This month for our Ask the Experts series, we’re gathering info on prenatal health. Today’s topic is optimal nutrition during pregnancy, shared by Monica Bearden, registered dietitian, mother of three and the author of The Baby Fat Diet. Bearden specializes in helping women have a healthy pregnancy and recovery and to lose the weight afterwards with sound nutrition.
This is the most important time of your life for great nutrition. Not only do you need to keep yourself healthy and strong for a great pregnancy, but you also are growing another human being. The foods you eat are going to help you do this successfully. In addition to eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods from each of the food groups, there are certain groups and nutrients that may be lacking in your diet that are especially important for your growing belly. Here are some pregnancy must-haves to help you provide the best nutrition to your body and your developing baby.
Fruits and Veggies: Carbs, fiber, antioxidants, potassium, folate, vitamins A and C
I know you have heard this a hundred times and some days are better than others. No more waffling. Today, right now, start eating at least five fruits and vegetables a day. Is your favorite fruit or veggie not in season? Not to worry—you can find them in the frozen section. Produce is frozen at the peak of ripeness to lock in the nutrients. Now, it’s okay to eat our favorites, such as apples, bananas, tomatoes, corn and green beans; but also try berries, green leafys, cruciferous, such as cauliflower, orange vegetables, and beans, lentils and peas. The more variety you eat of these natural, nutrient-rich foods the better you will feel; and the more nutrition you will give your baby for growing healthy and strong. The carbs give you energy and the fiber helps mama’s immune and digestive systems; potassium will help mama’s blood pressure; the folate is necessary for your baby’s brain and nervous system; and vitamins A and C are essential for developing tissues, bones, teeth and eyes. By the end of the day count to make sure you got all five servings.
Whole Grains: Carbs, fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, and iron
It is time to switch to brown grains and toss out the white, refined grains. Whole grains offer you the goodness of the whole grain versus the highly refined, less nutritious white grain. And if superior nutrition is your goal, then there is no place in your diet for a refined grain. The USDA recommends that you get at least three whole grains a day; or you can set your goals higher and aim for 100 percent whole grains. By making the whole grain choice, you are adding nutrient-rich foods to your diet. If gluten is a concern, then opt for brown rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth. Besides the healthy carbohydrates and fiber in whole grains, you get several nutrients important for your health and your baby’s developing systems, such as B vitamins for nervous system development and mama’s energy and wellness; vitamin E for immune system development; magnesium for immune system, teeth and bone development and mama’s blood sugar and blood pressure maintenance; and iron for blood cell formation and an overall healthy pregnancy. Don’t forget to aim for at least three servings of whole grains a day. Vegetarian and vegan moms should take their prenatal vitamins to ensure they have enough iron in their diet (27 mg for pregnant and 9 mg for nursing moms). Vegans also should strive to get enough B12 (2.6 mcg for pregnant and 2.8 mcg for nursing moms).
Dairy: Carbs, protein, calcium, vitamin D
This group is responsible for one of the greatest contributions to pregnant women’s diets in the U.S.: ice cream. Year-round, cold or hot, ice cream and pregnancy seem to go hand in hand. The good news is that you and your baby are getting carbs, protein, and calcium; however, they all come in a high calorie and high fat food. To get the nutrition and enjoyment without overdoing it, make sure you portion your ice cream in a small dish. Additionally, there are other foods in this group that can provide dairy’s important nutrients without the extra calories and fat. For example, try nonfat and low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. A bonus for drinking milk is that you also get the very important nutrient vitamin D, which is not always found in other dairy foods. Also, make sure to look for vitamin D in your prenatal vitamin. Try and eat or drink at least three servings of dairy a day (1200 mg of calcium and 600 IU of vitamin D). For those who are lactose intolerant, drink milk in small amounts and try yogurt and hard cheeses that have lower amounts of lactose. Fortified soy milk and supplements are additional options.
DHA: Long chain omega-3 fat
This fat is crucial to your baby’s visual and cognitive development in utero (and for the rest of her life). Making sure you get enough of this fat is important to providing the best for you and your developing baby. There are different kinds of omega-3 fats and it is important that you get DHA. Another long-chain omega-3 fat is EPA, and as reported by the USDA, together with DHA can decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Both of these fats are found in marine phytoplankton and seafood as well as supplements. The omega-3, ALA found in plant foods, such as walnuts and flaxseeds is different and does not have the same benefits. To get plenty of DHA eat cold water fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna (up to 12 oz. /week while pregnant), and check your prenatal vitamin. You can also try over the counter prenatal DHA supplements, such as BrainStrong Prenatal. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can try Ovega-3 or Schiff MegaRed Plant-Omega, to get your DHA needs met.
Choline: B vitamin
It’s important for the development of a healthy nervous system, including brain development, so make sure you are getting choline in your diet and prenatal vitamin. In the diet, choline is found in high amounts in liver and egg yolks, and in modest amounts in beef, cauliflower, wheat germ and peanuts. If liver is not your thing, try eating a few egg yolks throughout the week as well as adding wheat germ to your yogurts, sauces, casseroles and salads. Also, make sure your prenatal vitamin has choline.
Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day—this does not just mean water. You get water from most beverages and foods. However, your best bet is to stay hydrated by drinking plain water to avoid getting too many calories from your beverages. Save those calories for nutrient-rich foods instead. Make sure you are drinking at least 8 ounces of water every 1-2 hours.