Optimal Nutrition in Pregnancy

Providing a Good Beginning

Every baby deserves the best possible beginning, and that includes eating a nutritious diet during pregnancy. Many moms-to-be assume that pregnancy nutrition is as simple as “eating for two” and increasing the consumption of healthy foods. However, it is as much about what foods to avoid as it is what foods to eat. What you eat will not only impact how well you may feel during the pregnancy, but can also help prevent certain birth defects.

What Should a Healthy Pregnancy Diet Contain?

The USDA pregnancy pyramid suggests that one of the easiest ways to assure proper prenatal nutrition is to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Another helpful tool is to cut out foods with extras, such as extra sugars or chemical additives, such as preservatives, artificial colors and flavors.

Prenatal Nutrition

The American Pregnancy Association makes the following recommendations for optimal pregnancy nutrition:

  • Protein: 2-3 servings of which can be found in meats, beans and nuts. Some healthy choices include liver, chicken, some fully cooked sea foods, lean beef, nuts, beans, and tofu.
  • Legumes: 2-3  1/2 cup servings daily, which includes navy beans, kidney beans, black-eye peas, garbanzo beans, and black beans.
  • Calcium: 3-4 servings daily of calcium-rich foods. Calcium can be found in milk and milk products (or fortified non-dairy substitutes) such as yogurt and pasteurized cheese. It can also be found in broccoli, turnip or collard greens, white beans, tofu, and almonds.  If you don’t eat dairy, calcium-fortified orange juice is a good choice.
  • Iron: 2-3 servings of iron-rich foods, which can be found in many vegetables, meats and grains. Some healthy choices include lean beef, chicken, beans, spinach or fortified whole grain breakfast cereals.
  • Whole Grains: 3 servings, which might include oatmeal, whole grain cereals, and whole or multigrain breads.
  • Vitamin C:  3 servings daily. Vitamin C can be found in strawberries, oranges, tomato, potato, red peppers, cabbage and kiwi.

What Foods Should be Avoided During Pregnancy?

Getting your baby off to a healthy start also means knowing what foods to avoid or eat only in limited amounts. Some foods may contain harmful bacteria, or chemicals that can cause problems if taken in quantity. The Mayo Clinic offers these helpful guidelines in what should be avoided in proper pregnancy nutrition.

  • Seafood high in mercury such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish.  The Environmental protection Agency offers specific guidance on seafood choices for pregnant women on its Fish Advisory web page.
  • Raw or undercooked seafood such as sushi, oysters and clams (canned clams are OK).
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood, like lox.
  • Undercooked meats and poultry.
  • Undercooked or raw eggs.
  • Unpasteurized foods. Be sure to check the label on soft cheeses such as brie, feta, blue cheese and Mexican style cheeses to assure that they were made with pasteurized milk.
  • Unpasteurized juices.

In addition to your healthy diet, your doctor will probably suggest you include prenatal vitamins and folic acid. These supplements are there ensure you meet your more important nutrient needs, but should not replace your healthy food choices. Although we might like to think of pregnancy as the time to indulge, a better way to think of it is as a time to truly give your body what it needs to begin a lifetime of health for both you and your baby.

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