How to Eat During Pregnancy and Enjoy It
If there is ever a time in your life when it matters what kind of foods you put into your body, this is one of the most important ones. From the day you conceive, you are developing the brains, lungs, a heart, and an intricate nervous system for a tiny developing baby growing inside of you, that will sustain him or her for a lifetime. During this delicate time, little eyes, ears, and fingers are growing, along with many other complicated systems.
What you eat during the time between conception and your delivery can determine your child’s intelligence, skills and abilities, whether or not there are mental, emotion or physical disabilities, and even the health of your child from his or her first moment in the world. I know you want to give your child the best shot possible at a healthy, successful life, or you wouldn't be reading this article.
As each area of your baby develops, from the teeny, tiny ears, to the hair on his or her head, different nutrients are needed from you. If the nutrients can be found, they will be pulled from your stores to feed the baby creation process first, so not only is it important to be eating the right foods during this precious time in your life, but eating the right quantities as well.
But there's no reason you can't eat great foods and really enjoy them! There are tons of amazing options available to make your baby-creating diet not only great from the baby, but delicious as well. You may just as well decide to continue eating like this for life, even after delivery. Let’s take a closer look at some of the foods that you should be considering during this delicate time in your baby’s life.
How far along are you in your pregnancy?
Your Pregnancy Food Choices
The foods you eat during pregnancy can boost your baby's health and help keep you in tip-top shape through your delivery day. Make sure to eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need.
The recommended daily servings of each food group you should be consuming include 6 to 11 servings of whole grain breads and other grains (yes, you read that right!), 2 to 4 servings of fruit, 4 or more servings of vegetables, 4 servings of full fat dairy products (yes again!), and three servings of protein sources (meat, poultry, fish, eggs or nuts).
Most of us take water for granted. But truly, there is no more important nutrient for our bodies than water, and no other substance is as widely involved in the processes and makeup of the body. Your brain needs water to function, your muscles cannot function without water, and within 5 days, you will die without the water your system needs.
However, during pregnancy your body needs even more water to cope with the demands of your changing body and your growing baby. Dehydration during pregnancy can lead to all sorts of complications, like headaches, nausea, cramps, edema, and dizziness. In the third trimester, dehydration can actually cause contractions triggering preterm labor.
Dehydration occurs way faster than you would think during pregnancy, because your body is using this water to nurture your developing infant, and feed into his or her new systems, requiring that you drink twice as much as you are used to just to stay healthy. Healthy water drinking recommendations for everyone, pregnant or not, is your body weight in ounces, or at least 10 (8 ounce) bottles of water.
Fruits and Vegetables
Just as the vitamins and nutrients provided by a variety of fruits and veggies are critical for all of your systems to function properly before pregnancy, and in order to conceive, this is even more important during pregnancy.
Consider all of the intricate and very delicate processes going on inside of you during pregnancy and it won’t be a surprise why a healthy diet filled with fruits and veggies would make a difference. Consider some of these for the biggest bang for your buck, in taste and nutrition.
- Avocados are loaded with folate, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6. All of these vitamins are vital to forming your baby's brain and nervous system, along with helping your baby's tissue growth and easing your morning sickness. This may be one of the most important parts of your regular pregnancy diet, after water of course.
- Mangoes contain more vitamins A and C bite for delicious bite than a salad. They also have traces of Vitamin E, Vitamin B and Vitamin K, being up to 3 times your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C. Being high in iron, calcium, and magnesium, mango is also said to be very good for pregnant women, as it relaxes the muscles, relieves stress, and prevents spontaneous abortions.
- Bananas are rich in potassium and offer quick energy to fight off pregnancy fatigue. They're also easy on your stomach if you're nauseated. Bananas are also known for their mood stabilizing qualities. With all of the hormones coursing through your system during pregnancy, grab a banana to cool down, calm down, and find a happy normal again.
- Oranges are packed with vitamin C, folate, and fiber, and since they're nearly 90% water, they'll also help you meet your daily fluid. Just like you were taught to stock up on Vitamin C when you’re sick, during pregnancy this fruit is that much more important in your diet, and will keep you healthy and thriving.
(You'll want to get your hands on this Homemade Chocolate Chip Banana Pumpkin Bread for a delicious treat any stage of your pregnancy!)
