Pregnancy gives you the license to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, right? Not so fast. A pregnant woman needs only about 300 extra calories a day to feed her growing baby, according to KidsHealth. These calories need to count, so focus on consuming healthy foods that supply the nutrients you truly need during the 40 weeks before your baby arrives. A few nutrients are especially important during pregnancy, including calcium, protein, fiber, healthy fats and folate.
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Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are vital to a baby’s brain development and eyesight. Salmon is a good source of Omega 3s. It offers that ever-so-important quality protein, too, as do other types of fatty cold-water fish, such as tuna, halibut and sardines. Limit your consumption of fish – including salmon – to 12 ounces a week to avoid the risk of mercury. If you’ve maxed out on fish, get those omega 3s from walnuts or ground flaxseed instead.
Fiber is Your Friend
If you’ve always had regular bowel movements, pregnancy might take you by surprise. During this time, your gastrointestinal tract slows down, and you may suffer from constipation and hemorrhoids. Keep things on the right track by taking in plenty of fiber, which also help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia. Beans are a good source of fiber – along with equally important iron, calcium and zinc – as are whole grains such as popcorn and oatmeal.
Crazy for Calcium
Calcium doesn’t only help strengthen your bones and teeth, but the skeleton of your baby as well. If you don’t take in enough calcium, your body diverts any that it does have to your baby – and your bones and teeth are at risk. Greek yogurt is high in calcium and in protein, while broccoli serves as a vegetable source of this mineral. Broccoli has the bonus of offering vitamins A and C, along with folate. Other high-calcium foods include milk, dark green leafy vegetables, and fortified foods such as orange juice, soy milk and cereal.
One of the most vital nutrients during pregnancy, folate is essential to the formation of a baby’s brain and nervous system. Folate is the naturally occurring version of folic acid, which is likely in your prenatal vitamins. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and Swiss chard, are the best sources of folate, while black-eyed peas, asparagus and avocados also offer up this important nutrient.
To best satisfy your nutritional needs, eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups -- dairy, fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains. Consume plenty of choline, found in eggs and spinach, to aid in your baby’s growth and development, along with vitamin A and beta carotene, two nutrients that help with the baby’s bones and teeth. These micronutrients are found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as pumpkin and sweet potatoes. You also need plenty of iron to help form hemoglobin and prevent anemia in yourself and a low birth weight in your baby, so look for beef or pork products and fortified grains. You will also benefit from regular consumption of vitamins C, B-6, B-12 and D.