Pregnancy and Diet: Eating Right for Your Baby
The combination of being pregnant and being a dietitian starts countless conversations on the topic of eating right for momma and baby. While this truly should not come as much of a surprise, I have been surprised at the number of stressed mother-to-be’s who are spending far too much of their precious time worrying about how her not-so-healthy cravings will affect her and her baby. While I certainly do not have all of the answers, I have been doing my best to share what nutrition wisdom I do have – much of which I have learned since becoming pregnant myself. It is one thing to read the books about healthy eating during pregnancy, but it certainly another to actually LIVE IT.
Read on for two of the questions I receive most commonly, those surrounding supplements and those voracious carb cravings...
Isn't a Prenatal Multivitamin Good Enough?
The most common question I receive is whether or not a nutritional supplement can make up for the nutrients missing from a not-so-balanced diet. Let's put it this way - if that were the case, do you think that anyone would really spend their calories on broccoli? Not sure that you would even find me nibbling on these green trees!
While a prenatal vitamin does help fill in the micronutrient gaps in our diet, it will not replace the benefits of a diet comprised of nutrient-rich whole foods. Here are a few examples:
- Fruits and Vegetables: provide us with fiber to lessen or prevent the all-to-common complaint of pregnancy constipation while they help us feel fuller faster, leaving us with less room and desire for the not-so-nutritious foods. Oh, and did I mention their practically infinite number of antioxidants and phytonutrients which have been found to fight inflammation and reduce the risk of multiple chronic diseases - including cancer? They've got them!
- Whole Grains: bring even more of that fab fiber to the table. They are also chock-full of the famous B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and also include folate, a key micronutrient for a healthy growing baby. (You can read more about the benefits of B vitamins in Dr. VanWingen's blog.)
- Lean Protein: If you did not yet get the memo, we need more protein than ever during pregnancy. A healthy woman is encouraged to aim for 46-50 grams of protein per day. During pregnancy this bumps up to 60 grams and while she is breastfeeding the recommended amount increases up to 65 grams per day. To get a better idea of what this translates to in terms of the food you are eating
- One Egg: 5g Protein
- Protein-Rich Granola Bar: 10g Protein
- 3oz Meat: 21g Protein
- 1 Cup of Milk: 8g Protein
- 1 Serving of Nuts or Nut Butter: 6g Protein
- Healthy Fats: including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, play a key role in your baby’s brain and eye development. Aim for at least one serving of healthy fats per day including sources such as olive oil, walnuts, chia seeds, or fatty fish (be sure to seek out fish with the lowest concentration of mercury).
- Calcium-Rich Foods: such as yogurt, cheese, tofu, soybeans, milk, fortified soy or almond milk, leafy greens and almonds, provide the bone building calcium necessary for all of us – especially pregnant or nursing mama’s. Aim for 1,000 mg each day (more is not better). If you are getting less than 1,000 mg, your baby will not suffer, but you will as they pull calcium out of your own bones to use for their bone development (and thereby increase your own risk for osteoporosis later in life.) Also be sure to also squeeze in enough vitamin D into your diet as this vitamin is the key to calcium storage. New research also indicates that healthy vitamin D intake during pregnancy may support improved mental and psychomotor development in your baby.
What If I Only Crave Carbs?
Cookies, cake, bread, donuts, ice cream, and sugary cereals - who doesn’t desire such sweet delights? While it's possibly you're craving carbs to help return low serotonin levels (happy chemicals) back to a healthy level, but as most of us have healthy levels already, I imagine most of us crave carbs simply because they taste so good! Perhaps, it's also because so many people attempt to deprive themselves of carbs over a lifetime of fad diets. Once a woman becomes pregnant, many feel it is their time to eat whatever they want. After all, we are eating for two (even if it is truly more like 1.1) and heck, we deserve it!
While I certainly agree that every pregnant woman deserves a treat now and again, what she does not deserve is an unhealthy body (and baby) as a result. Processed carbs tend to be higher in calories and lower in nutrients, providing us with too many extra calories - and extra calories lead to extra weight gain. I am not saying that I am perfect myself, but I am certainly doing my best to stay within the 25-35 pound weight gain recommended by my physician ( not exactly easy when you feel ravenous around the clock!) I understand where you are coming from and I have had my fair share of the same cravings, so here are a few ways I try to get around them in a healthy fashion.
Satisfy Hunger With Protein and Fat
If you eat more protein and healthy fats, you may surprise yourself and actually crave fewer carbs. This seems to do the trick for me (most of the time) and if my craving feels too out of control, I will try to find a healthy protein to pair with my sweet treat (think plain nonfat Greek yogurt with chocolate zucchini cake or walnuts with frozen banana puree). If you were to explore my kitchen you would find plenty of ready-to-grab snacks such as:
- Greek Yogurt has double the protein of regular yogurt.
- Trail Mix can be made easily at home with unsalted nuts and dried fruit and maybe even a splash of dark chocolate chips. I always aim to include walnuts as they are one of the best sources of omega-3 fats and I also love in-shell pumpkin seeds since they take longer to chew and are rich in nutrients.
- Chia or Flax Seeds taste great in smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, muffins, or even as a crunchy addition to your salads.
- String Cheese now comes in a variety of cheese types and shapes.
- Hard-Boiled Eggs whip them up on Sunday evening to stock up for the week ahead.
- Protein-Rich Snack Bars or cereal can also be a good choice. In this household, we enjoy Kashi® GoLean Crunch cereal, South Beach protein bars, Luna Protein bars, Kind bars, and the list goes on!
If you just can't get away from processed carbs - and I know it happens to the best of us - do your best to aim for those made with whole grains or other nutrient-rich foods such as produce or nuts. That way you are at least getting some nutrition for you and baby.
My Favorite Healthy Pregnancy Sweet Treats
One of the best ways I have of satisfying my own sweet tooth is with plenty of butternut squash soup and my own dietitianed up version of chocolate zucchini cake that I prepare with whole grain flour, double the zucchini, extra cocoa powder, and half of the sugar. Yum! Both recipes are sweet, satisfying, and manage to help me squeeze more veggies into my diet.
Another simple and low cal, but nutrient rich, snack is air popped popcorn. Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Just top it with a dash of cinnamon and if you want, a touch of sugar or dried fruit as well. Try to stick with the air-popped version as we are now discovering that many of the microwaveable versions come packaged with chemicals that are not healthy for mother or baby. No air popper? No problem. Toss your kernels into a paper lunch sack and zap away or simply shake them around in your pot over the stove. Both methods are quick and easy and will have you munching on tasty whole grains in no time!
Do What Works For You!
Hope this is helpful, but just know that all we can do is our best each and every day. I may be a dietitian, but I am certainly new to this whole world of being pregnant. I am not eating perfectly (who does?), but I am trying hard to make smart choices for myself and Baby Corwin.