Pregnancy Diet

All mothers want what is best for their baby. You have likely been stocking up on foods that are known to be beneficial like fortified cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. But are you aware of which foods you should be avoiding during your pregnancy? Knowing the basics of pregnancy nutrition and learning which foods you should be avoiding will help you make the best possible choices for you and your baby.

What to Eat in Pregnancy Diet

General Principle

Mothers should aim to eat a variety of foods when they are pregnant to ensure that they get all of the nutrients they need. This includes 2-4 servings of fruit, 6-11 servings of grains, 4 or more servings of vegetables, 4 servings of dairy ant 3 servings of protein each day. Sweets and fats should be consumed sparingly.

Foods that are high in fiber including vegetables, rice and whole grain options are ideal for those that are trying to maintain a healthy diet. Those that are pregnant should also work to get high doses of vitamins and minerals, including the use of a prenatal vitamin if necessary. Your doctor will likely prescribe or recommend a specific type of prenatal vitamin for you to use. It is essential to consume dairy products or other foods high in calcium to meet your daily requirement.

Essential Nutrients and Food Sources

1. Folate and Folic Acid

This B vitamin is known for preventing severe brain and spinal cord abnormalities in a baby, as well as preventing neural tube defects. Pregnant women who do not get enough folic acid have a higher risk of having a baby that is underweight or born preterm.

How much you need

Mothers should work to get 800mg of folic acid or folate each day throughout their pregnancy.

Food sources

There are several cereals that can be fortified with as much as 100-700 micrograms of folic acid. Search for an option that has at least 400 micrograms. Beans have around 90 micrograms per serving, spinach 131 grams, asparagus 89 grams, peanuts 41 grams and oranges 48 micrograms per serving.

2. Calcium

Calcium helps a baby produce healthy bones and teeth while ensuring the normal development of the circulatory, nervous and muscular systems.

How much you need

The average woman requires 1000mg of calcium each day. Teen mothers require 1300mg.

Food sources

Milk contains 299mg per cup, calcium fortified juice contains 500mg, yogurt 258mg, salmon 181mg, yogurt 258mg, spinach 122mg and fortified cereals can contain 3-1000mg.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is also essential to ensuring healthy bones and teeth for a growing baby.

How much you need

Mothers should intake 600 IU each day.

Food sources

Fatty fish such as tuna or salmon are prime sources of vitamin D. Orange juice and milk are often fortified to include more vitamin D as well.

4. Protein

Protein becomes increasingly important in the second and third trimesters, allowing your child to grow at a steady rate.

How much you need

Mothers should strive to get 71g of protein each day.

Food sources

Lean meats, fish, poultry, and eggs can help you get plenty of protein. Dried beans, tofu, dairy products, peanut butter, beans and peas are also high in protein.

5. Iron

Iron is used to produce hemoglobin in red blood cells which is used to carry oxygen throughout the body. When pregnant the body requires more blood to accommodate your changing body, as well as the developing needs of the baby. Those that do not get enough iron could be more susceptible to infection or fatigue and their babies may be more likely to be underweight or born preterm.

How much you need

Mothers should strive to get 27mg each day.

Food sources

Iron is found in poultry, lean red meat and fish. You can also seek out dried fruit, nuts or cereals fortified with iron.

What to Avoid in Pregnancy Diet

1. High Mercury Seafood


While seafood offers high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and proteins, they can also contain mercury that can be harmful to a baby’s developing nervous system. In general, larger and older fish tend to have more mercury so the FDA often recommends that pregnant women avoid items like king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish. Smaller fish or shellfish can be consumed in around two meals a week or 8-12 ounces. This includes crab, canned light tuna, shrimp, Pollock, salmon, cod, catfish or tilapia. Talk to your doctor before consuming seafood as not all experts agree with these limits.

2. Raw/Contaminated Seafood


Because bacteria and viruses can be found in undercooked food it is important to avoid consuming raw shellfish or fish when pregnant. Refrigerated smoked seafood like lox is not safe. Get to know local fish advisories in your area to determine if your food sources are at risk for contamination. Also look into how to properly cook seafood to ensure that you kill off any potential contaminants.

3. Undercooked Eggs/ Poultry


Pregnant women are at a higher risk of food poisoning and will develop a more severe reaction if food poisoning occurs. To avoid these effects, cook all deli meats or hot dogs completely and use a meat thermometer to ensure that meat and poultry is cooked to temperature. Avoid meat spreads and refrigerated pates unless they are shelf stable. Do not purchase raw, stuffed poultry as the contaminated juices can contaminate the stuffing ingredients. All eggs should be cooked until the whites and yolk are firm. Any foods that contain partially cooked eggs such as eggnog or hollandaise should be avoided.

4. Unpasteurized Foods


Any dairy foods that have not been pasteurized could increase your risk of foodborne illness. Before consuming Mexican-style cheese, brie, feta, blue cheese or camembert make sure they are labeled as being pasteurized or produced with pasteurized milk.

5. Caffeine


Caffeine can increase your baby’s heart rate and some studies suggest that taking in too much caffeine can increase your risk of miscarriage. To avoid these side effects limit your intake to 200mg of caffeine or less each day. For perspective, a 12 once soda contains 47mg and an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains around 95mg.

6. Herbal Tea


There is little data regarding how herbal teas affect growing babies. Only consume herbal tea if your doctor tells you it is safe. This includes herbal teas that are marketed towards pregnant women.

7. Alcohol


While some studies suggest that one drink will not harm your child, it is always safer to avoid alcohol while pregnant. Too much alcohol can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome which can cause hard problems, facial deformities, low birth rate or mental retardation. If you are concerned about how the alcohol you drank before you knew you were pregnant might affect your child, speak to your doctor.

8. Unwashed Vegetables and Fruits

All fruits and vegetables should be carefully washed and bad portions cut away to avoid bacteria that could cause illness. Also avoid any raw sprouts such as clover or alfalfa which could contain bacteria.

9. Too much Vitamin A

Vitamin A is helpful to a growing child, but too much vitamin A can cause birth defects. Those over the age of 19 should limit their vitamin A intake to 2565 IU daily.

Watch a video on tips for a healthy pregnancy diet:

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