By Erin Caraher, RDN, CDN
Supplying your body with adequate nutrition during pregnancy is so important for your growing fetus. Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods is not only good for fertility, keeping you energized and healthy throughout pregnancy but also may help make labor a little bit easier! High quality proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables help establish building blocks of growth and health for your baby. Although you may not always feel your best (for example nausea in the first trimester), in those times it’s important eat what you can tolerate and try not stress out too much about it. Make sure you are taking your prenatal vitamin and getting in plenty of fluids!
Aim to consume all the food groups at most meals. Protein helps the growth of the fetal tissue, which includes major organs such as the brain. It also helps breast and uterine tissue growing during pregnancy. High quality sources of protein include chicken, turkey, fish, lamb, pork, beef, tofu, or eggs. Fat is important for proper brain growth and eye development, specifically in the third trimester. Focus on unsaturated fats such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. These include, nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil, and salmon, just to name a few. Omega 3s – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) help develop the health of the baby’s heart, brain, eyes and immune system. Salmon, tuna, oysters, walnuts and flaxseeds are rich in these fats. Whole grains contain many nutrients we want in pregnancy as well. They contain nutrients such as iron, selenium, magnesium and B vitamins including folic acid. Folate is essential during pregnancy because it prevents neural tube defects. The synthetic form of folate found in supplements and fortified foods is called folic acid. Good sources include leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, dried beans, and fortified cereal. Whole grains also have fiber, and this is especially important in pregnancy to prevent constipation and hemorrhoids.
One myth in pregnancy is that you are “eating for two”. In the first 3 months of pregnancy you do not need extra calories and in the last 6 months you only need about 300 extra calories per day. You want to watch for excess weight gain to help prevent conditions such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia (however sometimes developing these conditions are genetic and uncontrollable). The recommended weight gain is 25-35 lbs. for someone who is a healthy weight, 28-40 lbs. for someone who is underweight and 15-25 lbs. for someone who is overweight.
With all of that said, it’s important to recognize that pregnancy cravings are real, and it is okay to honor your cravings. Restriction often leads to binging and disordered eating and that is not something we want especially during pregnancy. We want to prioritize nutrient dense foods because it makes us feel good and helps with development for your growing baby!
Erin Caraher, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.