Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

By Sean Barrett, Registered Dietitian

If you’re pregnant, “eating for two” doesn’t mean eating more than necessary, what matters is if the food is healthy.

The caloric needs of an expecting mom will change throughout her pregnancy. Extra calories are not required during a woman’s first trimester. During the second trimester, only an additional 340 calories is recommended daily, followed by 450 per day during the third trimester. Eating a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low fat dairy and healthful fats provides enough nutrients for both mom and baby.

Pregnant women should consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Folic acid (or folate) reduces the risk of birth defects especially those affecting the spinal cord. Dietary sources of folic acid include legumes, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, pastas and bread, as well as supplements.

Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency during pregnancy. Expecting moms need at least 27 milligrams of iron each day. Foods with high and moderate amounts of iron include red meat, chicken and fish, fortified cereals, spinach, some leafy greens and beans. For vegetarians and women who do not eat a lot of meat, increase iron absorption by combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods, like adding mandarin oranges to a spinach salad.

Calcium is needed for the healthy development of a baby’s teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles. If a pregnant woman does not consume enough calcium, it will be taken from her bones for the baby. That is why it’s important to consume adequate amounts of calcium daily before, during and after pregnancy. That means at least three daily servings of calcium-rich foods such as low fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese, cereals or juices.

While most food is safe, pregnant women should avoid sprouts, tilefish, shark, swordfish, oysters, and king mackerel. Reheat processed meats like deli or luncheon meats as well as hotdogs before eating. Also, do not consume unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses during pregnancy due to the risk for listeria.

Your diet during pregnancy affects your energy level and well-being, so it is important to make healthy choices for you and your baby.