Pregnancy Diet: What to Eat When Pregnant
What foods should I eat during pregnancy?
Exact food portion sizes and amounts will depend upon factors such as your age, pre-pregnancy weight, height and overall health status. However, certain nutrients (and foods) are important for all pregnant women. Because you only need an extra 300 to 400 calories during pregnancy, on average, it is important to choose nutrient-dense foods, or those that provide more nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) per calorie than calories per nutrient.
Based upon a 2,200-calorie diet, a pregnant woman should aim to consume 6 oz. of lean meat/ fish/ poultry or the equivalent; three to four cups of dairy products, such as milk or yogurt; three cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit, or the equivalent, and 7 oz. of grains, ½ of which should be whole grains, such as a 1-oz. slice of whole-wheat bread or ½ cup of cooked oatmeal. Variety is important, particularly for vegetables and fruits. Choose produce that is rich in vitamins C and A, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, melons, tomatoes and dark green/yellow-orange vegetables, such as spinach, sweet potatoes and carrots. Foods that contain healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, canola, walnut, sesame and flaxseed oils, nuts, seeds, nut butters and avocados are appropriate in moderation.
Although many pregnant women are afraid to consume seafood due to ‘high’ levels of methyl mercury, the most commonly consumed varieties in the U.S. such as salmon, shrimp, light (not albacore) tuna and catfish are low in this harmful substance. Halibut, whitefish, scallops, ocean perch and tilapia are also low in methyl mercury. Pregnant women should aim to consume 12 oz. of low mercury varieties of fish weekly as they need plenty of essential fatty acids for a fetus’ eye and brain development.
Dark green leafy vegetables, legumes and fortified breakfast cereals are high in folate/folic acid; dairy products are rich in calcium and phosphorus; vitamin B12 and iron are found in (and best absorbed from) animal foods, such as meat and seafood, and good food sources of magnesium include leafy green veggies (especially spinach), nuts such as almonds and cashews, halibut, soybeans, potatoes and peanuts. Folate, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, iron and magnesium are nutrients of particular importance for supporting a healthy pregnancy.
Do I need extra protein during my pregnancy? If so, how much?
Throughout your pregnancy, you should consume 25 grams of extra protein daily (beyond what you normally need for health and/or take in daily). Most individuals do not know how many grams of protein they consume daily, but Americans, in general, eat a protein-rich diet. Therefore it is usually not a concern. It may be easier to think in terms of servings in cups or ounces. For example, one cup of milk contains 8 g of protein, while the same amount of yogurt may offer 6 to 10 g. One whole egg, one ounce of meat, fish or poultry or 1.5-oz. of natural cheese provides approximately 7 g of protein each. Eating a 3.5-oz. boneless chicken breast fulfills your entire extra protein requirement.
While many foods, including grains and many vegetables, contain some protein, ‘complete’ protein foods, or those that contain all of the essential amino acids, are your best options. This includes all meats, seafood, poultry, dairy and other ‘animal’ foods. However, there are vegan/vegetarian options as well. Soybeans and soy products, such as soy milk, soy yogurt and soy-based ‘veggie’ burgers are complete protein foods as is the grain known as ‘quinoa’. Another benefit of eating quinoa is that it is rich in iron. It generally comes dry, in a bag and can be used as a rice substitute.
- Drummond, K.E. & Brefer, L.M.: Nutrition for Foodservice & Culinary Professionals, 7th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, New York, 2010.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library: Food and Nutrition Information Center: Lifecycle Nutrition.
- The Cleveland Clinic: Heart Healthy Cooking Oils (April 2010).
- Institute of Medicine (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board (FNB): Dietary Reference Intake Tables for Individuals. PDF
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish (1990-2010).
- National Institutes of Health – Office of Dietary Supplements: Magnesium Fact Sheet.