"Eating for two" during pregnancy doesn't mean you should gorge on doughnuts and chips. It means what you eat affects the health of both you and baby. Maintaining proper nutrition during pregnancy can help keep you energized through all three trimesters, and it can give your growing baby the right combination of vitamins, minerals, and proteins to develop correctly. Eating a little junk food now and then will not harm you and your baby, but you don't want to get all of your daily calories from foods high in fat and low in nutrients.
What to eat
- Fruits and veggies: When planning your meals and snacks, think fresh and colorful. Browse the produce section in your grocery store for inspiration. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain amino acids, minerals, vitamins, fiber, and enzymes to help keep your digestive system running smoothly. Try making fresh fruit smoothies in the morning for breakfast, or fill a plate with colorful veggies to dip into your favorite salad dressing as an afternoon snack.
- Nuts and seeds: Healthy fats and proteins can keep your brain sharp and help your baby's brain develop and grow. Eating nuts and seeds every day can nourish your body with vitamin E and omega fatty acids. Sprinkle hemp seeds or chopped walnuts over your oatmeal or yogurt to transform them into powerful fuel for your body. Try making your own granola bars using a variety of nuts, seeds, grains, and dried fruit.
- Lean proteins: Protein helps build muscle and keeps you strong through your pregnancy, but you don't want to eat a lot of fatty proteins that can cause unnecessary weight gain. Stick to lean proteins such as turkey breast, low-fat yogurt, and lean cuts of red meat such as filet mignon or tenderloin.
- Whole grains: Whole grains contain a lot of fiber that will help with digestion, and let's face it, sometimes you need all the help you can get during pregnancy! Eating more whole grains will give you energy and help your body absorb nutrients and amino acids. Try eating only minimally processed grains such as stone-ground oats, brown rice, and quinoa.
- Prenatal vitamins: Make sure to take a high-quality prenatal vitamin every day. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, talk to your OB/GYN or midwife about which prenatal vitamin they recommend and whether you should take any additional supplements.
What to avoid
According to the University of Nebraska, avoiding the wrong foods can help you as much as eating the right foods.
- Processed foods: Processed foods contain refined sugars, artificial flavors, hydrogenated fats, and large amounts of salt that will leave your pregnant body feeling sick, bloated, and depleted. Salt can cause you to retain extra water weight and may promote the development of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Steer clear of processed meat products that contain high levels of nitrates, such as hot dogs and bologna.
- Fish, seafood, and raw meats: Most fish contain some level of methyl mercury, which can damage your baby's developing nervous system and brain. It's generally best to avoid eating fish during your pregnancy. If you do eat fish, stick to varieties that contain the lowest mercury levels, such as sardines and salmon, and make sure it is fully cooked. Raw meats and seafood can contain bacteria such as Listeria that can cause birth defects, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Avoid any type of raw sushi, steak tar tar or other under-cooked meat or seafood.
- Soft cheeses and raw dairy: Unpasteurized dairy can contain bacteria like Listeria that could cause miscarriage and stillbirth. Raw dairy and soft cheeses do not go through the pasteurization process, which kills off harmful bacteria. Avoid soft cheeses, such as brie or blue cheese, and select hard cheeses, such as parmesan and cheddar, to enjoy with your meals.
- Caffeinated drinks: Doctors can't seem to agree completely about caffeine. While too much caffeine can increase your risk of miscarriage or low birth weight for your baby, more doctors are agreeing that small consumption of caffeinated drinks, like coffee and black tea, won't hurt your growing baby as long as you limit your intake to 200 mg a day. Most suggest sticking with caffeine-free beverages such as herbal teas, juice, milk, and decaf coffee. Although they won't give you the pick-me-up you might enjoy, they will keep your baby safe from overstimulation.
- Alcohol: As with caffeine, medical advice regarding alcohol can vary. Some doctors say occasional small amounts of alcohol, such as a glass of red wine or a sip of champagne, are unlikely to harm your baby during pregnancy. Others caution that there is no known safe amount. Researchers at Arizona State University note that alcohol can be more harmful to the baby during the early stages of development and that heavy drinking can cause irreversible damage including birth defects, low birth weight, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Timing is everything
Throughout your pregnancy, morning sickness and heartburn can make you feel miserable and affect your eating habits. Luckily, eating meals and snacks more frequently can help keep tummy woes at bay. Instead of eating three large meals per day, try eating six to eight small meals per day. Aim to eat something about every four hours throughout the day.