Best Foods for Expecting Mothers

Congratulations, you are pregnant! The food choices you make every day you are pregnant can affect your heath and the health of your baby.

Attractive pregnant woman holding a bowl of salad while standing

It comes as no surprise that the best foods for expecting women are great foods for everyone. However, when you are pregnant, there are particular foods and nutrients that you need to grow the healthiest baby you can while also staying healthy yourself.

 

Weight Gain

You will need to eat slightly more when you are expecting, however the idea of eating for two is a misconception. It is more about the quality of food than the quantity. If you are entering into your pregnancy at a healthy weight, you really only need around an extra 300 calories a day. If you are carrying multiples or are underweight your additional caloric intake may be higher. Someone who is overweight may require slightly less. According to the American Pregnancy Association, unless you are expecting multiples or entered into pregnancy overweight, the ideal weight gain during pregnancy would be between 25-35 pounds.

Try to not stress too much about your weight gain, just try and avoid gaining too much and eating unhealthy foods. Be selective about your food choices; choose foods that contain vitamins, minerals, and protein. Pregnancies are not cookie-cutter conditions, your health care provider will help to monitor your weight to make sure you are gaining at the levels healthiest for you. It is important to be open with your doctor and approach them with any diet and weight gain concerns that you may have.

 

Foods You Should Eat

The USDA states that vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace a healthy diet. Most doctors recommend that pregnant women take a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement every day in addition to eating a healthy diet. It is important to choose foods that have the vitamins and minerals that are essential to the needs of your developing baby and your personal health.

You should also avoid food choices that are high in “empty calories.” Empty calories are the calories from solid fats and added sugars in things like fried foods, cheese, whole milk, fatty meats, desserts and soft drinks. Food selections that are fat-free, unsweetened, low-fat or contain no added sugars have fewer or no “empty calories.”

 

This is a list of foods that are most beneficial to you and your growing baby.

 

  • Proteins The amino acids in proteins are the building blocks of the cells in your body, but proteins have other benefits beyond that. They can keep your hunger at bay, which is a good way to avoid junk food. Proteins also help to keep your blood sugar stable.

The USDA recommends the following protein rich foods: Beans and peas (pinto beans, edamame, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, white and kidney beans), Nuts and seeds (sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, pine nuts), Lean meats (beef, lamb, pork), and certain seafood (salmon, trout, sardines, herring, and pollock). Quinoa, eggs, and low-fat dairy products are also good sources of protein.

In addition to protein, beans and peas contain iron, fiber and potassium. Heme-iron is the most readily absorbed type of iron and it is found in the lean meats along with protein. Seafood has omega-3 fatty acids, and nuts and seeds contain vitamin E.

 

  • Calcium Your baby needs it for his growing bones, and you need it to help keep yours strong. This essential mineral also helps with the functioning of your nerves and muscles. Dairy foods are your best source of calcium. Vitamin D boosts absorption, so look for dairy products that are vitamin D fortified to get the most calcium out of each serving.

Some of the best dairy choices include: Fat-free milk (skim milk), low-fat milk (1% milk), low-fat or fat-free yogurt, calcium-fortified soymilk, and pasteurized cheeses. Spinach and calcium-fortified orange juice are also good ways to take in calcium.

 

  • Omega-3-rich foods Pregnancy safe fish (salmon, herring, pollock) are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as protein. If you don’t like to eat any kind of fish, flaxseed is another source of the essential omega-3 fatty acids. Specifically, a type called. DHA. These healthy fats help you metabolize fat-soluble vitamins like A and E and are crucial to the development of the baby’s brain and eyes. (The brain and retina are primarily composed of DHA.) Drizzle some flaxseed oil over your salads or add some ground seeds to your yogurt, soup, or cereal. Making smoothies and adding in some flaxseed is another option.

Avocados and walnuts are also excellent sources of omega-3s. Remember that even though omega-3s are healthy fats, they are still fats. Which means higher in calories, so try and consumption of foods rich in omega-3s to around 30% of your daily calories.

 

  • Iron A woman’s blood volume increases as much as 50% when she is pregnant. Iron is an important component in red blood cells so not only does your baby need it for his supply, but you need it for yours. Eating foods with iron will help to prevent anemia in pregnancy. Iron also helps to build the baby’s brain by strengthening nerve connections.

Lean meats, such as beef, are high in iron. Dark leafy greens, quinoa, lentils, dried fruit, tofu, and cooked dried beans are also excellent sources of iron. Foods high in vitamin C help your body absorb more iron. So you should eat your iron rich foods along with vitamin C rich foods like citrus, red bell peppers, strawberries, kiwis, and tomatoes.

 

  • Folic Acid Folic acids are powerful in preventing neural-tube defects like spina bifida in developing babies. Doctors recommend increasing your folic acid intake before you try and conceive because its benefits are so essential early on.

Lentils, dark leafy greens, great northern beans, and asparagus are high in folic acid. Most pasta, cereal, rice, and bread products are now fortified with folic acid as well.

 

  • Colorful Produce You can eat any kind red, orange, yellow green or blue fruits and veggies as you desire. (Smoothies and juices qualify!) Colorful produce are packed with beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants.

Beta-carotene is one such benefit found in many fruits and vegetables. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Vitamin A is extremely important in the development of your baby’s skin, bones, organs, and eyes. It is better to take in vitamin A in natural forms and your prenatal vitamins only. High levels of “preformed” vitamin A can increase the risk of birth defects.

 

  • Complex Carbs Whole grains contain complex carbs and are full of fiber (which is a life saver if you are dealing with constipation). The starchiness of whole grains will also help subdue nausea. Eating a variety of whole grains will also up your daily dose of baby-building minerals and vitamins, like the B vitamins, iron and more.

Good whole grain choices include popcorn, quinoa, oats, wheat, rice, barley, and corn.

 

  • Water Dehydration can up your chances for early labor. Making sure you are well hydrated will help your body to flush toxins, and deliver nutrients throughout your body. Drinking enough water, at least 8 cups a day, will also make you feel more full so you are less likely to reach for that extra handful of chips or cookies.

If drinking two quarts of plain old water a day sounds boring, there is good news. The water you get from all sources (100% juice, soup, milk, tea, and decaffeinated coffee) counts. Don’t set your focus on just water, but overall fluid intake.

 

Remember that when you are pregnant you should not drink alcohol (including beer, wine, liquor, mixed drinks, malt beverages, etc.). Even moderate drinking during pregnancy can cause behavioral or developmental problems for your baby. Heavy drinking during pregnancy can result in serious problems for your baby, including malformation and mental retardation.

Of course if you have any concerns you should talk with your medical care provider. This is only intended as a quick reference and should not be used in place of information provided to you by your doctor.  We wish you a safe and healthy pregnancy!!

 

Resources

http://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/

http://www.who.int/topics/pregnancy/en/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-nutrition/art-20043844

http://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/photo-gallery/best-foods-for-pregnant-women.aspx#03

http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/eating-for-two/

http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy/

http://www.choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html

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2 Responses to Best Foods for Expecting Mothers

  1. Cara Cooperman says:

    I was browsing your website this morning and noticed broken links on this page (http://fillyourplate.org/blog/best-foods-for-expecting-mothers/). I was wondering if this e-mail was the best way to forward you a short list that I jotted down?

    Also, I was wondering if you accept resource suggestions? I have a favorite nutrition article that helped me stay strong while breastfeeding my daughter. I think it might be a good fit for your list. Let me know 🙂 Take Care!

    Cara Cooperman

  2. Marcus says:

    very insightful article, will definitely use as a source.

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