- Dried Fruit is great when you're craving something sweet during the day, as this portable snack can help to prevent urinary tract infections common during pregnancy. Consider yummy dried apricots, cherries, cranberries, and even bananas, but stay far away from the store bought, sugar-laden versions, since they're processed in oil and loaded with fat. Try your hand at dehydrating your own fruit in the oven. It's super easy!
- Broccoli is going to be one of the most important veggies to include in your pregnancy diet. Not only is it loaded with calcium and folate, but it is also rich in fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants. Broccoli contains plenty of vitamin C, which is necessary for your body to absorb iron when it's eaten with an iron-rich food, like whole wheat pasta and brown rice.
- Sweet Potatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, folate, and fiber. We learned how important this orange vegetable was for your system in my article Great Foods to Eat When Trying to Conceive. These babies are just as important for regulating your system during pregnancy, and giving your body the nutrients it needs to provide for a developing infant.
- Asparagus is high in folate, which helps to prevent birth defects like spina bifida and anencephaly. This folate is also necessary for new cell formation and maintenance as well as DNA replication. One more bonus is that asparagus is also a natural diuretic, laxative, and promotes your own cardiovascular health during pregnancy.
- Dark Leafy Greens signal higher vitamin content than their lighter counterparts. These power-packed vegetables help keep the body healthy and with growing a baby in the womb. But each vegetable has its own key vitamins and nutrients to offer you. For example, spinach has high levels of folate and iron, and kale and turnip greens are both good calcium sources. Load your diet with any dark leafy green vegetables and you’ll be doing yourself and your growing baby a favor.
Fish Rich in Omega-3
Wild-caught fish is going to be the absolute best place to get your dose of DHA, which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that helps grow baby's brain and nervous system. Many studies suggest that if you regularly eat fish while pregnant, you will boost your baby's eyesight and brain development. The fatty acids many fish contain help to shape the nerve cells that are relevant to eyesight and particularly the retina. They are also important in forming the synapses that are vital in the transport of messages between neurons in the nervous system.
Whole Wheat and Whole Grains
By swapping your traditional white bread for a whole-grain variety, you can make sure you're consuming at least the recommended 20 to 35 daily grams of fiber (scan labels to find a loaf that offers at least 2 grams of fiber per slice). Fiber will help to prevent constipation and hemorrhoids.
Whole grains (including whole wheat, oats, barley, corn, and rice, to name a few) are packed with nutrients such as iron, selenium, and magnesium. They're also especially good sources of the B vitamins (including B1, B2, folate, and niacin) that your growing baby needs for developing just about every part of his body. Grains supply energy for your baby's development and help the placenta grow. Be sure to look for "whole grains," like whole wheat bread and brown rice, for example. These contain the most vitamins and nutrients. (Tip: If you really want to get the full experience of grains, without the bad side effects from the refined ingredients, try your hand at making your own with raw honey!)
It's easy to get your day off to an energizing start by trading in your usual morning bagel or muffin for a bowl of oatmeal a few times a week. Or you could even make some delicious Homemade Granola. But why are oats so good for you? Complex carbohydrates like oats keep you satisfied longer, and can help lower your cholesterol levels. Instead of buying flavored oatmeal loaded with refined sugar from the store, make your own with these Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets.
You knew folate was important before conception and during your first few weeks of pregnancy, but your needs for the B vitamin stay high the whole pregnancy. Experts advise getting 600 micrograms per day through foods that are naturally high in folate, such as oats, asparagus, and black-eyed peas. My mouth is already watering.
During pregnancy you need about 10 extra grams of protein a day (for a total of at least 60 grams). Beans and lentils are an excellent source, with about 15 grams per cup. They're also high in fiber, which helps to combat constipation. Beans contain several vital nutrients, including folate, which can help prevent neural tube defects in a fetus during pregnancy. And dried beans contain nearly double the folate that canned beans contain (and a lot less unhealthy sodium), so it is better to cook them from their dried form. However, canned beans still contain more folate than many foods.
Try out a variety of different kinds of beans depending on the meal you are serving them with. Consider refried beans for a Hispanic meal, lima beans with a nice chicken dinner, black-eyed peas with a smothered steak, or even baked beans with barbecue. There are so many different types of beans, if one doesn’t work well for you, simply choose another.
