The Practical Guide to Pregnancy Nutrition

You found out that you are pregnant and you are so excited for this new adventure! The next nine months will be full of baby shopping and binge eating. Well one of those is true. You will definitely be baby shopping, but as you begin the journey toward motherhood it is very important to take care of your body during pregnancy. Not only is it important for you to eat healthy for your own benefit but it is also important to eat healthy for your growing baby. You should know the basics of nutrition during pregnancy, including the importance of different vitamins and minerals so you will have more energy, can prevent gestational diabetes, and ensure your baby is healthy and strong at birth and beyond. 

First of all, you need to understand why proper nutrition is so important. It is true that you will most likely take a prenatal or multivitamin during pregnancy to ensure you are your getting your minimum amount of vitamins and minerals each day. While this is a good start, it should not be all you rely on. Eating unhealthy, including fried and fatty foods, loads of sugar, and lack of fruits and vegetables is bad for your body and your growing baby. The better you eat, the better you feel, and the healthier your pregnancy will be.

Now that you know why you should eat healthier, it is time to discuss exactly what nutrients you should be getting more of. While all vitamins and minerals are good to have, there are some that are important SPECIFICALLY for pregnancy. These include folic acid, or folate, calcium, zinc, fiber, and iron. These vitamins and minerals can be found through a prenatal vitamin but you should also get them through natural food sources. This is the purest way to get vitamins and minerals. You should also be getting a good amount of protein to maintain your energy throughout your pregnancy. Overall, you should be including whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, vegetables, lean meat, and some fish into your meals while pregnant. Eating these foods ensures you grow a healthy, strong baby. It also encourages proper brain development, and reduces the risk for a premature birth weight. Here is a deeper understanding of the foods you should be eating full of folic acid:

FORTIFIED CEREAL

An easy way to get more folic acid in your diet is with a fortified cereal, rice, and pasta. A single serving of the right cereal can be between 100 and 400 mcg of folic acid, just enough for what you need each day. You want to have a good percentage of your daily value of folic acid in the cereal for it to be beneficial. Also, look for a fortified sugar with less sugar and more fiber (you will want to eat a lot of fiber since the iron intake you get from your prenatals can make you constipated).

Lentils

There is an tremendous amount of folic acid, also known as folate, in lentils when they are cooked. You will get about 180mcg of your daily amount of folic acid in just a half cup of cooked lentils. They are also low in fat and calories, and high in fiber and protein. Add your lentils to your favorite soup or chili, use over a bed of rice, or add it to your favorite salads. You can either get your lentils in a can or get dried lentils and boil to cook thoroughly.

Leafy, Green Vegetables

This is likely not the first time you have been told to have more leafy greens, and certainly won’t be the last. Leafy, green vegetables are among the most nutrient-rich to have when you are pregnant (and when you’re not). During pregnancy, you want to have lots of folic acid, which you can get from leafy greens like spinach and kale. It is very easy to increase your spinach consumption, whether you have a big spinach salad, add spinach to your dips and sauces, top off soups, or have a sandwich with lots of greens.

Citrus Fruits

On the fruit side of things, citrus fruits tend to contain the highest amount of folic acid. This means continuing to enjoy your orange juice in the morning, enjoying oranges or grapefruits as snacks, and adding some citrus fruit juice to your smoothies as breakfast or in between meals. Citrus can also be added to the top of summer salads or enjoyed in various dishes.


Now that you have an idea of what foods you should be eating while pregnant, lets discuss the foods that you should be avoiding: 

Raw or Undercooked Meat and Seafood

While enjoying beef, pork, and poultry is often recommended, there are some types of meat and seafood you need to avoid when you are pregnant. First of all, don’t eat any raw meat or seafood. This means if you go out for sushi, you need to get the cooked fish dishes. Also avoid undercooked, rare, or raw beef or poultry. Raw meats might contain bacteria that would normally be cooked out and could harm you and your baby. You also want to be careful with deli meat since it might contain listeria which causes food poisoning (as if you aren't getting sick enough). Some doctors approve of deli meat if it is cooked, but talk to your doctor first. With seafood, avoid any that has mercury. This includes mackerel, shark, and swordfish.

Raw Eggs

I was very upset when I learned I could no longer have an over-easy egg on a piece of toast. Runny eggs have the potential to contain harmful bacteria since they aren't cooked all the way. You need to be careful about egg dishes that might be undercooked or foods that have raw eggs in them, such as homemade ice cream, mayonnaise, some salad dressings, or cookie dough. Yes, no more eating raw cookie dough. If you are making cookies, ask someone else to taste the dough instead (you can live vicariously through them). Also, make sure you look at the ingredients of sauces and dressings to see if they are made with raw eggs. Overall, eggs in general are good for you during pregnancy, offering a low-fat and protein-rich food source, just make sure they are cooked and not runny. 

Produce That Isn’t Washed

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is wonderful to do during pregnancy due to all the nutrients they contain, but be careful and don’t eat them unwashed. A lot of produce can have bacteria that causes diseases that harms both you and the baby. Take the extra few minutes it takes to wash anything you buy in its fresh or raw form. Keep in mind produce in cans or frozen produce should already be rinsed. Be extra careful with raw sprouts, including mung bean, clover, alfalfa, and radishes.

Caffeine

Doctors advise pregnant women to cut back caffeine as much as possible. I decided to give up caffeine entirely and am so happy that I did. I no longer am dependent on it to get through the day. However, if you just can't give up that mug of deliciousness, only stick to just one or two cups of coffee or tea a day. It is important to note that herbal tea might not be allowed, so check with your doctor if you are a frequent tea drinker.

Beverages with a high caffeine content include coffee, soft drinks, and energy drinks. Soft drinks don’t contain any nutrients, so you should avoid them as much as possible, or at least stick to the caffeine-free varieties.


Remember to talk to your doctor if you are curious about any other foods or drinks that you should be avoiding during pregnancy.