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Questions Covered in this Post:
- Since I’m pregnant, should I eat differently?
- What does a healthy pregnancy diet look like?
- Does eating for two meaning eating more?
- Should I take any vitamin supplements?
- Are there any foods I shouldn’t eat during pregnancy?
- Is it safe to go on a diet during pregnancy?
- How much weight should I gain in pregnancy?
- How many meals should I eat each day?
- Can I still have occasional treats during pregnancy?
“What should I eat during my pregnancy?” This is another one of those questions I get all the time. The short answer is it depends on what you were eating before. If you already eat a pretty healthy diet, you may just need to make a few little tweaks. However, if you are a fast food junky, live on readymade meals, or have a potato chip and/or chocolate habit, you may need more of a drastic adjustment.
The important thing here is to get all the nutrients you and your growing baby need. Daily meals should include a variety of foods from the following groups:
- Protein Rich Foods: These include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans and lentils. Try to eat two or more portions of fish a week. If you can, include at least one but no more than two portions of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines per week. I recommend trying to get about 100 grams of protein per day.
- Vegetables & Fruits: Eat between 6 to 8 portions of fruit and vegetables each day, always choosing more veggies than fruit (sugar content). Fresh is best.
- Okay, here is a Jaelin rant (fair warning). No JUICE! Eat the fruit! You would never sit down and eat 4 or 5 oranges in one sitting. However, when you drink juice, that is basically what you are doing. It is extremely important that you realize the amount of natural sugars you are ingesting. These sugars can (and will) affect your blood sugar levels, cause you to gain weight, and damage your teeth. A good rule is to just eat the fruits and/or vegetables and leave the juice alone.
- Starchy Food: These include bread, pasta, rice, couscous, potatoes, breakfast cereals, oats, other grains (like rye & barley), plantains, and yams. Everyone loves tasty breads such as dinner rolls or garlic breads, and they fall into this group, but if you can, always choose wholegrain options.
- Dairy foods: Milk, cheese, and yogurt, are a good source of calcium. Calcium is the building blocks for healthy bones and remember—you are generating an entire new skeleton inside of you. If you do not feed your body the calcium it needs, it will take it from your bones, making you weaker. Also, when eating yogurt, watch out for added sugars.
- However, you can also find calcium in non-dairy foods. Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach or collard greens, are also excellent sources of calcium.
- Iodine: Iodine is a mineral found in food that’s essential for your baby’s brain development. Many people have low iodine levels due to dietary choices. Foods rich in iodine include dairy and seafood. Many brands of salt have included iodine in them, and iodine occurs naturally in sea salt. Check the labels when buying your salt to find out what the iodine content is.
The order that you eat your foods is also important. I suggest eating your protein first, then your veggies, and then your carbs. Fill up on protein and veggies, and you won’t feel like you are cheating when you eat carbs.
Here is a great video showing how nutrition is passed from mother to baby.
When you’re pregnant, your body makes even better use of the energy you get from your food. This means you don’t actually need any extra calories for the first six months of pregnancy, despite what you may have heard.
For the last three months of your pregnancy, you only need about 200 extra calories a day to help support your growing baby. To give you an idea of how much more food this is, 200 calories is roughly equivalent to:
- One apple with 1 Tbls. of peanut butter
- 10 carrot sticks with 2 Tbls. of ranch dressing
- 10 baked tortilla chips with half a cup of salsa
- Half a whole wheat pita and one quarter cup of hummus
Your body is usually pretty good at telling you when you need to eat. The problem is that most of us (me included) do a pretty poor job of listening to it. However, as I tell all of my clients—trust your body! If it is hungry, you need to feed it. Your appetite will probably fluctuate a lot during your pregnancy, and this is normal.
It is common to not feel like eating during the first few weeks of pregnancy, especially if you are suffering nausea and vomiting. Often times, the only foods the women in this condition can get down are plain foods, such as crackers or toast.
