Now that you’re pregnant, you may be paying more attention than ever to the foods you consume. Healthy choices will leave you feeling full and provide your baby with building blocks and nutrients, but it can be a challenge to know which foods pack the best nutritional punch. We’ve compiled a short guide of top choices for you and your baby.
Selecting “good” carbohydrates will leave you feeling satisfied and give you long-lasting energy. The best carbohydrates are those with a low glycemic index — meaning that they are processed slowly by your digestive tract and, therefore, do not cause a surge of sugar in your bloodstream. Some of the best choices include whole-grain cereals and breads (rye and pumpernickel are best), brown rice, oatmeal, yarns, legumes and lentils. Try to avoid foods with a high glycemic index, including white breads and pastas, cookies, soda and candy.
Lean proteins are very important in pregnancy to help your baby grow and to keep you feeling full. Excellent choices include chicken and turkey, lean pork and even lean red meats in moderation. These meats are all rich in iron, which is essential to prevent anemia. Fish is another great source of protein, with up to two to three servings per week recommended. Top choices include salmon and white fish such as cod, shrimp and other shellfish. Shrimp is also a good source of iron. Avoid shark, mackerel, tilefish and swordfish, as these are high in mercury. Tuna is also safe in moderation as part of a balanced diet, by pay attention to which kind you purchase — albacore tuna is higher in mercury than non-albacore varieties. Other sources of healthy proteins include beans and nuts, including low-sugar nut butters.
Healthy facts — specifically omega-3 fatty acids — are necessary for your baby’s brain development. These are found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, halibut, oysters and sardines. Milk, yogurt and eggs that are fortified with omega-3 fatty acids are also widely available. Some grains are also fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources include avocado, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach and nuts. Try to limit saturated fats such as animal fats, butter and rich cheeses. If possible, avoid trans fats, which are found in many processed, “convenience” foods. Reading nutritional labels before you make a purchase can help uncover hidden bad fats.
Vitamins and Minerals
Much of what you need is actually part of your prenatal vitamin. Your prenatal vitamin should include at least 0.4 mg of folic acid. Iron is one mineral to seek out in pregnancy to avoid anemia. Iron is found in lean meats, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, fortified grains and cereals, legumes such as garbanzo beans, and many seeds and nuts.
With some planning, you can create and enjoy an incredibly healthy pregnancy diet filled with essential nutrients.
Margaret K. Chory, MD, is a general obstetrician/gynecologist practicing in Pittsburgh, PA.