A healthy diet and good nutrition during pregnancy ensure that your baby gets the best start possible. The best diet is a balanced diet that provides ample amounts of:
- healthy types of fat
- vitamins and minerals
Taking prenatal multivitamin will ensure that you get the basic requirements. But vitamin-packed, fresh foods will help your baby get the best start in life.
What constitutes a healthy diet during pregnancy?
A healthy diet during pregnancy contains much of the same balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients as a healthy diet in general. The difference is that you need higher amounts. If you already have healthy eating habits, it will be easy to make slight adjustments to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women consume an additional 300 calories over their normal intake requirements. Avoid dieting and the urge to binge eat during pregnancy. The old adage that you need to “eat for two” is purely a myth: the key is moderation.
Whenever possible, eat complex carbohydrates, such as:
- whole-grain breads and pastas
Stay away from their nutritionally deficient cousins, the simple carbohydrates:
- white bread
Eat four servings of protein daily. The American Pregnancy Association recommends between 75 and 100 grams daily. Your doctor may recommend more protein if your pregnancy is considered high risk.
Eat three or more daily servings of green and yellow vegetables, which contain significant amounts of:
- vitamin A
- vitamin E
- folic acid
- vitamin B6
- trace minerals
Four additional servings per day should come from fruits and non-green or -yellow vegetables. These provide:
Grains and legumes
Whole grains and legumes, such as dried peas and beans, and other healthy carbohydrates like fruit and starchy vegetables should comprise nine or more servings a day. They provide B vitamins and trace minerals, such as zinc selenium and magnesium. Grains and legumes are full of nutrients, including the various B vitamins: thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin (vitamin B-2), folate and niacin. Your growing baby needs these for the development of just about every part of the body. Folate intake significantly reduces the risk of having a baby with spina bifida. These foods supply energy for your baby’s development and help build the placenta and other tissues in your body.
Try to eat 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day to help prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. You can get these from whole grains, veggies, legumes and fruit. Products labeled refined or enriched aren’t as beneficial to you or your baby.
You should eat iron-rich foods daily. Since many women don’t get enough iron in their diet, iron is an important part of prenatal supplements. Iron is often poorly absorbed from plant foods, which is why it’s difficult for many people to reach the proper requirement. Talk to your doctor if you are prone to iron-deficiency anemia. They may recommend a supplement.
Unhealthy high-fat foods include fried foods, saturated fats, and packaged products containing trans fats. You should limit these foods to less than four daily servings. However, it’s dangerous to eliminate all fat from your diet. Essential fatty acids are important, including omega-3-fatty acids. Some examples of healthy fats include:
- pumpkin and sunflower seeds
- chia seeds
- fatty fish
- olive oil
These foods provide the right types of fats for your baby’s brain development.
You should eat salty foods in moderation.
Fluids are an important part of a healthy diet. You should consume at least 64 ounces, or eight glasses, per day, and more is better. During pregnancy, you should avoid caffeinated drinks. They increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and may affect your baby’s nervous system development.
Water also reduces your chance of constipation and the subsequent hemorrhoids that can develop from straining during defecation. The increased flow of urine also reduces your risk of developing a urinary tract infection, which can be dangerous for you and your baby.
What vitamins do I need during pregnancy?
If you choose to take supplements during your pregnancy, make sure you read the labels of every bottle. It’s important to stay within the daily allowance.
Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth, as most people know. But it’s also critical for proper development and function of the heart and other muscles, as well as for the blood clotting system. The fetus demands a huge supply of calcium during development. It’s thought to have a total body store of 25 grams of calcium at birth, all of which is received from the mother.
Pregnant women need 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Milk and dairy products are great sources of calcium, as is calcium-fortified orange juice and bread. Canned fish with bones, calcium-set tofu, cooked beans, and cooked dark leafy greens also provide calcium. Prenatal supplements usually contain only 150 to 200 milligrams of calcium. So prenatal vitamins alone cannot provide sufficient calcium to a pregnant woman.
Chromium is important for your baby’s development. You should get 50 micrograms per day. Foods that contain significant amounts of chromium include:
- whole-wheat bread
- peanut butter
- wheat germ
Copper stimulates the growth of cells and tissues, hair growth, and general metabolism. It’s a critical component of the baby’s major systems: the heart and circulatory system, the skeleton, and the nervous system. Two to three milligrams of copper is recommended daily. If you eat a healthy diet and take a multivitamin, you are certain to get enough.
