Eating for 1.5: A Pregnancy-Friendly Diet

You’re pregnant! Now what are you going to eat? Swordfish is out, salmon’s in, cheddar’s OK, Brie is no good. Navigating the lengthy list of dietary dos and don’ts can take nine months. Now that baby’s on the way your life will never be the same, but it’s important to remember that some things haven’t changed at all. Eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables was essential to maintaining overall health and vitality pre-pregnancy and it’s equally essential to your growing baby’s development.

While pregnant and hungry, it may be helpful to refer to the following nutritional cheat sheet. If you find yourself with any questions or concerns—and you will—consult your doctor, midwife, or both before taking action. And if you're pregnant and not very hungry, or more likely, nauseas, it's especially important to take a good pre-natal vitamin to ensure you get the nutrients you might not be getting in your food.

Eating for 1.5
There’s nothing like the “eating for two” excuse to justify consuming an entire pizza or a daily triple fudge brownie sundae, but a woman with child is not actually eating to keep two entire people alive. It’s more like 1.5. Most healthy women will only need to consume an extra 300 calories each day (equivalent to about one slice of pepperoni pizza). The amount of weight that a woman gains during her pregnancy is contingent on her body mass index pre-pregnancy. The exact amount will differ for each woman, but experts say that a woman of normal weight should gain between 25 and 35 pounds during her pregnancy.

No Gos
Once you know what not to eat, most other foods become fair game. While some of the forbidden items are confusing (see Brie/cheddar conflict above), others are self-explanatory.

If you are a seafood lover, it may be time to take a nine-month hiatus from some of your favorites. The problem lies not in the fish itself, but in mercury. Some fish contain extremely high levels of mercury, which may damage a growing baby’s nervous system. Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish are the primary culprits. But it’s not necessary to avoid seafood all together. Fish and shellfish can be a reliable source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which have been connected to healthy development of a baby’s brain. The FDA says that pregnant women can safely eat up to 12 ounces a week of shrimp, canned light tuna (albacore tuna and tuna steak should be limited to no more than six ounces a week), salmon, pollack, and catfish. Sushi, all smoked fish, and raw oysters and clams, however are entirely off limits.

Dairy products are positive additions to any pregnant diet, with a few restrictions. Any cheese or milk product that is made from unpasteurized milk may lead to food-borne illness and is therefore pregnancy unfriendly. Stay away from Brie, feta, Camembert, Mexican style cheeses like queso blanco and fresco, and all blue-veined cheeses like Roquefort.

Meat and Poultry
The key with meat and poultry is to cook everything thoroughly. That means no rare burgers or steak tartare. Cooking meats and poultry until the juices run clear decreases the chance of contracted E. coli – a good thing for both you and baby.

Alcohol, Caffeine, and Herbal Tea
Alcohol is already a known no-no during pregnancy (it can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, miscarriage, or stillborn) and caffeine is not much better. Caffeine can affect a growing baby’s heart rate and breathing and heavy caffeine consumption – 500 milligrams or more a day – can lower a baby’s birth weight and head circumference. Two hundred milligrams of caffeine a day (two cups of coffee) has not been proven to have negative effects, but some doctors still suggest limiting caffeine to less than 200 milligrams a day. Herbal tea, should also be consumed with caution. Some teas like peppermint and red raspberry leaf can bring about contractions and increase the risk of miscarriage or preterm labor.

Must Haves
With the exception of that extra 300 calories, healthy eating during pregnancy follows the same guidelines as healthy eating before pregnancy, with a few exceptions. There are a handful of nutrients that deserve special attention while pregnant.

Folic Acid
No nutrient is emphasized during pregnancy quite like folic acid. The B vitamin is a superstar, helping to prevent neural tube defects and reducing the risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, and poor fetal growth. There are different schools of thoughts on just how much folic acid pregnant women (and women who plan to become pregnant) need to take, but the latest suggestion is one milligram or 1000 micrograms a day. Folic acid can be found in supplements and in fortified cereals and pastas, lentils, and dark leafy greens.

Calcium helps both you and your baby develop and maintain strong bones and teeth and it keeps your circulatory, muscular, and nervous systems running smoothly. If you don’t consume enough calcium (1,000 a day) your baby will take what he/she needs through your bones. Though many fruit juices and breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, dairy products are still the richest form of the nutrient.

Protein plays a key role in a baby’s growth, especially during the second and third trimesters. Consuming at least 60 grams of protein a day will aid in the healthy development of your baby. You can find protein in lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. For veggie options try dried beans and peas, tofu, and peanut butter.

You’re all about iron when you’re pregnant. Normally, the body uses iron to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy the blood volume expands as the baby makes his/her blood supply and the need for iron doubles. A lack of iron can cause fatigue and make a pregnant woman more susceptible to infections while also increasing the risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight. Pregnant women need to consume 27 milligrams of elemental iron a day.

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