Healthy eating for pregnancy: Are you getting enough nutrients?

What should you eat when you’re eating for two? The Tot’s guide to a healthy pregnancy diet tells you everything you need to know.

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When you stop to think about everything that happens inside your belly when you’re pregnant – a little brain is developing and tiny fingernails are beginning to appear on miniature fingers! – it’s enough to blow your mind. And it’s no secret that a healthy pregnancy diet is a cornerstone of your baby’s growth and development. Here’s everything you need to know about eating well when you’re expecting.

Food group targets for each trimester

The United States Department of Agriculture has developed a useful tool called MyPlate Daily Checklist to help you determine how much of each food group you need to eat during each trimester. For a personalized plan, head to the ChooseMyPlate website and plug in all your information.

The following guidelines are based on a woman who is 5’4” tall, weighed 130 pounds before becoming pregnant, and performs 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day.

First trimester

2200 calories a day

  • 6 oz protein
  • 7 oz grains
  • 3 cups dairy
  • 3 cups vegetables
  • 2 cups fruit

Second trimester

2400 calories a day

  • 6 ½ oz protein
  • 8 oz grains
  • 3 cups dairy
  • 3 cups vegetables
  • 2 cups fruit

Third trimester

2600 calories a day

  • 6 ½ oz protein
  • 9 oz grains
  • 3 cups dairy
  • 3 ½ cups vegetables
  • 2 cups fruit

Protein: Vary your sources of protein. One ounce of protein is 1 oz lean meat, poultry or seafood; 1 egg; ¼ cup cooked beans or peas; ½ oz nuts or seeds; or 1 tbsp peanut butter.

Grains: Make half your grains whole grains. One ounce of grains is 1 slice of bread; ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or cereal; or 1 oz ready-to-eat cereal.

Dairy: Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or soy beverages. One cup of dairy is 1 cup milk; 1 cup yogurt; 1 cup fortified soy beverage; or 1 ½ oz natural hard cheese.

Vegetables: Choose a variety of colorful veggies, making sure to include dark green, red and orange ones. One cup of vegetables is 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables; 2 cups leafy greens; or 1 cup 100% vegetable juice.

Fruit: Focus on whole fruits. One cup of fruit is 1 cup raw or cooked fruit; ½ cup dried fruit; or 1 cup 100% fruit juice.

Although they don’t have specific guidelines because they’re not a food group, healthy fats (from foods such as avocadoes, nuts, seeds and olive oil) provide important nutrients and help the development of your baby’s organs and the placenta.

It’s OK to occasionally indulge your pregnancy cravings, but try to respect these daily limits: 2300mg of sodium, 29g of saturated fat and 65g of added sugars.

Key nutrients during pregnancy

Pregnant women need more of four main nutrients than women who aren’t pregnant.

Folic acid: This B vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. While trying to conceive and during pregnancy, women should consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Food sources of folate (folic acid) include dark, leafy greens, beans and lentils, and citrus fruits.

Iron: To prevent iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy, eat at least 27g of iron each day. Foods high in iron include red meat, chicken, spinach, beans and iron-fortified cereals.

Calcium: You’ll need 1000mg of calcium a day from low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese to help the development of your baby’s teeth, bones and heart.

Vitamin D: This vitamin is essential for healthy bones, teeth, skin and eyes. Get 600 international units of vitamin D a day from fortified milk and salmon, or from exposure to sunlight in safe amounts.

The importance of a prenatal vitamin

While eating a balanced diet is the best way to provide your baby with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to grow and develop, taking a daily prenatal vitamin while you’re trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy will ensure you’re getting enough of the four key nutrients mentioned above. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best supplement for you.

Foods to avoid

Some foods can be contaminated with a range of harmful bacteria, including Listeria, Salmonella, E. Coli and Toxoplasma, which can lead to serious complications for your baby or even death. These include:

  • Unpasteurized juices and dairy products, including soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert
  • Raw or undercooked meat and seafood
  • Raw eggs (which can be found in foods such as hollandaise sauce and cake icing)
  • Hot dogs, deli meats and pate
  • Smoked seafood
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables
  • Raw sprouts

High-mercury fish such as shark and swordfish should be limited to one or two servings a month to avoid mercury poisoning, but fish and shellfish such as shrimp, salmon and pollock are safe to eat. Organ meats, which can cause vitamin A and liver toxicity, should be consumed no more than once a week.

Because no amount of alcohol has been shown to be safe during pregnancy, it should be avoided altogether. Limit your consumption of caffeine to 200mg (or two cups) a day. Don’t forget to take into account the caffeine you consume from soft drinks and tea as well.

The lowdown on allergenic foods

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, avoiding highly allergenic foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish will have no significant allergy prevention benefit for your baby. Unless you’re allergic to these foods, it’s safe to eat them.

Vegetarian diets in pregnancy

You can have a healthy pregnancy while following a vegetarian or vegan diet if you make sure to get all the nutrients your baby needs from a wide variety of foods. Good sources of protein include dried beans, lentils, nuts, soy products, eggs, dairy products and whole grains. As for the four key pregnancy nutrients, there are plenty of vegetarian food sources listed above. Make sure to take a daily prenatal vitamin to fill any nutritional gaps and consult your healthcare provider to find out if you need any additional supplements. For specific guidelines and meal plans, consult the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Vegetarian Diets in Pregnancy.