Are you planning your pregnancy or recently found out you are expecting? First congratulations!
You are in for an experience of a lifetime, but what are you supposed to do now? We all have heard that keeping a balanced diet is important while pregnant. But you are probably wondering what exactly a healthy diet is. How does it look? Should you change your current eating habits?
During pregnancy, you need to fulfill your body’s needs and your growing baby’s demands. Eating nutritious food is the best way to achieve it.
We need to understand that our body is going through a unique process that requires more specific nutrients like iron, protein, and folic acid. Your doctor will advise you to take prenatal supplements, but most of your nutrients should come from food.
I am in no way a nutritionist but I learned a lot about eating healthy when I had gestational diabetes. Also, we gathered the expert’s intake on this matter and practical ways to maintain a healthy diet.
Here are 5 tips to for a healthy pregnancy.
1. Variety is the key to success.
A balanced diet refers to how diverse your food is. If you eat the same food every day, you are cutting out important vitamins and minerals. Perhaps you believe you are a healthy person because you eat an apple, chicken, and potatoes every day. But you are receiving the same nutrients by not adding diversity to your meals.
The best way to maintain a diverse diet is by planning. Rotate your proteins, one day chicken, another white fish, then salmon, and so on. The same goes for the rest of the groups. You can create a weekly menu, so you know what comes next, and you can keep track of your eating habits.
2. Include all food groups in every meal.
The five food groups are equally important to maintain a healthy pregnancy. You should include them in each meal and pay special attention to the recommended serving portion each has.
They are a source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Make sure you include five portions a day between fruits and vegetables and have a diversity of colors. Each color provides different nutrients. Just so you get an idea of the amount you need to eat daily, three-quarters of your lunch and dinner plate should be fruit and veggies.
- Starchy foods or carbohydrates
Most of your energy will come from this group. They make you feel satisfied and contain fiber and vitamins. While carbohydrates are good for our bodies, we need to choose them wisely and in the right portions.
You should prefer whole grains and high fiber foods instead of refined versions. One-third of the food you eat should be starchy. Some examples of healthy carbs are whole grain bread, potatoes with skin, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, and oats.
There are plenty of sources of protein that you can choose from. Just keep in mind that all animal proteins must be well cooked to avoid the risk of salmonella and toxoplasmosis.
They should be lean cuts with as little added oil as possible. Some great vegetal sources of protein are beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and chickpeas.
Fish is a great source of protein. Include at least two portions per week. One of them should be an oily fish like salmon or sardine. Oily fish contains Omega 3 and also pollutants.
Therefore one portion per week is ideal. Marlin, swordfish, and sharks are not recommended during pregnancy due to the high content of heavy metals like mercury.
You need a minimum of 1000 mg of calcium to fulfill your body and your baby’s requirements during pregnancy. When you fail to meet those requirements, your baby will take calcium from your bones, leading to future problems like osteoporosis. Dairy products are a good source of calcium. Include milk, cheese, and yogurt in your daily meals.
- Healthy fat
Unsaturated fats are good to increase our energy levels, but they should be limited as much as possible. Some examples are grapeseed oil, olive oil, avocado, almonds, brazil nuts, and peanuts.
3. Limit or avoid sugary drinks and processed food.
Foods that are high in sugar, fat, or both are not required in our diet. Their consumption should be limited or avoided.
They can lead to weight gain, tooth decay, high cholesterol levels, and heart disease.
Some examples are salad dressings, cookies, chocolate, pastries, ice cream, sodas, cream, cake, puddings, chips, sugary soft drinks, and so on. While balance is the key to success, try to avoid them as often as possible.
4. Eat colors.
I know it sounds silly, but your meals should be colorful to ensure you are getting various nutrients throughout the day. Here are some of the nutrients you get according to the color of your fruits and veggies.
- Red: vitamin C, A, potassium, and antioxidants.
- Green: potassium, vitamin K, antioxidants, and fiber.
- Yellow and orange, vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium.
5. Specific nutrients and where to get them.
You need all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you can get while pregnant, but there are three particularly important for you and your baby.
Your doctor will probably prescribe them, but if you can boost your levels by sourcing them from food, your body and your baby will thank you.
- Folic acid
600 micrograms per day are ideal for preventing neural tube defects. Eating dark leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, asparagus, romaine lettuce, and legumes can help you achieve your daily intake.
- Vitamin C
70 grams of vitamin C are the requirements for a pregnant woman. Fruits like oranges, grapefruits, berries, kiwi, mango, and vegetables such as broccoli, green peppers, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes are a great source of vitamin C.
Extra iron is required during pregnancy for a higher blood supply that guarantees the baby’s oxygen and nutrients. Red meat, nuts, egg, green leafy vegetables, and dried fruit are great natural sources.
As you read so far, keeping a balanced diet is not as hard as it seems. You only need to plan your meals and be conscious about portions.
Being pregnant does not mean eating for two. According to the CDC, during the first trimester, you should not increase your calories; by the second trimester, only 200 extra calories, and during the third 400 calories.
Need meal ideas?
Here are some examples of what you can eat to fulfill your nutrient needs during a whole day and satisfy your hunger. 3 options per meal.
- Avocado and tomato toast
- Overnight oats with apple
- Fruit and yogurt
- Salmon and pasta (with a side of veggies)
- Chicken pesto pasta (with a side of veggie soup)
- Chicken salad
- Turkey stuffed squash
- Spaghetti Bolognese (with a side of green salad)
- Creamy mushroom sauce with chicken (with a side of asparagus)