Eating during pregnancy can invite an entirely new way of eating and thinking about food. For example, a woman who used to eat a small breakfast at 11 am, skip lunch, and eat dinner after a long day at 8pm, may find she wakes hungry and craves a full high protein meal, can’t go longer than two hours without eating, and suddenly hates all vegetables/meats/fruits/or red foods…
Because you are no longer simply eating for your single adult body (but are, miraculously, building the body of another person!) it’s a good idea to educate yourself about how to eat optimally during pregnancy. Sometimes, all the details about grams of protein, milligrams of iron, what to avoid, and how to take various supplements can get overwhelming; so here is a simple list of ten foods that are highly nutritious and beneficial during pregnancy. Feel free to incorporate these into your diet as they work best for you (taking what you like and leaving the rest).
With more than a dozen vitamins and minerals, lots of protein and less than a 100 calories each, eggs are a great food for pregnancy. Cheap, easy to cook, and versatile, eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is crucial to baby’s growth and brain health and helps prevent neural tube defects. Insufficient choline consumption in pregnancy can lead to structural problems in the baby’s brain. Some eggs also contain omega-3 fats, which are also important to baby’s brain health. Healthy women are advised to consume 1-2 eggs daily.
Other sources of choline include chicken, turkey, collard greens, and cauliflower.
Beans and legumes
There are so many beans to choose from and many ways to prepare and enjoy them. Of all the vegetables, beans have the highest concentrations of protein and fiber, both important in pregnancy. In order from highest to lowest protein concentrations are soy beans, fava beans, lentils, red kidney beans, black beans, haricot beans, black-eyes peas, garbanzos, and lima beans. Beans can be used in burritos, salads, soups, chili, pasta dishes, casseroles and more.
Beans are also a great source of iron, folate, calcium, and zinc. Half a cup of lentils, for example, contains nearly fifty percent of a pregnant woman’s daily folic acid requirements.
Salmon is a high quality protein, a great source of omega-3 fats (DHA), and has low amounts of mercury, which is the reason to limit consumption of other kinds of fish in pregnancy. Omega-3 fatty acids are great for baby’s developing brain and eyes. During pregnancy, you can aim to eat about 12 ounces of salmon each week (wild-caught is best).
High in magnesium, manganese, copper, iron (3mg per cooked cup), and B Vitamins, quinoa is one of the only complete proteins in the plant world (containing about 8 grams of protein per one cooked cup). Quinoa can be used in place of rice or any other whole grain. It can be used in baking (try quinoa flakes in place of some of your flour), added to soups, salads, made into a tasty side dish with veggies, desserts, and more.
Sweet potatoes are rich in carotenoids (which lend them their color), which the body converts to vitamin A. While too much vitamin A from animal sources can be dangerous in pregnancy, carotenoids are a plant pigment that is only converted to vitamin A as needed. In addition to vitamin A, sweet potatoes also contain vitamin C, folate, and fiber. They are also inexpensive and easy to prepare. Try them mashed (with a little ginger to ease nausea), baked, in soups and stews, in salads, or as part of a main dish.
Greek yogurt typically has twice the protein of regular yogurt and is a great source of calcium, which is important for mama and baby’s bones, teeth, and more. Be careful not to get yogurt that is too loaded with sugars. If you want to add flavor, you may consider adding your own berries or flavoring to control the sugar load. You can also cook with yogurt—add yogurt, vinegar, and spices as a creamy marinade for chicken or other meats. You can also use yogurt to make dips and sauces.
Walnuts are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, especially for those who aren’t big fans of fish and eggs. Walnuts and other nuts are a great source of protein on the run. Consider making a trail mix snack bag with walnuts, dried apricots or peaches (high in iron), and other nuts and berries.
Dark leafy greens
Loaded with vitamins and nutrients such as vitamins A, C and K, iron and folate, dark leafy greens are great in pregnancy. These include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens. You can make salads, add into soups or smoothies, or sauté with a little garlic and coconut oil.
Lean Organic meats
Lean organic meats are a great source of protein and (heme) iron, which are both vital in pregnancy and postpartum. Lean meats, such as those around 95-98% fat free, and those that are organic are preferred. Beef and pork have the added benefit of containing choline.
Colorful vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits have so many outstanding health benefits that if they were pharmaceuticals, they would be hailed as wonder drugs that all people everywhere were encouraged to consume daily.
Eat a variety of red, orange, yellow, green, and purple, fruits and vegetables to ensure that you and your baby get an array of different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
As far as what to get organic, check out the Environmental Working Group's list of the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen" fruits and vegetables (based on pesticide use on crops).
Okay, this is number 11 and water is not a food…but water is so important in pregnancy that it deserves to be on this list! For mama, adequate water consumption in pregnancy prevents dehydration, reduces the likelihood of nausea, cramps, swelling, dizziness, constipation, hemorrhoids, heartburn, and even preterm labor. Sufficient water intake can also prevent urinary tract infections. Water is also crucial to building up your blood, amniotic fluid, and breast milk.
What are your favorite ways to eat these foods in pregnancy?