I gathered the majority of this information from my own experience, from Balance 365, Childbirth International, the World Health Organization, and The Natural Pregnancy Book (I have an older edition).
Adequate nutrition provides a pregnant mother with the tools to overcome common discomforts as well as prevent complications. It is vital to understand the importance of eating foods that are full of nutrients, eat a variety of these foods, eat enough to satisfy hunger, and eat in a way that allows us to feel our best. It’s true self care.
For someone who doesn’t have the understanding and knowledge to eat healthfully, it’s often hard to know where to start. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be difficult. It is possible, and even inexpensive to eat foods that are beneficial for the mom and baby. Cost actually becomes increased when buying pre-packaged foods.
Where should I start? This is a common question.
A few important things:
- It’s best to start with where you are. Write down your current food intake and let’s review it together. There’s no need to panic.
- Add nutritious foods to this to crowd out the foods that aren’t as vital to a growing baby.
- Take it one thing at a time (habits are created slowly). We can work on this together.
- Just do the best you can! No one is perfect. Balance is key.
To keep it simple, look at what you’re getting in a day (on average).
Eat for nutrition and pleasure. We were created to enjoy the foods that we eat along with needing them for energy.
Pay attention to how you feel before and after.
If you’re starting out not eating a healthy meal normally, it may take some time to get to where you’re craving these foods. That’s okay.
Here’s a general guideline of food servings to eat daily (4 meals on average, plus snacks as needed):
- Calories- Eat when hungry, stop when full. Don’t worry about the calories that you are eating while you’re pregnant. Focus on how the meal is making you feel.
- Protein- 4 servings per day of about a palm sized amount at each meal (at least 30g each meal); 90-120g per day
- Fruits and veggies- 2-3 cups per meal (this is 1-2 fist-sized portions); 6-12 cups per day
- Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates- 6-8 servings (fist-sized portions), 175g-250g per day for pregnant women (this will also include fruits and veggies)
- Fat- 15g-30g at every meal; 45g to 90g per day
- Salt- in moderation to taste
- Fluids- drink to thirst; urine should be light yellow to clear (this can include all non-caffeinated liquids, but water is the most important)
- Supplements- Food-based prenatal vitamin, Fish oil, and Magnesium (as needed); other supplements and herbs as needed/desired (I will share about these more in a different post)
Choose more and less based on your activity level and hunger.
Protein is the most important out of all of the nutrients to get an adequate amount of. It is one of the most abundant substances in the body. It is necessary for the growth of our bones, muscles, skin, blood, hair, nails, organs, and connective tissue. It is necessary for the baby’s growth, metabolism, hormones, and sexual development. It provides the material for making the baby, placenta, and uterus. It contributes to the formation of breast milk.
In addition to all of these important things, it helps a person to keep satiated until the next meal. It helps the blood sugar to remain level.
Complete proteins are found in meat, dairy products, and soybean products. Incomplete proteins (missing or low in amino acids) are found in grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes. These must be eaten in combination to create a complete protein.
If a pregnant woman has inadequate protein, they have a chance of toxemia. It also contributes to mental health issues, increased possibility of infection, slow recovery from illness, lack of energy, and abnormal growth.
Sources of protein are:
- Meat (beef, venison, chicken, pork, lamb, fish…)
- Dairy (Greek yogurt, milk, cheese)
- Soybean products (tofu, edamame, other products)
- Nutritional yeast (we use this on our stove-popped popcorn)
- Nuts and seeds
To create complete proteins from incomplete proteins, a woman can combine a grain with a legume, a grain with a dairy product, or nuts and seeds can be combined with beans or legumes (this is great for those who are vegetarian).
Pregnant women need about 50% of their calories from carbohydrates. These are our main source of energy for all body functions: digestion, heat in the body, and muscular activity. They provide fuel for the brain, muscle tissues, and nervous system. IF there is too much eaten, then they are stored as body fat to use as reserve energy. I don’t worry about that in pregnancy, though.
There are three main forms: simple sugars, starches (also known as complex carbohydrates), and cellulose (fiber that comes from fruits and veggies).
Simple sugars are present in refined/processed foods (sugar, sodas, chocolate, etc) and in unrefined foods (honey, maple, etc).
These are quickly digested and raise blood sugar levels. The benefit is that they help immediately with hunger. The negative part is that the blood sugar then drops quickly. This ends up leading us to eat more simple sugars when we are hungry but the body is never satisfied. These can cause us to have feelings of depression, fatigue, irritability, headache, and a need for more energy. Simple sugars definitely have their place, but they aren’t supposed to be a consistent nutrient for the body. These are what I call “sometimes foods.”
Complex carbs are digested much more slowly and take longer to reach the bloodstream and satiate hunger. This slow process allows the body to absorbs the nutrients. With these types of carbs, the blood sugar levels remain steady for longer periods of time so hunger is satisfied for longer.
Examples of complex carbohydrates:
- Whole wheat
- Oats (steel cut, rolled oats, quick oats)
- Brown or white rice
- Legumes (beans and lentils)
- Starchy veggies (potatoes, squashes, and beets)
- Many fruits (bananas, melons, apples)
This is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that are edible but can’t be digested or absorbed by the body. Fiber prevents constipation, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel. It aids in digestion.
Some examples are:
- Fruits (apples, berries, melons, etc)
- Vegetables (leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, cucumbers, etc)
- Whole grains (whole wheat, oats, quinoa, popcorn, brown rice, etc)
- Legumes (pinto beans, black beans, lentils)
This is the most concentrated form of energy in the diet providing twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates or protein. Fats are necessary for vitamins A, D, E, and K. They allow the body to adjust to temperature changes. They help protect major organs. Fat also helps to keep you satiated in between meals. Excess of fat can cause excessive weight gain in addition to digestive problems.
Fat can be found in:
- Meat (fatty fish, beef, chicken, pork, etc)
- Dairy (butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, etc)
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils (coconut, canola, olive, flaxseed, avocado, etc)
Foods to Avoid in Pregnancy
The list of things to avoid isn’t that long (and these are only for safety reasons):
- Deli meats (heat if eaten)
- Hot dogs
- Soft cheeses
- Fish with high mercury should be eaten once a week or less (swordfish, shark, albacore tuna, or mackerel)
- Raw milk shouldn’t be consumed in pregnancy (but fine outside of pregnancy… I love raw milk)
Check back for updates as I research vitamins and minerals.