Childbearing is the time when you need to take your health seriously and think carefully about what to eat during pregnancy. A healthy diet matters a lot in keeping your baby well-nourished from the time of conception.
It is typical to start going over your diet routines the moment you discover that you’re pregnant. But like others, you may be inclined to seek advice from your mom or friends, the Internet, or you simply rely on your past pregnancy habits. What you may not realize is that each pregnancy is different. Age or environment can be a contributing factor to physical or hormonal changes that may affect pregnancy, so the body’s response could be different.
Like it or not, there are conditions that only a specialist can understand and help you get through. There are also questions about prenatal diet that only a certified nutritionist** can accurately answer.
What to Eat During Pregnancy? Eating Right for Baby’s Health!
A balanced diet is ideal for everyone; however, during pregnancy, it’s important to make dietary adjustments based on your specific needs. Knowing what foods are good to eat during pregnancy will help address your pregnancy symptoms (nausea, vomiting, edema, constipation and heartburn, leg cramps and headaches, etc.) and nourish your baby well.
There is no one-size-fits-all meal plan for expecting moms. Some do not have problems with the food they eat and others may start experiencing issues. Certain types of food may worsen their symptoms, while some alleviate them. This is one reason why you might seek help from a prenatal nutritionist, who offers sound advice in terms of food restrictions. These food restrictions during pregnancy are based on several factors such as lifestyle, physical changes and hormonal changes. For now, stick to the basics described below:
Eat more vegetables
When you eat vegetables regularly, you are providing many benefits to your body. Some of the benefits of vegetables include:
- they are low in fat, calories and cholesterol
- they are good sources of fiber (to help combat and prevent constipation)
- they contain many vitamins and minerals, including folate (which helps reduce the risk of neural tube defects and spina bifida during fetal development)
Don’t be afraid to get creative with adding vegetables to your diet, such as adding them to sandwiches, mixing them into dishes or blending them into smoothies. You can also try to eat a variety of vegetables in any form (raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned or dried) and in a variety of colors, as they will provide different vitamins and minerals. If canned, choose ones that are low in sodium content. Vegetables are generally healthy, so you don’t need to stick to a particular kind; however, raw leafy vegetables are usually considered the best. Make sure to wash any vegetables thoroughly before eating, since you will be more susceptible to infections during pregnancy.
Among others, these veggies are full of vitamins and nutrients important during pregnancy:
- Salad greens
- Sweet potato
Pack on healthy proteins
Fill your plate with healthy proteins. Foods rich in protein will effectively support your baby’s growth and at the same time, provide you the energy that your body needs. It will also promote your baby’s healthy brain and heart development.
Include a portion of the following in your daily meal plan:
- Lean meat
- Peanut butter
- Meat substitutes like tofu
Don’t forget the grains
Your prenatal nutrition must include whole grains like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, cereals and oatmeal. They are rich in fiber, iron, B vitamins and folic acid, which are beneficial for your baby’s physical development. These will also ward off constipation and hemorrhoids, which are some of the common discomforts that you may experience during pregnancy.
Color your diet with fruits
Some people will warn you against fruit consumption when you ask them about what not to eat during pregnancy. This is a myth. Fruit isn’t just delicious; it can help curb your sugar cravings and supply you and your baby the necessary nutrients. As long as you aren’t eating them in juice form too often, fruits are an important part of your pregnancy diet. If canned, choose unsweetened.
Be cautious in your preparation of fruit. Don’t use knives used for other raw foods that may have bacteria, and always thoroughly rinse raw fruit under running water. Rinsing your fruit is important since bacteria can be found on the outer rind or peel, which can cause illness or be harmful to you and baby. Cut off damaged or bruised spots to help remove any bacteria hiding out in these areas.
It is worth noting that eating fruits should be done with care. Observing how your body reacts every time you have some will help. For example, if you have a spike in your blood sugar or notice abnormal weight gain, you should cut back.
You can have moderate servings of the following fruits:
- Citrus fruits
- Dried fruits
Include healthy dairy
Dairy products are good sources of protein and calcium, which help with your baby’s bone development. If taken in moderation, you do not have to worry about weight gain, but this isn’t your major concern.
When buying dairy products, look out for the word ‘pasteurized,’ especially on cheeses like cotija. During pregnancy, your body is more prone to infections, and pasteurization helps kill germs in dairies like cheese, yogurt and milk. Ideally, pick dairy products that are low-fat.
