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Mangia, Mama!

  • Know your nutrition numbers

    Most pregnant women need only an extra 300 calories each day -- the equivalent of about 2 &frac12 cups of low-fat milk -- for a daily total of 2,100 to 2,500 calories. The added helpings keep you on track to gaining the recommended 25 to 35 pounds -- about 3 to 5 pounds in the first trimester, and a pound each week in the second and third. Since increasing the quantity of food you eat shouldn't be too hard, focus on the quality instead.

  • Choose the right fats

    Rather than thinking of a "low-fat" diet, think of a "right-fat" diet: less animal fat and more fish and vegetable fat. Growing babies and moms need fats; they provide special components for many of your developing baby's organs -- especially the brain, which is 60 percent fat. Brain boosting omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, particularly cold-water varieties, and in flax and canola oils. Healthful sources of vegetable fat include peanut butter, avocados, and olives. Limit your intake of foods with trans fats (look for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on the label). There's no proof these fats harm your fetus, but they're certainly not good for you in the long run.

  • Make smart carb choices

    It's often suggested that pregnant women try to follow the food pyramid guidelines. Eating the nine recommended servings of grains (bread, rice, cereal, and pasta) can seem daunting -- until you realize that a large bowl of cereal or a cup of rice equals two servings. Complex carbs are a good source of energy, vitamins, and fiber. Aim to make at least half of your servings whole-grain products, like whole-wheat bread or brown rice. Legumes like soy, lentils, and beans are other good choices. Limit simple sugars like soda or candy, as well as carbs with lots of added fat.

    (Photo by sleepyneko, Creative Commons)

  • Control those cravings.

    You want it. No, actually, you need it -- and now! So what's the best way to handle those relentless food cravings? If they come during periods of morning sickness, your best bet may be to give in to them. Treating your stomach to what it wants could make all the difference between a queasy day and a comfortable one. But don't rely on your cravings to be nutritionally on the mark. The desire for a nightly hot fudge sundae is more likely an emotional need than a nutritional one. It's okay, however, to splurge now and then.

    (Photo by foooooey, Creative Commons)

  • Fill up on fiber and fluids.

    Constipation is quite common during pregnancy. The slowdown in your intestines allows more water to be absorbed, which can translate into harder stools. Increasing your consumption of fiber and water can help. Fiber is like an intestinal broom; it soaks up water and sweeps out waste. High-fiber foods include the four A's (apples, artichokes, apricots, avocados); the four P's (prunes, pears, plums, peas); and the three B's (bran, beans, berries). As you increase your fiber intake, you must also drink lots of water -- too much fiber and too little fluid can actually aggravate constipation. So fill up that sports bottle and carry it along wherever you go.

  • Value your vitamins.

    Your doctor will prescribe a prenatal vitamin to supplement maternal and fetal nutrition, but you should also consume food sources of essential nutrients. Folate, calcium, and iron are the three biggies. Folate (or folic acid) helps prevent birth defects; good sources are asparagus, lentils, spinach, and fortified breads and pastas. Calcium, which helps build healthy baby bones, can be found in milk and yogurt, as well as tofu, figs, and broccoli. Iron is needed to make the hemoglobin in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the fetus. Eating lean red meat, dark leafy veggies, and dried fruits will get you the amount you need. Coupling iron-rich foods with vitamin C-laden foods (like strawberries and citrus fruits) will aid iron absorption.

    Dr. William Sears

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