You might hear people talk about diets when they speak about what to eat and what not to eat while pregnant, but it is vital that you do not constrain your caloric intake as if you were attempting to lose weight.
So you’ve finally gotten pregnant … congratulations! It is a hard task to achieve for women at the best of times, and if you suffer from a metabolic disorder such as PCOS, or have other fertility challenges, is a monumental hill that you have finally crested.
However, now that you have a bun in the oven, it is important that you pay rapt attention to healthy eating while pregnant, as you are not eating for one anymore.
You are nourishing an unborn child now; as such, health of your child throughout your pregnancy depends heavily on the food that you choose to eat during this time.
Give your son or daughter the best possible head start in life by embracing healthy eating while pregnant, and by avoiding the ones that we black list below…
Eat more, eat often, but eat right
Many women use the fact that they are pregnant to eat a wide variety of junky foods. While there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that pregnant women crave weird combinations of food, it does not absolve you from the responbility of getting the proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals that your baby needs to thrive.
You also need to ensure that you eat enough so that you can function properly from day to day, as considerable portions of your body’s resources will be dedicated towards your unborn child if you don’t.
You may have been on certain diet regimes (such as Atkins, South Beach, and other low-carb diets) before getting pregnant (especially if you have disorders such as PCOS), but now that you have conceived, you should now suspend your involvement in those diets.
Your focus should shift towards consuming higher sums of calories that are rich in all the essential nutrients that your soon-to-be born child will need for proper prenatal development.
Don’t go too crazy however; it has been shown that the average pregnant woman with a healthy body weight only needs to focus on getting better nutrition in the first trimester (little to no extra calories needed).
Later on in the pregnancy, you only need to consume extra 300 calories a day in the second trimester, and an extra 450 calories a day in the third trimester to provide adequate nutrition to your unborn child (1).
Many go overboard when it comes to eating during pregnancy, and end up gaining amounts of weight that is unnecessary for nurturing a baby. You should however gain some weight if you are underweight or normal weight for your height and body type.
Dietitians recommend that you gain at least five pounds during the first trimester, and then a pound per week during the second and third trimesters (2).
This figure will be different if you are underweight (more aggressive) or overweight (less aggressive); again, your nutritionist will be best equipped to give you the exact number you need to shoot for, so seek out professional guidance if you are in either situation.
A nutritionist that specializes in prenatal nutrition will be able to design a meal plan based on your current weight, ensuring that you are getting enough nutrients and energy to fuel you and your unborn child through your entire nine month term.
Having trouble stomaching all this additional food?, Break up your meals into 4-6 per day rather than the 2-3 that you are used to. Doing so will avoid problems such as indigestion, stomach aches, and the like (3).
Healthy eating while pregnant: your dietary plan
Some foods, if eaten in sufficient quantities, will give you and your baby all the nutrition you need for a successful pregnancy. Get plenty of the following:
1) FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Fruits and vegetables are a treasure trove of vitamins and minerals that are required not just for healthy living, but for a successful pregnancy as well. When it comes to what not to eat while pregnant, these nutrient-packed foods are nowhere to be found on this list.
For those expecting a child, vitamin C and folic acid are among the most important compounds that one should look to consume when picking fruits and vegetables to eat during a pregnancy.
Citrus fruits such as grapefruits and oranges are excellent sources of vitamin C, while tomatoes and broccoli are vegetables that contain significant quantities of this vitamin. Ensure that you get at least 85 mg per day (4).
Folic acid (you need to get at least 0.4 mg per day to ward off neural tube defects) can be found in many dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens (5).
There are also many legumes that are excellent sources of folic acid. Lima beans, black beans, and others contains significant amounts of this essential nutrient, so be sure to work it into your cooking throughout the course of your pregnancy.
2) BREADS AND GRAINS
The primary role of breads and grains during pregnancy is to supply energy to the mother and the baby throughout the term.
While its easy-to-break-down glucose is its biggest attribute, multigrain breads and cereals also contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals that contain in your baby’s healthy development.
Iron, B vitamins and fibre are contained in significant amounts in fortified and whole grain bread, making them a worthwhile contributor to you and your babies help over the course of a pregnancy.
