The Eats and Don’t Eats of Pregnancy

Some expecting moms will turn to Google before every meal or snack. Can I have feta on my pizza? What about cookie dough ice cream? Deli meats? (The answers are yes, yes, and yes, in case you were wondering). If you’ve looked online for this kind of information, you may have noticed conflicting information so hopefully this can set the record straight.

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When it comes to foods that could harm your unborn child, the same basic guidelines apply for your entire pregnancy so we’ll save that list for last. The list of foods you should be eating actually changes over the course of your pregnancy to meet the changing nutrient needs of your body and your baby.

Foods You Need to Eat During Pregnancy

Basic Nutrition for Your Whole Pregnancy

1. Try to eat all four food groups, every day. It is important to get a variety of foods to provide proper nutrition to the life you are growing and to keep yourself in shape. These include protein (meats and alternatives), fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates (breads and cereals), and dairy. Try to keep sweet or salty treats to a minimum so you have room in your diet for proper nutrition.

2. Take a Prenatal Vitamin. Get on a prenatal vitamin as soon as possible after discovering that you are pregnant. Bring it with you to your first doctor’s appointment along with any other medications.

3. Proper Hydration. While it is possible to over-hydrate, which could increase swelling and numbness, it is much worse to become dehydrated. Drink six to eight 8-ounce servings of water throughout the day. Try getting a BPA-free, reusable water bottle to use all day every day, because it is much better for you to sip on it throughout the day rather than in six to eight chug sessions.

First Trimester

1. Get lots of Folate. Yes, folic acid is in your prenatal, but during this critical time in early pregnancy it is important to keep it in your diet as well. Try folate-rich foods such as orange juice, whole wheat bread, potatoes, and dark leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, and romaine lettuce.

2. Don’t eat for two, but eat twice as healthy. This is a challenging time of pregnancy as some newly expectant mothers want to eat whatever they want and some can’t keep anything down. Weight gain is an important part of pregnancy, but you should only add about 300 calories a day to your diet and only in the second and third trimesters. Never try to lose weight while pregnant. And if you are having trouble with morning sickness, finding someone to do the food prep for you might help you get the nutrition you need.

Second Trimester

1. Keep the protein coming. Protein is essential at this stage of pregnancy to help baby with his or her rapid growth and development. Think lean meats (like chicken breasts), peanut butter, tuna (canned chunk light and only in moderation to keep mercury levels down), eggs, tofu, and reduced fat dairy products.

2. Fiber for everyone. You need fiber and your baby does now too. The Institute of Medicine recommends 28 grams of fiber for pregnant women. Try adding bran, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes (like kidney beans and chickpeas), seeds, and nuts. Be sure to keep your fluid intake up with any increase in fiber to your diet.

3. Cut back on salty food. Combat swelling by minimizing your intake of salty foods and try to refrain from adding salt to your cooking when unnecessary.

Third Trimester

1. As you prepare for labor, your nutrient needs are different. This is especially evident in your need for iron. Yes, your prenatal should have iron in it, but it is still essential that you keep it in your diet. Good sources of iron include lean meats, fish, dried beans, and enriched grains like Malt-O-Meal or some other cereals.

2. Calcium for strong bones. Even if you’re popping Tums for heartburn, you still need to think about calcium because calcium carbonate is not the best source of calcium for your body. So keep calcium in your diet with milk and dairy products, tofu, or calcium-added orange juice.

3. Magnesium. Good sources include seeds, nuts, legumes, un-milled grains, dark green vegetables, tofu, and chili beans.

4. Omega 3 fatty acids and DHA. These are important in the brain development of your little one now and post-birth. Try tuna (chunk light in moderation), seafood (once again, moderation), canola oil, flaxseed oil, and English walnuts.

Final Month of Pregnancy

1. Complex carbohydrates (in moderation). You don’t need to carbo-load like you’re running a marathon but complex carbs such as whole grain oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, fruits, and vegetables give you the energy and fiber you need to make it through the home stretch.

2. Healthy fats (you guessed it… in moderation). Olive oil, unsalted nuts, and avocados give your baby the fats it needs for healthy development.

Eating a balanced diet during pregnancy can be a challenge. With fluctuating nausea, cravings, and ravenous hunger, a well-balanced meal may be the last thing on your mind. But with the right information, you can more easily make the health of you and your baby a priority and more easily keep the midnight ice-cream binging sessions to a minimum.


Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

1. Alcohol. If you drank alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, don’t panic. But now it’s time to put down the bottle. There is no “okay” amount of alcohol during pregnancy and continued use could lead to developmental delays such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. If you’re finding it difficult to stop, take this time to reach out to one of many resources [CH2] right here in Northern Michigan that can help you do what’s best for yourself and your baby.

2. Smoking or drug use. Yes, drugs and cigarettes are not food, but they directly affect the health and nourishment of the child you are carrying. Find local resources [CH3] to help you take this important step.

3. Undercooked meat or raw anything. For the next nine months, you’ll be ordering your steak medium-well. Avoid any undercooked meat – especially chicken – but also raw fish.  (No sushi – but you can still have a California Roll!)  You’ll also want to avoid anything with raw eggs; some homemade custards, sauces, and dressings can have raw eggs in them, but most restaurants use pasteurized eggs so you don’t have to worry so much when you eat out. And sadly – no licking the spoon when you bake cookies.

4.  Deli Meats, Soft Cheeses, and Meat Spreads. These foods can carry listeria, which has been reported to cause miscarriage. But luckily for you, there are loopholes here. If you heat your deli meat to steaming and your soft cheeses come from pasteurized milk then you are safe! (Most cheeses made in the U.S. are pasteurized but imported cheeses may not be.) Skip the chicken salad from the deli counter, but anything that comes canned is fine.

5. Too much caffeine. Caffeine has been shown to contribute to pre-term labor so you will want to cut down on your daily coffee habit. Look at the labels on your beverages to stay under 200 mg per day. And don’t forget though that some caffeine is present in some foods as well – like chocolate. Moderation is key.

6. Too much fish. Some fish, freshwater and saltwater, and seafood can contain high levels of mercury. Eat these only in moderation and talk to your doctor if this food makes up a larger portion of your diet.

7. Supplements and Herbal Remedies – Some medications, supplements and herbal remedies can be dangerous for pregnant women. Talk to your health care provider before taking any supplements or herbal remedies.