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Women who eat well and avoid known risks tend to have fewer complications during pregnancy and labor and are more likely to deliver larger, healthier babies. Eating a well-balanced diet, high in nutrients, is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the future health of both you and your baby.
You can easily select what your body and baby need by eating a variety of foods from all five food groups daily:
- Breads, Cereals and Grains
- Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts
- Milk, Yogurt and Cheese
Breads, Grains and Cereals
Pregnant women need 6 to 11 servings daily from this group. It’s important to distinguish between helpings and servings though: A sandwich with two slices of bread -- a typical helping -- is actually two standard servings according to the Food Pyramid. A typical plate of spaghetti contains at least one cup of pasta, which is two standard servings. You should eat at least the minimum number of servings and add other servings to meet your caloric needs.
Foods in the bread/cereal group are especially high in carbohydrates, our primary source of energy. Grain products are also a good source of protein, which is the building material of body tissue for you and your baby. Many grains are enriched with B-vitamins and iron. It’s important to check the iron content on nutrition information labels -- look at cereal boxes, for example -- because your iron needs almost double during pregnancy.
Vegetables provide vitamins A and C among other vitamins, minerals and fiber, which can help relieve constipation. Especially rich in Vitamin C are broccoli, cabbage, greens, potatoes, spinach, green beans and tomatoes. Eating foods rich in Vitamin C helps the body absorb the iron in foods. The body doesn’t store Vitamin C, so C-rich foods are needed daily.
Vitamin A promotes the growth and health of cells throughout the body, both yours and your baby’s. You need a good source at least every other day. Good sources of Vitamin A include dark green and deep yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, greens, green peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins and winter squash.
Fruits such as oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, melons and berries are the best sources of Vitamin C. Deep yellow fruits like cantaloupe and apricots are good sources of Vitamin A. It’s easy to eat three or more servings of fruit a day: juice or fresh fruit for breakfast, fresh or dried fruit for a snack, a fruit salad with lunch and a cooked fruit dessert with dinner.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts
Protein, a major nutrient in this group, is necessary for growth of new cells and replacement of old ones.
Milk, Yogurt, Cheese
Dairy products provide numerous nutrients and are especially high in calcium and protein. Calcium is essential in the formation of bones and teeth. If your intake isn’t sufficient, your baby can withdraw calcium from your bones, making you more at risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
If you don’t like to drink milk, try flavoring it with chocolate or a drop of vanilla or serving it super-chilled over ice. You can fortify foods such as casseroles, meat loaf, mashed potatoes and soups by adding some nonfat dry or powered milk, which gives you calcium but won’t affect recipe taste.
Other ways to "eat your milk" include sprinkling grated cheese on salads, soups, casseroles or vegetables. One cup of yogurt contains the same amount of calcium as a cup of milk, so include it with snacks and meals or substitute plain yogurt for some of the mayonnaise in salad dressings. Another way to add milk to your diet is to choose pudding desserts. Although ice cream and ice milk provide calcium, you’d have to eat 1 1/2 cups of either to count as a serving of milk because each contains so much air and sugar.
Discuss lactose intolerance with your healthcare provider if you have a problem digesting milk and dairy products. Drinking milk in half-cup amounts might help, or try buttermilk or yogurt.
Good nondairy sources of calcium include canned salmon and sardines with bones; dark leafy greens such as kale, mustard, turnip and collard greens; and tofu (soy cheese) made with calcium carbonate.
As you make your nutritional choices during pregnancy, keep in mind that fats, oils and sweets give food flavor but should be used sparingly.
The USDA Food Pyramid is an easy-to-follow eating plan. Since it’s impossible to remember the exact amount of each nutrient needed daily, eating a variety of foods from each of the groups in the pyramid allows you to select what’s healthful for two.