Expert Tips on Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

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Are you newly pregnant and wondering what dietary changes you might want to make? Your are not alone. So, we asked registered dietician Nora Saul:

What are the three most important dietary changes I should make during my pregnancy?

Here’s what she had to say:

The old adage says you are eating for two during pregnancy, but I like to phrase it as you are eating for the health of yourself and your child. You need to provide your body with the nutrients it most needs because your fetus gets its nourishment from your body.

Pregnancy puts extra demands on the body: you have to have enough calories and protein to support the extra tissue that makes up the lining of the uterus and the placenta, as well as to supply energy for the growth of your baby. Consuming too few calories and gaining too little weight can lead to preterm delivery or babies who are small for their gestational age. There may also be long-term consequences, such as learning disabilities for the child later on.

On the other hand, eating too many calories can result in obesity and gestational diabetes for you, and obesity, difficulties in delivery and possible hypoglycemia at birth for the baby, as well as an increased risk of obesity for the child later in life.

Extra calorie needs during pregnancy are quite modest. Women need approximately 300 extra calories during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. In addition, they need about 10 extra grams of protein. Three cups of 1 percent milk provide more than double the protein and all the needed extra calories.

On the micronutrient level, which refers to your vitamin and mineral intake, pregnant women need additional calcium, folic acid and iron. Calcium helps support the baby skeletal structure and the extra weight of pregnancy. Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tubular defects, and iron allows for the expanded blood volume.

Folate is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, bok choy and kale, as well as  in oranges. Good sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese, many leafy green vegetables, legumes and canned fish with bones. Iron sources include red meats, beans, dried fruits and fortified cereals.

The other big nutritional changes for pregnancy are things to avoid: all alcohol; cold cuts and unpasteurized foods to reduce the chance of listeria; and shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Also, reduce caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams a day, the amount in a small coffee or a 12-ounce diet soda.

The 40 (or so) weeks of pregnancy are a magical time. Keeping a healthy lifestyle throughout pregnancy, as well as before and after, is key for both baby and mother. Important steps to a healthy pregnancy include eating a balanced diet; gaining the right amount of weight; enjoying regular physical activity; taking a vitamin and mineral supplement if recommended by a physician; and avoiding alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances.

Foods Fit for Mom and Baby 

Moms-to-be need a variety of foods from all the MyPlate food groups. A balanced diet with a variety of foods can provide healthy women with enough nutrients for pregnancy. Safe food practices are important, too, since pregnant women are at higher risk of food poisoning.

Pregnant women need a balanced diet including:

  • Whole grains:Breads, cereals, pastas and brown rice.
  • Fruits:All types of fruits, fresh, frozen or canned without added sugars.
  • Vegetables:Eat a variety of colorful vegetables, fresh, frozen or canned with no added salt. Raw sprouts should be avoided.
  • Lean protein:Choose lean protein from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and peas, peanut butter, soy products and nuts. Pregnant women should avoid eating tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel, and limit white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week. Deli, luncheon meats and hot dogs should be reheated if consumed.
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy:This includes milk, cheese and yogurt. Unpasteurized milk and some soft cheeses that are made from unpasteurized milk also should be avoided.
  • Healthful fats:From foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds as well as vegetable oils including canola and olive oil.

Avoid extra calories from added sugars and solid fats, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Cut down on foods such as regular soda, sweets and fried snacks.

Key Nutrients for Healthy Pregnancy

Folic Acid:

Folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects that affect the spinal cord. All women of childbearing age and pregnant women should consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. Natural food sources of folate include legumes, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits. Folate also can be obtained through fortified foods such as cereals, pastas and bread as well as supplements

Iron:

Maternal iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Pregnant women need at least 27 milligrams of iron each day. Foods with high and moderate amounts of iron include red meat, chicken and fish, fortified cereals, spinach, some leafy greens and beans. For vegetarians and women who do not eat a lot of meat, increase iron absorption by combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods. For example, try spinach salad with mandarin oranges or cereal with strawberries.

Calcium: 

During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles. When a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, it is taken from her bones for the baby. It is important to consume adequate amounts of calcium daily before, during and after pregnancy.

The recommended amount of calcium during pregnancy is 1,300 milligrams per day for adolescents 14 to 18 years old and 1,000 milligrams per day for women aged 19 to 50. That means at least three daily servings of calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese or calcium-fortified plant-based beverages, cereals and juices.

Your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist may recommend a prenatal vitamin/mineral supplement to help ensure that you get enough iron, folic acid and other nutrients.

 Don’t forget breakfast.

  • Try fortified ready-to-eat or cooked breakfast cereals with fruit. Fortified cereals have added nutrients, like calcium.
  • If you are feeling sick, start with whole wheat toast. Eat more food later in the morning.
  1. Eat foods with fiber.
  • Choose a variety of vegetables and fruits, like carrots, cooked greens, bananas, and melon.
  • Eat plenty of beans and whole grains. Try brown rice or oatmeal.
  1. Choose healthy snacks.
  • Low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fruit
  • Whole grain crackers with fat-free or low-fat cheese
  1. Take a prenatal vitamin with iron and folic acid every day.

Iron keeps your blood healthy. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects.

  1. Eat up to 12 ounces a week (2 average meals) of fish or shellfish.
  • A 3-ounce serving is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Avoid fish and shellfish with high levels of mercury. Don’t eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish.
  • If you eat tuna, choose canned light tuna. Albacore (white) tuna has more mercury.
  • Common fish that are low in mercury include shrimp, salmon, and catfish.

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