During the middle part of your pregnancy, your appetite may be the same as before you were pregnant, or slightly increased. Towards the end of your pregnancy, your appetite will probably increase.
Often women suffer from heartburn or a full feeling after eating. If this is the case, you may find it easier to have smaller, more frequent meals, instead of your usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Many of my clients have also said that not drinking while they eat helps with heartburn.
The best rule is to eat a good balance of foods every day, and you’ll gain weight steadily as your baby grows.
The short answer is YES. However, here are some things to look for:
- Steer clear of drugstore or mainstream brands of prenatal vitamins (Centrum, Costco, Etc…). They are often made with synthetic vitamins that are not well absorbed or utilized well by our bodies and may even be harmful. For example, synthetic vitamin E is thought to cause congenital heart defects in babies and DNA damage in mamas.
- This is important: Look for a brand that lists Folate (5-methyl tetrahydrofolate), not “folic acid.”
Folic acid is synthetically made, while folate is naturally occurring. It’s estimated that about 40-60% of the population has a mutation on the MTHFR gene, which is the gene that breaks down folic acid and turns it into a usable form of vitamin B9, methyl folate. To make things worse, it’s estimated that if you have this MTHFR gene mutation, your body can be up to 80% less efficient in converting the folic acid, which is used for DNA methylation, the process of turning certain genes off and on.
Without knowing whether you have this mutation or not, there is a high probability that your body will not be able to use the folic acid to its fullest potential. You could possibly put your fetus at risk because if your body cannot convert the folic acid into a usable form, it’s as if you aren’t taking anything at all.
The best prenatal vitamins remove the possibility that your body will not be able to utilize the synthetic folic acid by opting to use natural folate instead.
- Look for the inclusion of both Vitamin K1 and K2.
- Look for choline in your prenatal.
- Look for synergistic combinations of vitamins with cofactors to aid in absorption and assimilation. These may include fruit powder extracts, enzymes, or herbs.
- Ensure they don’t contain soy, gluten or dairy.
- Look for third party testing and verification.
If you take a multivitamin, make sure it meets the criteria above and that it is specifically for pregnancy (prenatal). Other multivitamins may contain retinol, which can be toxic to unborn babies. Prenatal multivitamins also contain carotene, the plant-based type of vitamin A, which is safe for your baby.
In addition, prenatal vitamins usually contain iron due to the fact that, by your third trimester, your body absorbs three times more iron than before pregnancy. This means that iron-deficiency anemia is very common in pregnancy. You should be able to meet your iron requirements by including plenty of iron-rich foods in your diet. Red meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, leafy green vegetables, nuts and fortified cereal are all good sources of iron. Your health care professional should check your blood for signs of iron-deficiency anemia during your pregnancy. If they’re low, they may prescribe additional iron supplements.
There have been some reports suggesting that pregnant women should take iodine supplements. Iodine is important for your baby’s development, however, taking an iodine supplement is not currently recommended. This is because too much iodine can cause thyroid problems. Instead of a supplement, try to include iodine-rich foods, as mentioned above, in your weekly diet.
In addition to the information above, talk to your health care professional about other supplements you may need if you:
- eat a vegetarian or vegan diet
- eat a restricted diet, possibly due to food intolerance or religious reasons
- have diabetes or gestational diabetes
- have a family history of neural tube defects, or if your partner does
There are some foods that you’ll have to steer clear of during pregnancy because they may be unsafe for you or your baby:
- Pates, unpasteurized milk and cheese, and mold-ripened cheeses may contain a dangerous bacteria called listeria. Avoid cheeses that have a white rind, such as brie or camembert, and soft, blue-veined cheeses, such as Roquefort.
- Cured or undercooked meatsmay contain a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, an illness that can cause complications for pregnancy and birth. Also, make sure you cook readymade meals thoroughly.
