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Pregnancy nutritional guidelines: What to eat, what to avoid

Pregnancy nutritional guidelines: What to eat, what to avoid

The following is an excerpt from our new ebook, Everything You Should Know About Prenatal Nutrition. To download the full guide, click here.

Throughout pregnancy, it is important to make sure you are eating a nutritious, balanced diet. The extra calories your body needs should be obtained by eating a healthy diet of protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats and oils. A healthy diet also helps you to manage weight gain throughout pregnancy. Remember, putting on unnecessary weight is easy to do when eating junk foods that are higher in fat and sugars. Take a look at these basic dos and don’ts of pregnancy nutrition.

DO: Increase protein intake

The American Pregnancy Association recommends that a pregnant woman increase her protein intake to between 75 and 100 grams per day beginning in the second trimester. The benefits of additional protein during pregnancy are truly innumerable. Protein in your foods positively affects the growth of fetal tissue, including the brain. It also helps your breast and uterine tissue grow during pregnancy, and it plays a vital role in your increasing blood supply.

Keep in mind that most Americans consume more protein than is necessary, so you may not actually need to boost your protein intake. Carefully evaluate your diet to see whether you are under the recommended protein intake or over it, and how much more you need to eat to meet your increased protein needs throughout your pregnancy. Vegetarians and vegans are especially at risk for protein deficiency during pregnancy and should make an attempt to integrate protein-rich foods into their diets such as beans, lentils, and nuts.

DO: Increase iron intake

Iron is a mineral that makes up an important part of hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. The body absorbs iron more efficiently during pregnancy, so you will need to consume more iron while you are pregnant to ensure that you and your baby are getting enough oxygen.

The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for iron is 30 milligrams per day for pregnant and lactating women. Ideally, you will want to eat an iron-rich food three times per a day. Examples of iron-rich foods include lean meat, poultry, fish, and leafy green vegetables. You might also try integrating a highly fortified breakfast cereal into your diet.

DO: Make sure you are getting enough folic acid

Folic acid can help to substantially reduce the risk of neural tube defects, including spina bifida. Experts recommend 600 to 800 micrograms of folic acid per day. To load up on folic acid, be sure to fill your plate with dark, leafy green vegetables like collards and spinach; citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruits; and legumes like split peas, kidney beans, and chickpeas.

DO: Make sure you are getting enough calcium

The daily requirement of calcium for pregnant women is around 1000 milligrams. Getting enough calcium during pregnancy is absolutely essential as it helps your body regulate fluids, and helps build your baby’s bones and tooth buds. Foods high in calcium include milk, eggs, yogurt, pasteurized cheese, almonds, white beans, and cabbage.

DO: Reduce or eliminate caffeinated beverages from your diet

Caffeine can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s heart rate. Some studies have suggested that this puts a woman at an increased risk for miscarriage. But if you can’t live without your morning cup of coffee, don’t fret — you don’t necessarily need to totally eliminate caffeine from your diet. You do, however, need to be cognizant of how much you are consuming. Most experts recommend keeping caffeine under 200 milligrams, or about two 8-oz cups of coffee, so you can consume a cup of coffee or tea without negative side effects. But if you’ve been known to drink your way through an entire pot of coffee every morning, you will need to cut back.

DO: Avoid fish high in mercury

There are certain kinds of fish you will want to avoid during your pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourage pregnant women to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, as these contain high levels of mercury, which could potentially harm your baby. Shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish tend to be much lower in mercury and are therefore much safer.

DON’T: Give into every craving

It is a common pregnancy myth that pregnant women only crave foods that their bodies “need.” This simply isn’t true. Pregnant women crave all types of food, from pickles to chocolate cake. While it isn’t necessarily a bad idea to indulge in a craving from time to time, it is never a good idea to develop a nutritional plan around pregnancy cravings. Just because you are craving a bowl of ice cream doesn’t mean that your body needs a bowl of ice cream. Moderation is key.

CarePoint Health is dedicated to providing you with the individual care and attention you need so you can relax and focus on what is most important — the birth of your new baby. Contact us today to learn more about our obstetrics and maternity services.

Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.


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