If you are suffering from morning sickness, foods such as pretzels, cereals and crackers can help you settle your stomach, so keep some within easy reach so that you can start your day without spending it hunched over the toilet (6).
3) MEAT AND FISH
When it comes to the bulk of your B vitamins, protein and iron, you will get the lion’s share of them from consuming food from animal origins. When it comes to iron, a pregnant woman needs about 27 mg per day in order to meet her needs and that of her child (7).
If you eat meat, this task will be easy, as simply consuming three servings per day of lean meats, poultry, and select fish (in limited quantities) will give you all the nutrition from this group that you require. Certain types of fish do make the ‘what not to eat while pregnant’ list, so check for them in the 2nd half of this article to be certain before indulging.
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then you can find these nutrients in dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, beans, and through supplements and fortified foods. Keeping diligent track of how much iron, vitamin B, and vitamin D that you consume is important, as getting the proper levels of all these vital nutrients is more difficult compared to those that consume meat.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients that a developing baby needs, especially during the second and third trimesters. Iron is right behind protein in this regard, as it carries oxygen that is vital to the growth process in the womb. It also prevents you from getting excessively tired during one of the most trying periods of your pregnancy.
4) MILK AND OTHER DAIRY PRODUCTS
Women wanting to support a healthy pregnancy should get at least 1000 mg of calcium per day. As you may know, calcium is vital for building strong teeth and bones, but it is also important for proper muscle and their function, as well as blood clotting (8).
If you do not consume enough calcium to support your baby during pregnancy, your body will take the required amount of this mineral from your body’s stores.
This will put you at risk for osteoporosis and other health problems, so it is important to consume enough milk or dairy products that will supply your system with enough calcium to meet both you and your unborn child’s needs.
If the fact that you are lactose intolerant has you putting dairy on your personal ‘what not to eat while pregnant’ list, be sure to drink milk that is fortified with Lactaid, or seek out non-dairy calcium sources such as broccoli, greens, sardines and tofu. Dairy products are also a great source of iodine which is important for the development of a child’s nervous system and brain.
Also available through foods such as navy beans and mashed potatoes, be sure you get at least 230 mcg of iodine per day. If you are unable to do this through any of these foods, be sure to obtain it through prenatal supplements (9).
5) PRENATAL VITAMINS
While it is important that you do not rely too heavily on prenatal vitamins for your pre-birth nutrition needs, it is difficult for some people to get all the nutrients that they need from the foods that are available to them, as certain foods are on their personal ‘what not to eat while pregnant’ list.
This is especially applicable if you are a vegetarian/vegan, have diabetes, or suffer from anemia, as you will lack many important nutrients required for a healthy pregnancy.
Before you go to consult with the nutritionist, analyze your diet over the course of a typical week. This way, they will be able to figure out where your deficiencies are with respect to your pregnancy.
While the recommendations that you will receive from your nutritionist will vary depending on what your diet typically consists of, it is vital that the prenatal vitamins that you take contain adequate amounts of folic acid.
This essential nutrient is responsible for neural tube development; not getting enough of it can lead to detrimental consequences such as spina bifida and problems with limited mental capabilities.
Take at least 400 mcg in the days before you get pregnant, and boost it up to as much as 600 mcg after you have successfully conceived.
Additionally, not getting enough choline risks the development of similar problems, as it is also involved in the development of the neural tube. Be sure that your supplements give you at least 450 mcg of this essential nutrient when selecting the regimen of vitamins that you will be taking (10).
Other nutrients that should be in your prenatal vitamins (should you need them) include iron, calcium, and vitamin D, as they are vital to oxygen delivery and the strong development of teeth and bones.
In the case of iron, your supplements should contain at least 27 mg if you are not getting enough from the foods you are consuming, especially from the second trimester onward.
What not to eat while pregnant
There are certain foodstuffs you should avoid during your pregnancy. Be sure to abstain from the following:
1) FISH THAT ARE HIGH IN MERCURY
While it is possible to consume fish during pregnancy, there are certain types that you should avoid due to the high bio-accumulation of mercury in their tissues. Marlin, swordfish, king mackerel, and orange roughy are among the worst fish in this regard (11).
