancy

  • Choose healthy options from all the food groups every day
  • Take a prenatal vitamin before, and during pregnancy
  • Skip risky foods and drinks
  • Avoid fish that's high in mercury, and
  • Eating for 2 means eating healthy, not eating a lot.

So, whether you're cooking at home or eating out, smart food choices can help keep you and your growing baby healthy – and now you know how!