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The Best Protein-Rich Foods to Eat While Pregnant

Mamas-to-be know that consuming a variety of nutrients is vital to a healthy pregnancy and a baby's fetal development. Protein is particularly essential because of its effect on cell development in the brain, eyes and blood, the American Pregnancy Association notes. It's also chock full of amino acids, the "building blocks" of life. If you're expecting, you'll want to make sure you're consuming around 75 to 100 grams of healthy proteins daily.

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By Land or Sea

Meat, poultry and certain types of fish can provide pregnant women with a healthy dose of protein. A 3-ounce serving size of chicken – which is about the size of a deck of cards – can provide a hefty 26 grams of protein, while a 3-ounce service of canned salmon offers up nearly 17 grams. While pregnant, women should avoid fish such as mackerel, swordfish and shark, which contain high levels of mercury. Safer options include salmon, shrimp, tilapia and cod.

"Pregnant women can enjoy up to 12 ounces of fish per week safely during pregnancy. It provides a terrific source of protein, as well asomega-3 fatty acids for brain development," explains Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian and owner of the Vernon Nutrition Center in New Jersey. **Whole eggs** are another healthy choice – one large hard-boiled egg provides more than 6.3 grams of protein.

Dairy and its Alternatives

Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, can contribute to your daily protein intake. One cup of milk or a ¾-cup serving of yogurt contains more than 8 grams of protein. Women can safely enjoy dairy alternatives such as soy, rice, almond or coconut milks, but should be aware that they are lower in protein, Palinski-Wade notes.

"Just make sure," she adds, "that if you are going with a non-dairy option that it is fortified with calcium and Vitamin D like cow's milk. Rice milk contains very little protein – almond milk is also lower in protein – so you would need to boost protein elsewhere in your diet," Palinski-Wade is a fan of cottage cheese, which provides a whopping 13 grams of protein in a half-cup serving.

Grains and Beans

You can also boost your protein intake with whole grains and plant-based proteins. The superfood quinoa, for instance, packs 8 grams of protein in a 1-cup serving. "Quinoa is a plant-based protein source that provides all essential amino acids and can be incorporated into many recipes," Palkinski-Wade observes. Beans are an excellent source of protein as well, especially lentils, which contain nearly 9 grams of protein in just a half-cup serving. Bridget Swinney, a registered dietitian who specializes in family nutrition, states that lentils and other beans will help pregnant women with their iron and zinc needs as well.

Vegetarian Options

For women who limit or avoid meat or fish, plenty of options still exist. Soy-based foods like edamame and tofu are excellent sources of protein, Swinney notes, as they both provide nearly 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving. Nuts, nut butters and seeds provide healthful options for adding protein into your diet.

"Cashew, almond, peanut butters and sunflower seed butters are full of a variety of nutrients," she states. "Sunflower seeds also provide an excellent source of vitamin E, which many women don't get enough of."

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Palinski-Wade agrees, pointing out that when selecting proteins, pregnant women should look for complete proteins that provide all essential amino acids and include additional nutrients such as calcium and iron. "Making sure to avoid foods with artificial ingredients, sweeteners and additives is essential during pregnancy," she advises.

Photograph by: g-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images

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