Many pregnant women receive a lot of well-intentioned advice from friends and family about diet and nutrition. Some also refer to online blogs or websites. There is a lot of information out there, and they often times can be inaccurate or confusing.
One tool that many women find helpful is the SuperTracker meal plan calculator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found at www.choosemyplate.gov. This tool is very easy to use. After you input your age, due date, height, and pre-pregnancy weight, it will show you how many calories are recommended for your daily diet, and how you should portion your intake of the five main food groups.
The Five Food Groups
The SuperTracker can help you figure out how many of your daily calories should be coming from each food group while you’re pregnant.
- Grains – bread, cereals, pasta, rice, corn and flour tortillas, oatmeal.
- Vegetables – cooked, raw, canned, frozen, dried or juiced vegetables.
- Fruits – fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Fruit juice counts too, but be careful! Many “fruit” juices are sugary drinks in disguise.
- Proteins – Meats, poultry, and seafood are often the first that come to mind, but proteins can also come from beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, and soy.
- Dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese, and cream.
A sixth group – oils and fats – aren’t typically considered a food group, but they can be an important part of a healthy diet. Healthy fats and oils, such as omega-3 fatty acids and plant-based oils, give you energy and give the fetus and placenta the building materials to grow. The type of fats you want to limit mostly come from red meats and pork. They are also found in many processed foods.
Vitamins and Minerals
Pregnant women need to make sure they’re getting enough vitamins and minerals, especially folic acid, iron, vitamin D, and calcium.
Folic acid (folate)
Folic acid is a B vitamin that is important in the baby’s brain and spine development. Getting enough folic acid reduces the risk neural tube defects. Pregnant women should get at least 600 micrograms of folic acid each day, but this amount is difficult to get through food alone. Most prenatal vitamins include the daily requirement, if not more, of folic acid.
Your red blood cells use iron to carry oxygen to each of your organs. When you’re pregnant, extra iron is needed to help deliver blood and oxygen to your baby. It’s recommended that pregnant women get 27 mg of iron daily – about twice the amount of women who aren’t pregnant. You can find this amount of iron in most prenatal supplements, but you can also find iron in lean meats, fish, beans, prune juice, peas, and iron-enriched foods. You’ll also want to pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron.
This helps the baby build its bones, teeth, skin, and eyesight. You can get vitamin D from fortified milk and fatty seafood like salmon. Exposure to sunlight can also produce vitamin D, but it is always important to protect yourself from excessive sun exposure. The recommendation is 600 IU for pregnant women, however, more may be needed depending on your vitamin D status.
Calcium also helps your baby develop healthy bones and teeth. The recommended amount of calcium for pregnant women is 1000mg daily, which you can get through dairy products or a prenatal supplement.
What Foods Should I Avoid During Pregnancy?
Certain types of fish
While salmon and shellfish are very healthy choices during pregnancy, some seafood might put you and your baby at risk. Fish with high mercury content, like swordfish, mackerel, tilefish, and shark should be avoided. Albacore tuna has moderately low levels of mercury, but you should limit your consumption to less than 6oz per week.
Sushi made with raw fish and other undercooked (seared or smoked) fish can increase your risk of food poisoning, which can be harmful to you and the baby.
Unpasteurized milk and cheese
Dairy products made with unpasteurized milk increase your risk of listeriosis, which is a food-borne bacterial illness.
Hot dogs, cold cuts, lunch meats, and meat spreads
Unless these are served thoroughly cooked and hot, pregnant women should avoid them. Undercooked meats carry a higher risk of food-borne illnesses.
Call your doctor if you show any symptoms of food poisoning or food-borne-illnesses like listeriosis. These symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, and muscle aches.