You're pregnant, and the phrase "eating for two" seems to promise nine months of delicious abandon...and lots of chocolate. Not so fast. Find out what "eating for two" really entails, and how best to eat for a healthy pregnancy.
Can I really eat twice as much now that I'm pregnant?
The short answer is: Although you may be sorely tempted to eat twice as much, you have no medical reason to do so. Your body becomes more efficient during pregnancy and is able to absorb more of the nutrients you eat. So consuming twice as much doesn't double your chances of having a healthy baby — instead, it's likely to mean excessive weight gain for you, which can put you at risk for pregnancy complications.
In fact, you need only 300 or so extra calories a day when you're pregnant, fewer during your first trimester. That's about the number of calories found in two and a half cups of low-fat milk or a tuna sandwich. So instead of helping yourself to extra servings at mealtime, think in terms of a smart snack, such as a glass of orange juice and a couple of slices of whole-wheat toast, to boost your calories during your pregnancy.
What foods do I need more of?
To meet your additional daily need for protein, calories, and key vitamins and minerals, health experts advise pregnant women to eat a variety of foods. These basics will get you started:
• nine or more servings of breads, cereals, and grains (at least four should be whole grain)
• seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables (at least one rich in vitamin C and one in vitamin A)
• at least three servings of milk and milk products
• at least three servings of protein — lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts — and dried beans or peas
That sounds like a lot of food, but realize that a "serving" tends to be smaller than you might think. For example, one slice of bread equals one serving for the bread and grains category, a half-cup of cottage cheese or one slice of cheese equals a dairy serving, and a protein serving is one egg or a piece of meat about the size of a deck of cards.
Choosing several different-colored fruits and vegetables each day will help you get the variety of nutrients you need. Opt for foods as close to their natural state as possible to maximize your chances of eating well: Pick whole-grain bread or brown rice over refined white bread or white rice and fresh fruits over canned fruits in sugar syrup. Eat fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. (Can't overcome your cravings for junk food? Discover some healthy — and delicious — alternatives.)
Do these food guidelines ever not apply?
There are six exceptions to the recommended pregnancy food formula. You should talk to your healthcare practitioner about your particular nutritional needs:
• If you're significantly overweight you might do better with fewer calories but speak to your healthcare provider to make sure you get the nutrients your baby needs
• If you're significantly underweight you'll need to eat more
• If you're a teenager who's still growing you'll have greater-than-average nutritional requirements
• If you're the expectant mother of multiples, you'll have extra nutritional needs
• If you're a diabetic mother-to-be, you'll need to closely monitor your blood sugar levels
• If you develop gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, you'll also need to closely monitor your blood sugar levels
How is the food I eat divided between my needs and my baby's?
Doctors don't understand exactly how you and your growing baby divvy up nutrients. Sustenance for your child comes from your diet and the nutrients already stored in your bones and tissues. In the past, a developing fetus was thought of as a "perfect parasite," taking all the nourishment she needed from her mother, regardless of the woman's diet. This myth maintained that if your diet was deficient in, say, calcium, it didn't matter because your baby could simply siphon the mineral from the reserves in your bones and teeth. Now experts believe that it is the growing baby who is affected most if the woman's diet lacks adequate nutrients.
In a nutshell: Your baby's health and growth is directly related to what you eat before and during your pregnancy. And when you're tempted to overdo it, remember that you're eating for a baby, not another full-sized adult.
Reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board