Carbohydrates for Pregnant Women

Maternal nutrition.
Pregnant woman holding an apple (Image: szefei/iStock/Getty Images)

When you’re pregnant, every doughnut and sweet food stares you in the face, but it’s important to eat foods that have a high nutritional value. Empty calories, such as doughnuts, soda and cookies, don’t provide your fetus with sufficient nutrients for growth and development. The Family Education website states that carbohydrates are the most critical nutrient for your growing baby because once they are broken down, they pass easily through your placenta. Choose your carbohydrate sources wisely to protect you and your baby from health problems now and later in life.

Carbohydrate Basics

The fatigue from pregnancy can leave you feeling comatose, and carbohydrates provide you with that much-needed energy boost. They're your main source of fuel because they easily get broken down into glucose and travel on to your cells and to your baby. Carbs also contain phytonutrients, which act as antioxidants. Your body produces free radicals in response to everyday metabolism and exposure to pollutants. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals to keep you healthier. Some carb sources contain fiber and vitamins. Fiber prevents constipation -- a problem for any pregnant women -- and keeps your blood sugar levels steady.

Simple Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbs come in the form of refined sugars, such as the white sugar in baked goods, candy and soda. You also find simple carbs in healthier foods like milk and fruit. Baked goods and candy contain added sugar, which gives you and your baby a lot of calories and not a lot of nutrients. Fruit and milk don’t contain added sugar and provide you with vitamins and minerals. Milk is also an excellent source of calcium, which is critical to your growing baby’s healthy development.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are starches you get from grain products, such as breads, crackers, pasta and rice. You find these carbohydrates as refined or unrefined grains. Refined grains, such as white flour and white rice, lose their nutrients when they are processed. Unrefined grains, or whole grains, don’t get processed, so they still contain critical vitamins and minerals. Incorporate whole grains into your pregnancy diet by eating oatmeal for breakfast, snacking on popcorn and swapping out white pasta, breads and rice for whole-grain varieties.

Recommended Amounts

Whether you're pregnant or not, 45 percent to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrate sources, reports the Institute of Medicine. Eat 175 grams of carbohydrates, with 28 of those being from fiber, every day. Aim to make at least half your grains whole grains, which are broken down more slowly and thus help you to avoid spikes in your blood sugar levels. Aside from staving off mood swings, this also prevents your baby from getting too big and putting him at risk for obesity later in life.

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