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Pregnancy Nutrition: Eating for Two

"Expectant moms need vital nutrients and calories to sustain their bodies and their pregnancy," Paul says. "Remember that babies are literally being built with the food we put in our bodies. For example, they need certain nutrients for brain development, and other nutrients for things like healthy bones, eyes and organs."

To make sure you and your baby get what you need, increase your daily intake by 300 calories, provided your pre-pregnancy diet was within a normal range. Specific nutrient recommendations include:

Protein
You need an additional 10 grams per day, but most women get this in their diets already.

Carbohydrates
Additional carbohydrates are needed for energy. The healthiest choices are whole grain breads, cereals, crackers, fresh fruits and milk.

Folate
Essential due to increased blood volume and rapid cell growth of your baby, and can be found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, fruit, seeds and yeast.

Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium
Needed to build your baby's skeleton. Good sources of calcium are dairy products, tofu, salmon and leafy green vegetables.

Iron
Iron absorption is increased three-fold during pregnancy so you can provide your developing baby with iron stores for the first three to six months of life.

Nutrient needs during pregnancy are higher than any other time in your life, says Julie Paul, a WakeMed registered dietitian.

Most women cannot meet the increased need with diet alone and, in many cases, a supplement is recommended. Meats, dried beans and peas, enriched cereals, whole grain and enriched breads, dried fruits, green vegetables and eggs are all good sources of Vitamin C, which aids in the absorption of iron.

Zinc
Zinc is found in high protein foods like meats, legumes and nuts. Many foods have more than one of the important nutrients that support a healthy pregnancy.

These include low-fat milk, lean meats, beans, eggs, dark green vegetables, Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals. Foods high in Vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomato juice, strawberries, cantaloupe, greens, broccoli and brussel sprouts.

"This may sound like a lot of food, but if you're taking a prenatal vitamin in addition to a well-balanced diet, you should be in good shape," advises Paul. "As your pregnancy progresses, it may become more uncomfortable to eat three large meals. It's perfectly fine to have smaller meals throughout the day."

Foods & Substances to Avoid During Pregnancy

Some foods and substances are known or suspected to be detrimental to the health of a growing fetus. For your baby's sake, it's best to be conservative and avoid the following foods or substances:

  • Caffeine*
  • Alcohol
  • Herbal and botanical supplements
  • Nitrites, nitrates and nitrosamines (found in cured meats)*
  • Cigarettes
  • Illegal drugs
  • Fish that contain mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish, as well as raw fish of any kind. You can safely eat up to 12 oz. per week of shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock and catfish. If you prefer white albacore tuna, limit your servings to 6 oz. per week.
  • Soft cheese, such as feta, brie, Roquefort and queso blano. These cheeses are more likely to become contaminated by listeria, a bacteria that can cause serious harm to your unborn child.

*Limited amounts are acceptable. For more specific information about those limits, consult your doctor or dietitian.

Source: Position of the American Dietetic Association: Nutrition & Lifestyle for a Healthy Pregnancy Outcome, October 2002

Smart Snacks

In your second and third trimester, you need an additional 300 calories per day. Here are some healthy snack ideas to fill those extra calories.

  • 3 cups light microwave popcorn sprinkled with 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 serving frozen yogurt and 12 whole almonds
  • 3 medium dates with 1 tablespoon soy nut butter
  • 1/4 cup hummus and 1 large red bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 hard-boiled egg and 4 wovenwheat crackers
  • 2/3 cup nonfat caramel popcorn and 1/2 cup reduced-fat (2%) milk
  • 1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese and salsa and 5 wheat crackers