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What is a Healthy Prenatal Diet?

You've officially got a bun in the oven — hooray! — and like so many other expecting moms, you're wondering what exactly you should be eating to keep your baby growing well. If you know you should be saying "no" to daily morning donuts and "yes" to fruit salad, your instincts are right on, Mama, says Alison Kaplanes, MS, a registered dietitian who specializes in prenatal nutrition in the Greater Boston area, "Good nutrition during pregnancy is essential to keeping mom and baby healthy. A well-balanced diet and healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of birth defects, ensure the proper growth and development of the fetus and reduce the risk of chronic health problems for the baby."

Essential Vitamins and Minerals

As a mom-to-be, you want to eat foods that will give you vitamins and minerals imperative for your baby's growth in utero, says Kaplanes. Foods rich in folate, calcium, vitamin D and iron should crowd your grocery list. "Expecting moms should eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains (oat, bran and wheat-based), lean protein (fish, skinless chicken and turkey, eggs, beans and lean red meat), healthy fats (olive oil, avocado and nuts) and low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt and cheese)," recommends Kaplanes.

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Meals and Snacks

Your fridge is stocked with nutrient-rich foods to nourish your babe, who's getting bigger by the minute, it seems. Put these ingredients to work by trying these healthy-yet-yummy meal combos, suggests Kaplanes. For breakfast, have oatmeal and blueberries with a glass of 1 percent milk or an egg omelet made with tomato, spinach and low-fat cheese, along with whole grain toast and orange slices. At lunch, try a salad with grilled chicken and olive oil and vinegar dressing plus a cup of minestrone soup, or an egg salad sandwich with a slice of tomato on whole grain bread and an apple. When dinner rolls around, make grilled chicken, a baked sweet potato and broccoli with olive oil and lemon or baked salmon with brown rice and sauteed spinach. If you're the snacking type (and, really, who isn't?) nosh on fruit, veggies and hummus, low-fat popcorn, low-fat cheese sticks, oat-based granola bars, hard-boiled eggs or nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews or peanuts).

Morning Sickness

Gotta love "morning" sickness, which might actually follow you all through the day. Notes Kaplanes, "Many pregnant women experience morning sickness and it can be a challenge. It can lead to nausea, vomiting and a general loss of appetite." To ward it off, she suggests keeping saltines or soda crackers by your bed and eating a few before getting out of bed each morning, eating smaller meals more frequently through the day, drinking fluids about 30 minutes before eating, cooking bland foods without many spices, consuming ginger (tea, small sips of ginger ale and hard candy) and getting plenty of sleep.

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Pulling into the nearest convenience store to buy a king-sized bag of peanut M and Ms again? Believe it or not, there's a way to satisfy these deep cravings without all that sugar and fat. Kaplanes helps her expecting clients to find healthier alternatives for their cravings. "If someone is craving potato chips, I suggest that they try these salty, crunchy options that have less calories and more nutrition: low-fat popcorn, vegetable slices with hummus or mixed nuts. Instead of chocolate candy, I'd suggest more nutritious options: a low-fat pudding cup, chocolate-dipped apple or strawberries, or a mug of hot chocolate made with low-fat milk. It is important to keep the unhealthy foods out of the house and replace them with more nutrient-dense foods and snacks," she says.

Taking Vitamins and Supplements

You might be worried you need to stock up on every vitamin your local pharmacy has to offer in order for your baby to properly develop. But all you need, says Kaplanes, is to eat a well-balanced diet and take a prenatal vitamin. However, this comes with a caveat: "Most prenatal vitamins do not supply enough calcium and vitamin D," notes Kaplanes, "so it is important for women to consume milk and yogurt to meet their daily needs. Vegetarians, vegans and women with food allergies or certain food restrictions may benefit from seeing a registered dietitian to make sure that all of their nutrient needs are being met."

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