The Best Foods to Eat During Pregnancy

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
The Best Foods to Eat During Pregnancy

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Eating for two doesn't just mean eating more during the second and third trimesters, it means eating better throughout pregnancy. Think beyond calories and consider the nutrients necessary to keep you healthy while providing proper nutrition for the growth of the baby.

Keeping it Balanced

Standard recommendations for pregnancy nutrition rely on a well-balanced, nutrient-rich eating plan. This includes a variety of foods from all five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy.

Vegetables, fruits and whole grains, such as fortified cereals, provide some of the all-star prenatal vitamins and minerals that are needed for a healthy pregnancy. For example, folate, or folic acid, helps prevent neural tube defects, and vitamin A promotes cellular growth. These foods also offer a steady supply of dietary fiber which is crucial for maintaining healthy digestion during pregnancy. Dairy foods and beverages provide calcium, which helps with bone formation and fluid regulation. And protein foods contribute iron, a mineral needed in higher amounts during pregnancy to support the baby’s development.

Because both your baby's and your cells are made mostly of protein, it's essential to get enough protein throughout pregnancy. Your exact protein needs will vary depending on a variety of factors. These include: your calorie needs, if you're expecting more than one baby during your pregnancy and which trimester you're in. Good sources of protein include eggs, beans, lentils, seafood, poultry, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

Consuming a variety of seafood during pregnancy is also recommended. Some fish provide omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to brain development. However, due to the mercury content of seafood, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency created “Advice about Eating Fish”. Fish are categorized in three groups - "Best Choices" (2 to 3 servings a week), "Good Choices" (limited to one serving per week) and "Choices to Avoid" during pregnancy, while breastfeeding and for young children.

Tilefish, shark, swordfish, orange roughy, big-eye tuna, marlin and king mackerel, should not be eaten during pregnancy due to their high mercury levels. Whereas salmon, trout, anchovies, canned light tuna and sardines are examples of lower mercury fish in the "Best Choices" group. At least 8 ounces and up to 12 ounces per week of fish that are lower in mercury is considered safe to eat and encouraged during pregnancy.

Eating for Pregnancy Symptoms

While a well-balanced eating plan is ideal, it's not always simple. Most women experience some degree of nausea, food aversions, constipation and bloating during pregnancy. During those times, eating strategies may need to focus more on reducing these symptoms.

Nausea

  • Eat small, frequent meals to help keep blood sugar stable and avoid an empty stomach which may cause nausea.
  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Avoid foods with strong odors, including spicy and greasy foods.

Gas, Bloating and Constipation

  • Consume a steady intake of dietary fiber from whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
  • Stay hydrated. Aim for 8 to 12 cups of water or other caffeine-free beverages every day.
  • Maintain a low-impact exercise routine, unless your physician advises against it.

Heartburn and Indigestion

  • Focus on small meals throughout the day instead of large ones, to reduce the amount of volume at one time.
  • Try to consume beverages separately from meals.
  • Limit trigger foods, such as spicy, greasy or highly acidic foods.
  • Maintain good posture and avoid laying down for at least one to two hours after eating.

Proper nutrition can be a game changer during pregnancy, offering a break from some of the most unpleasant symptoms while giving your baby a healthy head start. If you're unsure whether your food choices are meeting yours and your baby's nutritional needs, consider meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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