Say ‘yes’ to healthy fats and oils
Among the many food restrictions during pregnancy, oils and fats are on top. Nutritionists do not advise completely giving them up, as they are beneficial for your baby’s brain and eye development. However, your oil intake should be limited to six teaspoons every day. It is also important to consume only plant oils like olive, canola or safflower. Regarding fat intake, solid fats (like lard and butter) are foods you should avoid taking in large amounts while pregnant so you do not gain excess weight.
If you eat healthy, drink healthy, too!
Water is a wonder drink. It addresses many different kinds of health issues and pregnancy is no exception. As much as possible, drink the recommended amount of water every day. Staying hydrated may help alleviate pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness and nausea. In contrast, dehydration, especially if this occurs during your third trimester, can lead to contractions and pre-term labor. Hydrate with water but never with energy drinks.
Cut back on soda and caffeine intake. Switch to fruit drinks and juices as a substitute for soda and caffeine, but still try to limit the amount of fruit juices so you are not taking in too much sugar too quickly. Even better would be to eat a small serving of fruit to help satisfy the sugar or caffeine craving.
And by all means, avoid any kind of alcohol as this will impact your baby’s health. Even once the baby is born, you’ll want to follow these same precautions (including limiting alcohol) while breastfeeding. Continuing these precautions while breastfeeding is important because unsafe foods, like alcohol, can pass through the breast milk to the baby. We consider this the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy.
Important Reminders During Your Pregnancy
It doesn’t matter whether you are a first-timer or well familiar with pregnancy–you need to evaluate your diet for each pregnancy. Everything changes when you become pregnant and each pregnancy can be different from the previous one. You may need to re-educate yourself about what foods are good to eat during pregnancy or what foods to avoid while pregnant.
Professional assistance plays an important role in ensuring you and your child’s safety. It would help if you have someone you can call whenever you have questions or concerns regarding your diet or condition; someone to guide you throughout or warn you against bad eating decisions, big or small.
Below are some of the things you need to consider when eating:
- Food sensitivity is common during pregnancy. Apart from pregnancy, you may have underlying medical conditions that would require you to take extra precautions with your diet. In these cases, having a prenatal care specialist is highly recommended.
- Food allergies do not take a break and neither do food cravings. Often, you will feel hungry now that you are eating for two. Increased hunger means an increased risk of developing food allergies. Your local perinatal dietitian or nutritionist will recommend you the best alternatives so you can avoid certain foods that might cause allergic reactions.
- Cooking your meals thoroughly is a good rule of thumb, especially when you are pregnant. Your immune system is affected during pregnancy so the risk for food borne illnesses is higher for you and your unborn child. Proper food preparation is one way of protecting yourself and your baby from health risks.
Information about Specific Essential Nutrients
- Iodine during Pregnancy
- Iron during Pregnancy
- Vitamin B12 and Pregnancy
- Folic Acid Deficiency During Pregnancy
Get Legitimate Advice on What to Eat During Pregnancy
Knowing what to eat during pregnancy will keep you and your baby safe and healthy. With nutritious meals on the table, you can safeguard your child from various health risks. Eating the right foods will also reduce symptoms, such as nausea, morning sickness and fatigue.
Some long-time parents who insist that they know the routine should never assume this pregnancy will be like their others nutritionally. Your family and friends may also mean well when giving you pregnancy advice, but keep in mind that a legitimate set of guidelines is what you need the most. This will ensure that you get precise details on what to eat and what not to eat during pregnancy.
First-hand information from a nutritionist specializing in prenatal care is 100% reliable. Ideally, consult one, who will offer advice tailored for your specific needs. A certified nutritionist** can provide you definitive advice on proper prenatal care and diet.
During pregnancy, you are your baby’s only source of nourishment. What you eat and drink will affect your child’s health, so you want to be sure that you choose the best food to eat during pregnancy.
Family Health Centers of San Diego can guide you through your pregnancy. Our dedicated certified nutritionists** and registered dietitians will assess your condition and help you make healthy food choices. We will help you manage your symptoms through the foods you eat and educate you on prenatal care.
**All nutritionists at Family Health Centers of San Diego are certified to hold a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) in Nutrition. Some of our staff hold both a BS degree and are a Registered Dietitian (RD). Registered Dietitians have additional training that includes: a supervised dietetic internship, requirement to pass the Board Exam and have 72 hours of continuing education units every five years in order to maintain RD credentials.