Many women receive a lot of well-intentioned advice from friends and family about diet and nutrition during pregnancy. Some women refer to pregnancy nutrition blogs or websites. There is a lot of information out there, but not all of it is backed by science, and weeding through all that info glut can confusing.
One tool that we recommend is the easy-to-use SuperTracker meal plan calculator from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found at www.choosemyplate.gov. Just input your age, due date, height, and pre-pregnancy weight, and the tool 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 foods 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. Harmful fats ( like trans fats) 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 instrumental to 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 each day, but this amount is difficult to get through food alone. Most prenatal vitamins include the daily folic acid requirement, if not more.
Your red blood cells use iron to carry oxygen to your organs. When you’re pregnant, extra iron is needed to help deliver blood and oxygen to the baby. On average, pregnant women need 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. You can also find iron in lean meats, fish, beans, prune juice, peas, and iron-enriched foods. You’ll want to pair iron-rich foods with plenty of vitamin C, which helps in the absorption of iron.
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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 standard recommendation for pregnant women is 600 IU, but check with your doctor. Some women may require more.
Just like you, your baby needs calcium to 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
Salmon and shellfish are excellent healthy choices during pregnancy, but some types of seafood put you and your baby at risk. Albacore tuna has moderately low levels of mercury. You should limit your consumption to less than 6oz per week. Fish with high mercury content, like swordfish, mackerel, tilefish, and shark, should be avoided altogether.
Raw fish, such as that found in sushi, and other undercooked (seared or smoked) fish, can increase your risk of food poisoning, which can be harmful to you and the baby. You should avoid these foods while pregnant.
Unpasteurized milk and cheese
Dairy products made with unpasteurized milk increase your risk of listeriosis, which is a food-borne bacterial illness. Make sure to read the labels of any dairy foods you’re not familiar with.
Hot dogs, cold cuts, lunch meats, and meat spreads
Unless these foods 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 pain.