Folic acid is an important vitamin that stimulates red blood cell formation and the production of important chemical signals in the nervous system. It’s also important in the process of making DNA. Perhaps more importantly, folic acid has been identified as a critical vitamin to prevent neural tube defects in your baby, such as spina bifida.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends taking 400 micrograms a day before you conceive, and at least 600 micrograms a day during pregnancy.
Good sources of folic acid include:
- cooked green leafy vegetables
- wheat germ
- chicken liver
- lentils and kidney beans
- fortified cereal
Iodine is critical for the development and functioning of the thyroid gland and regulation of metabolism. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for pregnant women is 200 micrograms per day. You can get iodine from:
- fluoridated drinking water
- iodized (table) salt
- brewer’s yeast
Iron is a crucial element in many of the body’s processes. Iron supplements are important for most women, as few women get enough iron through their diet. Often, women who lack iron become anemic. Iron-deficiency anemia is one of the most common forms of anemia. It can be regulated through iron supplements.
Your best dietary source of iron is red meat, such as beef. You can get non-heme iron (found in vegetables) from lentils, spinach, black strap molasses, and many kinds of beans. To improve the absorption of plant or non-heme iron, pair the food with a vitamin-C rich source. For example, add fresh sliced bell peppers or strawberries to your spinach salad. The American Pregnancy Association recommends a daily intake of 27 milligrams of iron for pregnant women.
Magnesium is an important element for teeth and bones, regulation of blood-sugar levels, and the proper functioning of body proteins. It’s also important for tissue growth and repair, and may play a role in reducing preterm delivery. The RDA for magnesium for pregnant women is 300 milligrams. A good diet usually provides enough magnesium, so it’s not present in most prenatal vitamins. The best food sources of magnesium are:
- seeds such as sunflower and pumpkin
- wheat germ
You can also take Epsom salt baths twice a week to increase your blood magnesium levels.
This vitamin (B-5) is involved in many of the body’s regulatory and metabolic activities. The recommended daily allowance for the average person is 4 to 7 milligrams. Pantothenic acid is present in:
- organ meats
- collard greens
- brewer’s yeast
Potassium is a mineral that affects cellular function, fluid balance, and blood pressure regulation, as well as proper nerve and muscle function. While there’s no recommended daily allowance for nonpregnant adults, most doctors agree that pregnant women require at least 2,000 milligrams per day. Prenatal vitamins can provide potassium, but potassium is present at high levels in foods such as:
- dark leafy greens
This element is an important part of the development of the muscular, circulatory, and skeletal systems. The recommended daily allowance for nonpregnant women is 800 milligrams for adult women and 1,200 milligrams for younger women. Pregnant women should aim to eat about 1,200 milligrams of phosphorus. Sources include milk, yogurt, beans, seafood, and nuts.
This vitamin is important for fetal development and growth. The RDA for pregnant women is 1.6 milligrams and 1.8 milligrams for nursing women. A prenatal vitamin may be your best consistent source, but B2 can be found in liver, with smaller amounts present in soybeans, yogurt, and mushrooms.
Thiamine is important for metabolism and development of the brain, nervous system, and heart. When you’re pregnant, you need increased amounts of many vitamins, including B1. The RDA for pregnant women is about 1.3 milligrams.
Vitamin A is critical for proper cell growth and the development of the eyes, skin, blood, and immunity and resistance to infection.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 is important for your body’s metabolism and for the development of the fetal brain and nervous systems. The RDA for pregnant women is 2.2 milligrams.
The RDA of zinc for pregnant women is 20 milligrams per day and 25 milligrams for nursing women. You can buy prenatal vitamins that contain zinc. Sources include red meat, seeds, nuts, and beans.
Vitamin B-12 is found mainly in meats and dairy products. So it can be a problem for vegans or strict vegetarians. If you have dietary restrictions, make sure that your vitamin supplement has adequate B-12. Nutritional yeast, fortified with B-12, is a great staple for vegetarians. It has a salty and savory flavor and tastes similar to Parmesan cheese.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
The body does not stockpile Vitamin C, so you need regular sources to fulfill your daily requirement. The RDA for pregnant women is 80 milligrams per day. You can reach your goal through daily intake of citrus fruits, adding fresh lemon or lime juice to your water, and consuming fresh fruits and vegetables like berries, bell peppers, and broccoli.
Humans produce vitamin D in their skin in response to sunlight. Vitamin D itself is found naturally only in some fish liver oils. Since exposure to sunlight is variable and this vitamin is so important for pregnant women and growing children, all milk is now fortified with vitamin D per quart as regulated by the U.S. government. Vitamin D supplements are especially important if you don’t drink milk.
You should always talk to your doctor and dietitian if you are concerned about your diet. They can help you determine if you are getting enough nutrients.