Taking care of yourself during pregnancy is the first step toward being a healthy mom.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I ate anything I could get my hands on. Perhaps not the wisest way to go. With my subsequent pregnancies, I made an effort to make better food choices, and the difference in how I felt both during pregnancy and after was remarkable. Eating when you don’t want to, or eating foods you don’t prefer can be stressful for expectant mothers. Counting nutrients, balancing food groups and finding foods that are as appealing as they are healthy doesn’t have to leave you hungry for an easier way to eat.
“Pregnancy gives women the chance to begin eating healthy,” says Spokesperson for American Dietetic Association and Registerd Dietician, Rachel Brandeis. Good nutrition is important during pregnancy, especially during the critical first trimester. And while cravings for certain foods may hinder your efforts to eat healthily, experts say the better nutritional diet you consume the better you’ll feel.
Knowing What You Need
The best way to plan a healthy menu is to develop an understanding of all of the basic food groups and how they affect your energy, health and well being. Rely on the food pyramid (available at mypyramid.gov) and the advice of your doctor to determine your specific dietary needs. In addition to eating a diet that allows for sufficient proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables, adding foods with Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) helps develop your baby’s brain cells. These acids are important to you and your baby because DHA is a major component of your baby’s brain and other neural tissues including the light sensitive cells in the retinas of the eyes.
Nutrition experts and physicians happily dispel the myth that expectant moms are “eating for two.” “Pregnant adult women require 300 more calories a day when they are pregnant. They shouldn’t approach eating as though they can eat twice as much food as normal,” explains registered dietician and professor of nutrition, Connie Diekman, Ph.D. Moms-to-be should approach eating as thought they need to eat “a little extra” and “skew toward 10 more grams a day of protein calories than they would normally consume,” says Diekman.
What foods can busy, expectant women snack on? “It is always good to choose fruit or whole grains versus processed foods,” says Brandeis. Specializing in maternal nutrition, Brandeis explains that protein-packed snacks are healthy and also boost an expectant mother’s energy level. “Snacks such as whole-grain crackers and peanut butter that offer the combination of protein and carbohydrates and are terrific, healthy options for moms-to-be,” Brandeis adds.
Nutrition and health experts agree that starting the day with a healthy breakfast offers countless benefits. Unfortunately, when you’re experiencing morning sickness, or feeling too rushed to squeeze in a balanced meal, eating breakfast falls to the bottom of the priority list. “Yogurt sprinkled with low-fat granola, trail mix, nuts or dried fruit and a glass of calcium-enriched juice or milk is a healthy way to start your day,” notes Brandeis.
Just because you aren’t fond of scrambled eggs or able to tolerate pancakes doesn’t mean you have to skip a meal. Eating foods that supply protein and heart-healthy nutrients, can be accomplished with many creative combinations. “When I was pregnant with my first son, I ate fresh salsa and sesame seed crackers with nearly every lunch,” shares Suzie Harris, mother of two. Whole grain crackers and peanut butter or hummus and fresh vegetables are just a few more foods that make eating breakfast or snacks on the go quick and easy.
Supplementing Your Diet
Nutrition experts such as Brandeis and Diekman stress the significance of eating whole foods instead of looking to gain nutrition from energy bars, drinks, powders and vitamins. “Vitamins should be taken in conjunction with a healthy diet and not thought of as a replacement for healthy foods,” notes Diekman. Whole, intact foods instead of foods that have been processed and grilled or steamed foods instead of fried foods are strongly suggested as alternatives to the energy bars and liquid processed shakes. “Cottage cheese mixed with granola, fresh fruit or nuts is more nutritious than a drink geared toward supplementing nutrition,” says Diekman.
Planning Your Menu
There are numerous food combinations that support a healthy, balanced diet. If certain textures, aromas and tastes don’t appeal to you, you can still ensure you and your baby are well fed. Select substitutes such as whole-grain bread of white bread, oatmeal instead of cold cereal and fruit cocktail instead of a candy bar.
Make a list of foods that are appealing as well as those that provide a balanced diet. Add a bit of fresh spinach leaves to a salad, and watch fat intake when making your grocery list. “Switching to skim milk and other low-fat dairy products helps moms-to-be plan healthy meals for her and her family,” Brandeis adds.
Calming the Cravings
Yearnings for a double beef burrito or a pan of warm, gooey brownies tends to push thoughts of eating healthy out of an expectant mother’s mind. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet doesn’t mean you have to give up all desserts or eliminate your favorite junk foods. You can feed the cravings in a healthy fashion and opt for low-fat ice cream, baked goods made with low fat substitutes such as applesauce instead of vegetable oil and baked chips instead of those cooked in fatty oils.
Coffee, Tea or Milk?
In addition to watching what you eat, make sure to remain properly hydrated and aware of the nutritional value of what you drink. “Pay attention to the amount of sugars and empty calories that are in many drinks,” cautions Diekman. Choose beverages that offer the benefits of calcium and folic acid to quench your thirst. “It is also important that expectant mothers reduce or restrict their caffeine intake,” Diekman adds.
While it’s important to try and eat healthily during pregnancy, don’t deprive yourself of nutritional goodies now and then. “I make myself the best milkshakes when I was expecting,” says Kay Jones of Franklin. “I’d add fruit and vanilla then go and put my feet up after a nice walk I loved it!”
Understanding what you and your baby’s nutritional needs are, and how you can satisfy your taste buds and caloric needs nutritiously will ensure you enjoy what you eat when you’re expecting.
Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer.
Guidance to a Healthy Pregnancy
Choices are aplenty in Eat Right for Your Baby: The Individualized Guide to Fertility and Maximum Health During Pregnancy, Nursing and Your Baby’s First Year (Berkley Books; $13.95) by Peter J. D’Adamo, M.D. The book is a helpful guide to eating healthy during and after pregnancy. Inside, you will find healthy food choices geared for specific blood types as well as foods to avoid. Not only does it guide a mother-to-be towards a healthy pregnancy, but it also gives healthy choices for your little one after birth.