While tuna is relatively safe, its elevated levels of mercury compared to other fish should give you pause. If you are a fan of sushi, you may want to reduce or eliminate consumption during pregnancy, as many rolls contain fish that are apex predators.
This means that they have more bio-accumulated mercury in their tissues than fish that are less predatory. Given the bite-sized nature of sushi, it is easy to consume large quantities of these fish in a short period of time.
For this reason, sushi tops our list of food of what not to eat while pregnant. If you are hopelessly hooked on this dish, consume non-seafood alternatives like the California roll until your baby has been born.
Finally, despite the fact that certain fish have less mercury than others, it is a good idea to restrict your intake to less than 12 ounces of seafood per week (12).
This might be an annoyance if you love fish, but this is in the best interests of the child you are about to welcome into the world.
2) FOOD THAT IS RAW OR UNDERCOOKED
Those committed to healthy eating while pregnant will want to avoid food that is meant to be eaten raw or in an undercooked state. This includes sushi (which was already mentioned for other reasons above), soft (Camembert, Brie, etc) and certain Mexican cheeses (queso blanco, canela, etc), and unpasteurized milk.
All prepared meats should also be thoroughly checked for doneness as well, as it and all the aforementioned foods could potentially give you a bacterial infection (such as listeria) that can endanger the health of the baby (13). If it isn’t brown in the middle, then the piece of meat should be on the list of what not to eat while pregnant.
3) EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION OF PRENATAL VITAMINS
While prenatal vitamins play a vital role in enhancing the well-being of an unborn child, mothers should not rely on them exclusively, as healthy eating while pregnant should not be built on the backs of pills alone. A medical professional should evaluate your current diet to see what shortages can be alleviated through the consumption of different foods.
If there are any that cannot be eaten due to reasons such as allergies, lack of availability, or extreme distaste, then prenatal vitamins can be used to fill in specific gaps in nutrients. Using them in place of food can deprive you of energy and certain other nutrients that you may not think you are missing out on, both of which can have detrimental consequences in the latter stages of pregnancy.
As much as you enjoy your daily glass of wine after dinner, you will need to abstain from it and all other forms of alcohol until you have given birth to your child. Consuming alcohol throughout pregnancy will put your baby at risk for developing fetal alcohol syndrome.
This can cause birth defects, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities that can severely inhibit their ability to live a normal life (14).
By replacing your favorite drink with a virgin alternative, or another habit that is healthier, you will avoid saddling your child with a handicap through no fault of their own.
5) COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF CAFFEINATED BEVERAGES
While research has suggested that moderate amounts of caffeine can be consumed during pregnancy with no ill effects, we advise heavy consumers to greatly reduce their intake.
Research has suggested that amounts of caffeine greater than 200 mg might increase the risk of a miscarriage or low birth weight (15).
Energy drinks that contain large amounts of caffeine should be avoided altogether, and those that consume more than two cups of coffee per day should cut back on their habit or replace it with a decaffeinated version of this favored morning drink.
6) RANDOM NON-FOOD ITEMS
Much is made of the fact that pregnant women crave strange combinations of food during the nine months that they are carrying an unborn child. In rare cases, this fixation can extend to things that aren’t even food, such as ice, dirt, chalk and paint chips.
This is a condition that is known as Pica, and as of today, there is no known cause. Some studies though seem to indicate that it might be related to an iron deficiency, while others speculate it is the body’s response to obtain nutrients that it is lacking, or proof of an underlying physical or mental illness (16).
Needless to say, paint chips are a textbook example of what not to eat while pregnant , but do your best to not give in to these temptations if you have Pica. Many of these foreign objects contain elements that are not just harmful to you, but to your unborn child as well.
The responsibilities of eating properly during pregnancy can be overwhelming at first, especially when you consider the number of things of the list of what not to eat while pregnant. However, with a coordinated plan constructed through the help of prenatal professionals, you can come up with a structured diet that will meet both your needs and that of your son or daughter to be.