Protein is what's going to build your baby's brain and help it grow to be healthy and fully functional. Not only does protein help you to grow, it is essential for the growth of your baby as well. Should you not get the recommended amount of protein in your diet, the baby will begin to break down it's own tissues in order to get building blocks, preventing the both of you from staying healthy.
It's important to make a habit out of incorporating protein into your everyday diet. It is recommended that you consume three servings of protein (about 75 grams) every day to help eliminate problems during pregnancy. Three great ways to get your recommended daily protein are through meat (like chicken, pork, beef, and fish), animal products (like whole fat milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt), and nuts.
- Meat is the perfect source of protein as your daily iron needs double during pregnancy. Iron helps to give you the necessary energy you will so be lacking during your pregnant months, as well as helping with constipation, of which many pregnant women suffer. Your body will also need much more protein now that you are feeding at least two.
- Eggs are also a great source of protein. Eggs contain all the essential amino acids your body needs. There's nothing better for a quick dinner than an omelet with lots of chopped vegetables and a bit of cheese. Your reserve of choline, a B vitamin that boosts fetal brain and memory development, gets wiped out during pregnancy, so getting enough is critical. And you don’t have to fry your eggs. You can also boil them, devil them, poach them, or any other way that suits you.
- Nuts are also critical for your baby's brain development and help to keep you full for longer. They are loaded with magnesium, fiber, and vitamin E and also contain a good amount of protein. Plus, recent research shows that children of moms including nuts in their pregnancy diets had a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies.
Your body absorbs roughly twice as much calcium from foods while you're pregnant, so your daily needs remain the same. But since most of us get too little calcium to begin with, drinking more full fat milk, or including more dairy products like cheese and yogurt in your diet, is a smart move. But be careful, the conventional dairy products from the store contain tons of refined sugars and preservatives, without any real nutrients. Make sure to choose organic, grass-fed varieties to get the benefits, and none of the consequences, from the dairy products you need.
- Cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella can be a big help in meeting your calcium requirements during pregnancy, but you should be cautious of many soft cheeses. So simply stay clear of cheeses like brie, camembert, chevre (a type of goat's cheese), and any soft, blue-veined cheeses due to the danger of listeria and the harm it could do to your unborn baby. Otherwise, cheese is high in protein and very good for you!
- Yogurt is a great source of zinc. Zinc helps create the bricks of baby's genetic roadmap, namely DNA. Yogurt is also rich in calcium, including this yummy dairy product in your pregnancy diet will help your baby develop strong bones. And it contains friendly probiotic bacteria to ease digestion and boost immunity. It doesn’t matter what flavor you choose or even if it’s Greek or any other type, just make sure that it's organic and full fat.
Garlic cuts your risk of preeclampsia, a serious condition also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension. About 25% of women with high blood pressure during pregnancy develop preeclampsia, and those who've had it are more than twice as likely to have heart disease later in life. Garlic can also do wonders for nausea during the first trimester and last trimester of pregnancy. Check out my article on Food Cures for Morning Sickness Early in Pregnancy for more information on great foods to help quell nausea during pregnancy.
If there was ever a time to be conscious about what kind of foods you are putting into your body, pregnancy has to be the most important one. At this point in time, you aren’t just eating for your own health, but you are eating to create a human being. The small decisions you make can have huge consequences in the way of brain development, spine and circulatory system development, and even the development of the lungs, organs, bones, etc. of your tiny baby.
Obviously one fruit versus another, or one grain versus another, isn’t going to make a big difference, but if you don’t get the nutrients you need when you need them from a varied, healthy diet, your baby won’t have the materials it needs to develop correctly. Fast food, alcoholic drinks, smoking, drugs, and the worst of foods without sufficient fruits and vegetables could result in brain damage, birth defects, and other ailments that are avoidable.
Fill your diet with the best foods you can muster, a good dose of foods from every food group, trying your best to avoid junk foods, and other substances that you know aren’t healthy for you, and you can be assured the healthiest baby possible. But remember that eating healthy doesn't have to be difficult. Make it delicious and fun by trying out all sorts of new and interesting foods. Fill your plate with lots of color, and use this as a time to experiment. it is also said that the more variety you have in your diet while pregnant, the more likely that your child will enjoy those same foods. Enjoy!
© 2014 Victoria Van Ness