Without a doubt, one of the best things you can do to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby is to eat nutritious foods. A healthy diet is one little step that can allow for an easier delivery and provide the building blocks your baby needs for maximum health and growth. And it doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming -- just focus on choosing natural foods, such as whole grains, proteins, and fruits and vegetables, and you're on the right track.
Don't fall for the old myth that you should eat for two. Not only will you pack on weight, but you're more likely to have a big baby, which can complicate delivery.
Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and a practicing gynecologist in Connecticut, says, "If you're eating for two, you’re going to gain a lot of weight. You really only need about 300 calories a day extra for the baby, so it's not really eating for two. Some obese women who stick to a good, healthy diet of an extra 300 calories may lose weight. Normal weight gain for an average person is 25 to 30 pounds."
To put this in perspective, 300 calories is an apple, a cup of yogurt and a few almonds. For most women, just adding an extra snack each day provides the calories you need.
The occasional indulgence of pickles and ice cream won't hurt you, but the healthier you eat, the better the outcome for both you and your baby. Stick with whole, unprocessed foods for most of your meals and avoid fast food, cookies and pastry. Bridget Swinney, a registered dietitian in El Paso, Texas, and author of "Eating Expectantly: A Practical and Tasty Guide to Prenatal Nutrition," includes among her top picks eggs, legumes, turkey, red meat, salmon, and nuts for healthy fat.
Don't forget your veggies, either. "Like everyone else, pregnant women tend to come up short on the amount of produce they eat," says Swinney. "Shoot for two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables a day. Check out the Environmental Working Group's Consumer’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to see which produce is better bought organic."
Building a baby is hard work. While all whole, natural foods are helpful, there are specific nutrients to consider when you're pregnant.
Swinney says dairy products are one of the best foods women can consume during pregnancy. "It's best to drink at least three servings of low-fat/nonfat dairy foods daily for the calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin D -- and more." She continues, "These nutrients are important for bone growth but also may help promote healthy blood pressure. Calcium is known to help prevent preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder for pregnancy."
Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian in Salem, Ore., and author of "Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy," advises that "Women should consume iron each day from red lean meat, legumes and/or greens, because it is critical for oxygen supply to develop tissues." She also suggests several servings of DHA omega-3 fatty acids each day to support brain and vision development. DHA omega-3 sources include salmon or foods fortified with algal sustainable DHA. Lastly, Somer says folate is critical for normal cell division and recommends pregnant women consume at least two servings of dark greens daily to get this nutrient.
Eating healthfully during pregnancy is really all about planning. Stock up on healthy snacks, and you're less likely to succumb to binge eating and cravings. Fill your pantry with raw almonds, whole-grain crackers and popcorn. Load the fridge with lean meat, vegetables, fruit, yogurt, salads, eggs and dairy products.
Plan out meals in advance, and make sure you eat a solid breakfast to start the day. Drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated, and eat two or three snacks. Don't wait until you're absolutely famished to eat, which is unhealthy and encourages overeating. Instead, keep blood sugar and energy up throughout the day by eating every three hours.