- Raw shellfish, such as oysters and prawns, may contain bacteria and viruses. Sushithat has not been frozen before making it should also be avoided, as it may contain parasitic worms. Most sushi sold in restaurants is safe, but if you’re in any doubt, it is best not to risk eating it. Smoked fish is safe to eat during pregnancy.
- Avoid raw or undercooked eggs, some eggs can cause salmonella food poisoning. Foods made from raw egg, such as homemade mayonnaise, are also fine to eat if you’re certain the eggs have been pasteurized. Other foods that may cause salmonella food poisoning are raw shellfish and raw or undercooked meat.
- Shark, swordfish, and marlin contain unsafe levels of mercury, which can affect your baby’s nervous system. Tunacontains some mercury too, so it’s best not to eat more than four medium-sized cans or two fresh tuna steaks each week.
- Don’t eat liver or liver products such as pate, liver sausage, and fish oil supplements. Liver may contain large amounts of retinol, the animal form of vitamin A. Too much of this could be harmful to your developing baby.
- You should stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy. There’s no way to know how much, I any, alcohol is safe. However, we do know that the more you drink, the higher your baby’s risk of long-term health problems. In the first trimester, alcohol can also increase your risk of miscarriage. That’s why experts recommend avoiding it altogether while you’re pregnant.
- Don’t have more than 200mg of caffeine a day. That’s about two cups/glasses of tea or instant coffee. Energy drinks and sodas also contain caffeine so check the labels of these when choosing what to drink. I, personally, do not recommend drinking either of these during pregnancy!
- Some research has suggested that eating starchy foods that have been over-cooked may be associated with low birth weight. This is due to a natural chemical called acrylamide that’s formed as foods, such as potatoes and bread, are fried, baked, roasted, or grilled at high temperatures. More research is needed to be sure of the risks acrylamide poses to you and your baby, but it’s easy to reduce levels of acrylamide in your diet, so you may think it’s worth doing anyway.
Again, simple answer here is NO. Dieting during pregnancy could harm you and your growing baby. Many diets can not only reduce your caloric intake to dangerous levels but can also cause you to get a lack of needed nutrients.
It may be that some women lose weight during pregnancy when they are eating a healthy diet. This is OKAY, as long as you are not restricting calories.
Controlled weight gain is a good sign that your pregnancy is healthy. If you are eating nutritious, fresh foods, and gaining weight, then there is usually nothing to worry about. Getting bigger is normal!
Ask your medical profession for specific instructions on managing your weight if you were overweight when you became pregnant.
On average, you’ll gain between 25lbs and 35lbs (11.5kg and 16kg).
A range of factors will determine exactly how much weight you gain. A well-balanced diet, focused on protein and vegetables while minimizing sugars and fats, should prevent you from gaining too much weight.
Try to eat regularly (at least 3 healthy meals per day). Your body is a pretty good regulator of when you need food, so as I said earlier, listen to it. If you are hungry, eat. Stay focused on healthy snacks when needed. Just be careful not to eat out of boredom or emotions. In the words of Yoda, “That way leads to the dark side.”
If you are suffering from morning sickness, indigestion, or heartburn you could try eating small more frequent meals. You may find that helps.
High-fiber and wholegrain foods can help to keep you feeling full and will be more nutritious too.
Eating meals and snacks that are high in fat, salt, and sugar should be kept to a minimum. However, you do not have to give up all your favorite foods just because you’re pregnant.
Instead of potato chips or a bowl of ice cream, try eating something healthier such as yogurt or a piece of fresh fruit. As long as it is in moderation, there is no need to feel guilty if you’re tempted by the occasional cookie.
Just a final FYI; we have started a healthy recipes section on our SHEis.com site as a way for us (and you) to share some of our health and fun recipes with you. We are just getting started with this so there is not a lot of recipes there right now. Check back often as we will be adding new recipes regularly. Also, please note that you can submit & share your own recipes to this site and we will give you credit for them. https://sheis.com/recipes/