Forget pickles and ice cream. Give your baby a healthy headstart with good nutrition.
Research shows that the better your prenatal diet, the healthier your baby. You need to be taking in about an extra 300 calories a day, so make sure they come from nutritious sources. Here are 10 great foods every woman should incorporate into her pregnancy nutrition plan.
With more calcium than milk, eating yogurt during pregnancy helps your baby build bones and protect yours. If you don’t get enough, the baby will start stealing from your own calcium stores and can cause problems with the mothers bones.
A analysis of several different studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that calcium may prevent pre-eclampsia (or toxemia), a serious condition in which blood pressure rises to dangerous levels. Yogurt also contains friendly bacteria, such as acidophilus, which help your digestive system work properly. And yogurt’s good for the immune system, says Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, director of Foodtrainers nutritional counselors in New York City.
Get more: Whip up a smoothie with yogurt, low-fat milk and bananas or frozen berries. Plop some yogurt on a baked potato instead of sour cream. Strain it and use as a base for dips.
Almonds are high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant with cancer-fighting properties that Americans don’t typically get enough of, says Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Almonds are also higher in fiber than any other nut, which can help fend off constipation and hemorrhoids, two common pregnancy side effects.
Get more: Sprinkle some on salad, or mix almonds with dried fruit, put them in a baggie and stash in your office drawer or your car. Use almond butter on high-fiber crackers.
Note: Though the jury is still out on whether or not prenatal exposure to certain foods increases the likelihood of food allergies down the road, if you or your partner have a nut allergy, speak to your doctor before eating any nuts.
Salmon contains omega 3 fatty acids, which recent studies have found can boost baby’s brainpower. One study done at Harvard Medical School found that infants born to mothers with higher blood levels of DHA (an omega 3 fatty acid) at delivery had better attention spans well into their second year of life. And a cross-national study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that post-partum depression is lower among countries where the greatest seafood is consumed.
Salmon is a good fish choice because of its low mercury content. Mercury can cross the placenta and damage the fetus’ developing neurological system, affecting its cognitive and motor functions. Because of this, the US Food and Drug Administration warns pregnant or nursing women against eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
Get more: Try putting a salmon burger (available in the frozen foods section of most grocery stores) on a whole grain bun with lettuce and tomato. And add pickles, of course.
4. Omega 3-Enriched Eggs
Eggs contain almost every essential vitamin and mineral needed by humans, says Slayton. Eggs are also nutrient-dense, which means they supply a great deal of nutrition for a very small calorie count. Eggs are a great source of protein, which is key for your baby’s brain development. And pregnant women who get enough omega 3 are more likely to have babies with better sleep patterns, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Get more: Boil eggs to keep in the fridge so they’re ready to grab and go. Use eggs in baking or roll in a whole wheat tortilla with some avocado for a breakfast burrito, says Slayton.
5. Leafy Greens
Good examples are spinach, kale, chard and dandelion greens. Greens are a great source of folate, which is key for preventing neural tube defects – including spina bifida – during the earliest stages of fetal development. They’re also packed with nutritious phytochemicals, like beta carotene and lutein, which protect against many forms of cancer.
Get more: Think beyond the salad. Tear pieces of kale, sprinkle them with olive oil and salt and roast it on high for crunchy kale crispies. Throw baby spinach into hot whole wheat pasta or brown rice.
6. Iron Fortified Whole-Grain Cereals/Bread
When you’re pregnant, the need for iron increases. Your baby needs iron to develop blood supply and you need it for yours, which increases during pregnancy. “It’s easy to become anemic during pregnancy and lots of women can’t tolerate prenatal vitamins with a lot of iron in them,” says Johnson of the ADA. “So you’ve got to make sure you’re getting enough iron from food.” Whole grains are packed with fiber, and they’re the best source of carbohydrates, which provide the primary source of energy for the developing baby. Whole grains also help to regulate blood sugar and prevent gestational diabetes. And whole grains are a good source of folate, which pregnant women excrete more than normally.
Get more: Cereal’s not just for breakfast. Try a bowl with raisins and a cup of skim milk for a healthy nighttime snack.
Berries are the powerhouse of the fruit family,” says Johnson. They’re loaded with phytonutrients, (plant compounds that help fight disease). And they’re packed with vitamin C, which is necessary for proper collagen formation, a key to strengthening your membranes.A recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women with a diet low in vitamin C were at increased risk of preterm delivery. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron. And berries are sweet so, when you’re feeling queasy, they can be easier to get down than vegetables.Get more: Layer yogurt with high-fiber cereal and berries for a yummy fruit parfait that has three superfoods in one.
Get more: Layer yogurt with high-fiber cereal and berries for a yummy fruit parfait that has three superfoods in one.
8. Lean Meat
Red meat is one of the best sources of iron. Your baby will need to use and store enough to last through his or her first few months of life. The protein in meat particularly helps repair and replace tissues, and helps maintain the fluid-balance in the body. Lean meat also contains B vitamins and zinc.
Get more: Try grass-fed beef or leaner types like buffalo. Combine meat with tomato sauce to help iron absorption and serve over whole wheat pasta. Use lean ground turkey for healthy meatballs.
9. Lentils & Beans
“If there were such a thing as a perfect food, beans would be it,” says Johnson. Joy Bauer, MS, RD, a nutritionist in New York City, adds: “Lentils and beans provide soluble fiber, which helps a pregnant woman maintain stable blood sugar levels and keep cholesterol levels (which tend to go up during pregnancy) in check.” Beans are packed with fiber, a good amount of protein and iron. They’re also great sources of folate. Another plus: “Many women have meat aversions during pregnancy and are nervous about some fish because of their mercury content, so beans are the perfect solution,” says Slayton.
Get more: Try beans in stir frys, salads and wraps. Throw canned beans into soups, stews and chili.
Okay, maybe we cheated with this one since it’s not technically a food. But your blood volume doubles during pregnancy, so your need for water goes up too. Slice citrus fruit or cucumbers into water and aim for 10 cups a day. Get plenty of water-based foods too, like cucumbers, watermelon and honeydew. In most cases, tap water is fine for pregnant women, unless it’s heavily fluorinated.
Get more: If you prefer the taste of bottled water or like the convenience of a portable container, bottled water is a good choice, especially if it allows you to drink more.