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What Should You Include in Your Pregnancy Meal Plan?

When you’re pregnant – or planning a pregnancy – nutrition takes on a new importance. Not only must you eat to maintain your own health, but you need to eat in a way that provides optimal nutrition for your baby as well. Fortunately, a healthy pregnancy meal plan looks very similar to a healthy meal plan for any time in your life – what matters is the quality of the foods you consume. Focus less on how much you gain during your pregnancy, but on gaining weight from healthy eating.

One important step is to have a healthy breakfast every day. In the morning, your body has been without food for several hours. However, your body hasn’t been idle during this time – you need to replenish the nutrients and energy your body has used during the night. Having a healthy breakfast will also help you avoid becoming overly hungry later, which can tempt you to make bad food choices.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of any healthy diet. They’re good sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fiber is especially important to pregnant women, as they have a tendency towards being constipated. Whenever possible, choose whole fruits over fruit juices, so that you don’t miss out on the healthy fiber, and cook your vegetables in as little water as possible to preserve their nutritional content. Aim for at least five fruit and vegetable servings daily, varying them so that you get a variety of different nutrients.

Carbohydrates are another important source of energy. This, however, is one category where you need to be especially careful. The best carbohydrate sources, other than fruits and vegetables, are whole grains, including whole wheat bread, pasta and oatmeal. Avoid products made from white flour or those that say they’re made from “enriched wheat flour.” These products have very little nutrition and fiber remaining in them. Quinoa is an excellent grain choice, as is whole brown rice. Baked potatoes are also good sources of carbohydrates and nutrition; sweet potatoes also contain beta carotene, making them another healthy choice.

You also need added calcium during pregnancy and the best way to get it is to consume two to three servings each day of dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt. Avoid soft cheeses that are made from unpasteurized milk and blue veined cheeses – these can harbor harmful bacteria. Choose hard cheeses like cheddar or swiss, or pasteurized products like cottage cheese. If you don’t eat dairy, you’ll need to choose other calcium rich foods to take their place.

You also need to consume lean protein at every meal. Good sources are lean cuts of beef, chicken, turkey and fish. Avoid organ meats like liver or, if you don’t eat meat, you can combine vegetarian choices to make complete proteins. However, a food can count only in one category – if you have a serving of rice, for example, it can be either a grain serving or part of a protein serving, but not both. Oily fish are a good source of essential fatty acids, but avoid fish that may be contaminated with mercury.

Next, you need to consume several servings of healthy fats in your diet. Choose servings of nuts or avocados, or use olive oil, nut oils and butters, or coconut oil when cooking.

Avoid foods that are high in sugar and/or fat and low in nutritional value. This means avoiding cake, pastries and soft drinks, for example. These foods not only contain virtually no nutrition, but they fill you up and prevent you from eating healthier foods. If you must occasionally indulge in a treat, make it a very small serving and include it as part of a healthier meal.

Finally, include several healthy snacks in your pregnancy meal plan. Healthy snacks include peanut butter on whole wheat crackers, unsweetened yogurt with fresh fruit, hummus with fresh vegetables, dried fruit and milk or a serving of whole grain cereal.

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