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Foods to Eat During Your Pregnancy

Eating well during pregnancy is very important for the baby’s growth and development as well as for your health.  In general, women do not require extra calories during the first trimester but will require about 300 extra calories per day in the second trimester and 450 extra calories per day in the third trimester.  These numbers may vary slightly among women depending on their pre-pregnancy weights and current activity levels.  The amount of calories consumed is important, but it is also important to obtain those calories from high quality nutritious sources.

Protein: the recommendation is 1.1 g/kg/d, which is slightly higher than the non-pregnant woman (0.8 g/kg/d).  Proteins are essential for cell growth and development and are considered the “building blocks of life.”  They are involved in virtually all cell functions, so it is very important to consume adequate amounts.

What to Eat: lean meats, poultry, fish (low-mercury), eggs, beans, nuts, tofu

Carbohydrate: recommendation is 175 g/d (130 g/d for non-pregnant women).  Carbohydrates are the most efficient energy source for the body because they are readily available, which is in contrast to both fat and protein that must first be broken down into component parts.  Your body requires additional energy during pregnancy because it is making a baby!  Therefore, now is not the time for a low-carb diet.

What to Eat: fruits, vegetables, pasta, cereal, rice, bread, potatoes.  Try to choose whole grain carbohydrate sources as they tend to be more nutrient-dense

Fat: the primary functions of fat in the diet are energy production and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.  However, not all fats are created equally.  Intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids appears to have a positive effect on the neurodevelopment of the fetus as well as a role in reducing your cholesterol, while saturated fats and trans-fatty acids are known to be a factor in cardiovascular disease and may also contribute to unnecessary or excessive weight gain.  Fat intake should be less than 30% of your total daily caloric intake.

What to Eat: in addition to high amounts of protein, fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart-healthy fats that also appear to play an important role in fetal brain development.  However, many fish also contain mercury, which in high amounts may damage the fetal nervous system.  It is however safe for pregnant women to eat 12 oz (about two meals) per week of low-mercury fish like salmon, shrimp, clams, catfish, and tilapia. Other sources of healthy fats include olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds.  Meat also contains fat.  

Aside from making sure you are eating foods that provide protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to you and your growing baby, it is also important to pay attention to serving size (this is true for everyone; not just pregnant women.) 

  • A serving of protein is three ounces of lean meat (about the size of a deck of cards), two tablespoons of peanut butter, or one large egg.
  • A serving of carbohydrate is one medium sized apple (or other fruit), one half of a bagel, or one cup of rice, pasta, or cereal.
  • A serving of fat is a teaspoon of olive oil or salad dressing, one ounce of avocado (which is 2-3 thin slices or . of a medium avocado), or one ounce of nuts (about 16 cashews).

As long as you pay attention to serving sizes and eat a variety of nutritious foods including protein, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and healthy fats, your nutrition should be adequate to maximize your health while supporting your developing fetus.  If you think you may be eating too much or too little, you might try writing everything you eat for three days in a food diary, so you can talk to your doctor about it at your next appointment.

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