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.
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
Dairy and its Alternatives
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,
"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
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.
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."
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.