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June 23, 2024

Where Every Family Matters

The Importance of a Healthy Pregnancy Diet

Pregnant adult women require 300 more calories a day when they're expecting ... so no, it doesn't mean it's time to go HOG WILD!

“Pregnancy gives women the chance to begin eating healthy,” says Registered Dietician Rachel Brandeis. Good nutrition is important during pregnancy, especially during the critical first trimester and experts say the better you eat, the better you’ll feel.

In fact, certain foods also have a postive affect on your baby's development later in life. A new study states, "Eating nuts during early pregnancy may boost a child’s cognitive ability." The study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, says that "children born to mothers who consumed three or more servings of nuts (including walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts and pine nuts) during the first trimester scored higher on intelligence tests than those born to mothers who had not eaten nuts." And nuts make for a yummy snack, too! Aside from eating different kinds of nuts, your pregnancy diet should be a healthy one from the start.

Counting Calories

“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 Connie Diekman, Ph.D. Moms-to-be should approach eating as though 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.

Super Snacks

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.

Skipping Meals

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 are 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 instead 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.

Reality Strikes

While it’s important to try and eat healthily during pregnancy, don’t deprive yourself of nutritional goodies now and then. “I made 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.

Starting Out Strong

  1. Schedule your first prenatal visit.
  2. Start Taking a Daily Prenatal Vitamin with Folic Acid Folic acid, a B vitamin, helps prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord if taken early in pregnancy, when the baby’s neural tube is developing. Begin taking a vitamin with folic acid as soon as you know you’re pregnant.
  3. Pay Attention to What You Eat! Avoid fish that may contain high levels of mercury (swordfish, shark king mackerel, and tilefish); eat no more than six ounces of albacore tuna per week; avoid raw fish, undercooked meat and eggs, and unpasteurized cheese, fruit juice and milk; eat sprouts only if they are cooked; and either stay away from cold cuts and hot dogs or make sure they’re cooked thoroughly before you eat them.
  4. Cut Down on Caffeine/Eliminate Alcohol/Stop Smoking & Rec Drugs. Excessive caffeine intake may increase the risk of miscarriage, so ingest no more than two eight-ounce cups of coffee or two cups of tea per day. Drinking during pregnancy can cause physical and mental birth defects. Smoking and recreational drug use put your baby at risk for birth defects, premature birth and death.
  5. Careful Around Chemicals. Avoid solvents, paints, paint thinners, pesticides and chemicals such as mercury, benzene and formaldehyde, which can cause birth defects or miscarriage. And stay away from the cat’s litter box to avoid exposure to toxoplasmosis.

Source: March of Dimes

About the Author


Gina Roberts-Gray is a mother and freelance writer.