Eating a balanced diet during pregnancy is one of the most important things you can do to give your baby a great start in life and keep you healthy, too. But with so many food choices out there and so many nutrients to take in, many women find pregnancy nutrition to be perplexing. Fortunately, you don't have to follow a perfect diet; you just need to know a few key principles for nourishing a healthy pregnancy.
Foods to Avoid
Though you probably won't have to avoid many foods, knowing which foods and drinks are unsafe during pregnancy is the first step toward building a healthy diet. All pregnant women should avoid high-mercury fish, including shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel, while limiting low-mercury seafood to 8 to 12 oz. per week, reports MayoClinic.com. Other unsafe foods include undercooked seafood, meat and eggs; unpasteurized dairy products; raw sprouts; unwashed fruits and vegetables; alcohol; more than 200 mg of caffeine daily; and deli meats and hot dogs, unless cooked until steaming hot.
A Balanced Approach
When it comes to your pregnancy diet, focus on including every food group and choosing a wide variety from each group. Your body needs an assortment of nutrients during pregnancy, and eating a balanced and varied diet can help ensure you're taking in all you need. MayoClinic.com recommends a daily menu that includes 6 to 8 oz. of whole grains, 4 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables, 5 to 6.5 oz. of protein-rich foods, 3 cups of dairy and a moderate amount of fats and sweets.
To get the most out of your meals, choose the most nutrient-rich foods from each food group. Select whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal, barley, whole-grain bread and brown rice; fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow; low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese and other dairy products without added sugar; lean sources of protein, such as white-meat poultry, eggs, beans, lean cuts of beef and pork, and low-mercury seafood; and healthy sources of fat, including olive oil, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and salmon. Aim to drink about 80 oz. of water a day; other beverages, such as juice and soft drinks, are fine in moderation but shouldn't replace water in your diet.
While nutrient-rich foods should be your dietary staples, there's room for occasional treats. Ice cream, french fries, chips and creamy sauces can all be part of a healthy pregnancy diet, as long as they're not eaten in place of healthier foods or eaten on a daily basis. Most pregnant women only need about 300 extra calories per day, so don't take the idea of "eating for two" seriously. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy increases your risk of delivering early or having a large baby, notes the March of Dimes.