Once you find out that you are pregnant, you may have questions. One of them might be what to eat and what not to eat during this time. Pregnant or not, eating a variety of foods is a good way to ensure getting what you need for health. Pregnancy is a great time to focus on getting the best nutrition possible.
What should you eat during pregnancy?
Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients not found in other foods. So that’s a good place to start. Eat them! Your doctor will likely prescribe prenatal vitamins. But, while you should take them, they do not replace a nutritious diet. If you aren’t eating at least 2-4 servings per day of fruit and 4 or more servings per day of veggies, you should work on increasing your dietary intake. This would provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber, as well as other phytonutrients. These are natural chemicals that help protect plants from germs, fungi, bugs and other threats. It is thought that they may help prevent disease and keep your body functioning properly, though they are not considered essential. There are more than 25,000 phytonutrients found in plant foods, including antioxidants.
Other sources of phytonutrients are whole grains, nuts, and beans. While you may hear of diets that recommend avoiding or limiting carbohydrates, these foods (including beans and whole grains) are the body’s main source of energy. They also provide iron, B vitamins, fiber and some protein. Aim for 6 – 11 servings per day of foods from this important food group. How many servings you should have is based on your weight and individual needs. Consult a Registered Dietitian (RD) for an individualized plan. If your doctor’s office does not have an RD on staff, they may be able to refer you to one. Your health plan may cover this.
Your developing baby needs plenty of protein, things like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and beans. These foods also provide B vitamins and iron. Iron helps carry oxygen to your baby but also to your muscles, which helps prevent fatigue, weakness, depression and irritability. Three servings a day – 3 ounces equals a serving – provides about 27 grams of protein, the U. S. RDA or Recommended Dietary Allowance.
Another nutrient to pay attention to is calcium. You will need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily to help build strong bones and teeth. If your diet doesn’t provide this, your body draws it from your bones. Four servings a day of milk, cheese, or yogurt will supply this. Calcium is also contained in green leafy vegetables, seafood, beans, and dried peas. If you prefer a nondairy “milk,” check to see how much calcium it contains. Your body can’t utilize a lot of calcium intake at one time, so try to eat the four servings separately throughout the day. Calcium from food is also better for your body than taking a calcium supplement.
If you are not used to eating some of these healthy foods, try searching for different ways to prepare them. There are many resources available for recipes. This is another service an RD can offer.
What foods or drinks should you avoid during pregnancy?
Here are some foods to limit or avoid…
A 12-ounce cup of coffee has about 200 milligrams of caffeine. That is generally considered safe during pregnancy. Try to limit yourself to that one 12 ounce cup.
Alcohol, however, is best avoided at this time as it passes directly to your baby and is associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Also avoid fish containing high levels of mercury. Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, and tilefish fall into this category. Some tuna also contains mercury. The safer choice is the canned light tuna, though canned white tuna, also called albacore, is considered safe to have (6 ounce portion) three times a month.
Stay away from unpasteurized food, including juice, milk and cheese, when you are pregnant.
Also avoid raw or rare/undercooked meat and poultry, raw or undercooked fish or shellfish.
Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs or foods that contain them.
Avoid raw or undercooked sprouts.
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Sydney Rephan, RD, LD