Want to grow the healthiest baby possible while staying within your prescribed weight gain? Then build a prenatal meal plan around fresh, lean food choices, says Dr. Meredith Watson-Locklear, an OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates.
Start off right by shunning pregnancy’s biggest food fallacy — that you can consume twice as much because you are eating for two.
“No, no, no,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Yes, it’s true you’re eating for yourself and a growing baby, but that baby is the size of a pea in the first trimester. If you were REALLY eating for two, you would weigh what two adults weigh. But you’re eating for someone who, at birth, will weigh about eight pounds. Don’t use pregnancy as an excuse to eat everything you want.”
Instead, create a nine-month meal plan designed with your baby’s needs in mind. Opt for fresh, whole foods while bypassing those packed with empty calories or ingredients with possible parasites, food-borne illnesses or toxins.
These Are a Go!
Stock up on plenty of low-fat milk and yogurt, both chock full of calcium crucial for strong bones and developing teeth. Add lean meats such as chicken, pork and beef to the menu, all of which are good sources of high-quality protein and contain the iron and choline necessary for pregnancy.
Beans rate raves as another good protein choice. Bursting with fiber, folate, protein and calcium, legumes are a growing baby’s best food friend. Mix it up by trying chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans, peas and navy and pinto beans.
A colorful plate is a healthy plate. Opt for green, leafy veggies such as broccoli, kale and spinach, which contain most of the nutrients pregnant women need. Yams, also known as sweet potatoes, get their orange color from beta-carotene, an important source of vitamin A. They also are packed with fiber, folate and vitamin C. Avocados get raves as a prenatal superfood. High in fiber, potassium and heathy, unsaturated fats — as well as an alphabet of vitamins such as B, K, E and C — avocados actually contain more potassium than bananas.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for your growing baby’s brain and eye development. Salmon and nuts such as almonds, pecans and walnuts are rich in these healthy fats. A diet rich in whole grains like oats, quinoa and barley add fiber, vitamins and plant compounds called phytonutrients.
Water is the drink of choice for moms-to-be. “Pregnant women need about 10 to 12 cups a day to help stabilize blood pressure and blood flow to the baby, as well as reduce their risk of fluid retention,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Adequate hydration may also help prevent constipation and urinary tract infections.”
Just Say No!
Pregnancy is the time to reevaluate former favorites, such as caffeine. “Too much caffeine can cause heart palpitations in the fetus,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear, who suggests a break from coffee as well as caffeinated sodas and teas. “You also need to avoid energy drinks, which are full of things we know are not healthy in pregnancy — caffeine, artificial sweeteners and unregulated herbs.”
Alcoholic beverages — wine, beer and mixed drinks – also should be avoided during pregnancy. “Sustained drinking can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause learning disabilities in babies,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Why take a chance?”
Consider cutting out the baloney — and all other processed meats as well. Hot dogs, bacon and deli meats are packed with nitrates and susceptible to listeria contamination. If you must succumb to a hot dog or a cold cut sandwich, make sure it’s heated to steaming before consumption.
“If you buy whole ham or turkey or roast beef fresh from the deli and use it immediately — or heat it thoroughly before eating, it’s probably OK,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “However, any cold cuts that are not 100 percent beef or pork — I say absolutely not.”
Play it safe by avoiding raw or undercooked food while pregnant. Raw eggs — also found in homemade eggnog and raw cookie dough — can harbor salmonella, which causes diarrhea, vomiting and fever.
The possibility of parasites and E. coli in raw fish and undercooked meats make these a nine-month no-no. “Cook or order your beef, chicken or pork well done,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “And no to sushi. I have patients who then ask about cooked sushi or California rolls. No. All types of sushi are usually prepared on the same board as raw sushi so you are exposed to raw fish even if you order something else. Don’t take the chance.”
Not all cooked fish is created equal. While salmon is a savvy choice, other deep water fish hold mercury from water pollution in their flesh. To avoid consuming too much mercury, toxic to a developing fetus, bypass mackerel, tilefish, tuna, shark, snapper and swordfish.
Any dairy, juice, soft cheese or cheese sauce made from unpasteurized milk is not safe during pregnancy. Pasteurization kills toxins and bacteria like listeria. Avoid farm-stand favorites such as unpasteurized cider, juice or cheeses, unless you are certain they have been pasteurized.
While frozen yogurt offers a cool way to consume calcium, sidestep soft-serve ice cream. “The soft-serve machine can also harbor listeria,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Listeria causes GI upset in non-pregnant women, but can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, uterine infection and preterm delivery in those who are pregnant.”
Skirt the empty calories found in fat-laden chips, chemical-packed diet drinks and sugar-soaked treats such as packaged cookies and candy. If you need a cheat nibble, opt for a pretzel or two.
Extra Vitamins and Minerals
Worried you’re still not eating enough of the good stuff? Hedge your bets by adding a prenatal vitamin to your daily diet.
“There are a few extra vitamins and mineral requirements during pregnancy that prenatal vitamins can provide,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “The big one is iron, necessary to produce the extra red blood cells for your baby’s growth. Almost 20 percent of women are anemic by the time they give birth.”
Calcium also is important for baby’s skeletal development. “If you are not getting enough calcium in your food, it will be pulled from your body for the baby,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear.
Folate (vitamin B9) protects against neural tube defects in the growing baby prior to and during pregnancy. ”If you plan on becoming pregnant, increase your folic acid intake at least three months prior to conceiving,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Elevated folate also helps decrease nausea in the first trimester of pregnancy as well.”
However, do not overindulge. Too much calcium can constipate Mom. Too much vitamin A can cause birth defects. Too much iodine during pregnancy can affect fetal thyroid goiter.
“There is a reason vitamin bottles have a recommended dosage on them,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “If you have a question, ask your doctor.”
If you have questions about your pregnancy diet or pregnancy in general, talk to your OBGYN. Don’t have one? Browse our physicians near you.