Pregnant women need healthy carbs, and plenty of them—nine servings daily, according to “Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide” by Simkin, Whalley and Keppler. Healthy carbs are complex carbohydrates such as bread and pasta made from unrefined grains, beans, legumes, potatoes with their skins, fruits and vegetables. Healthy carbohydrates retain the nutritious, high-fiber content that the refining process eliminates.
Healthy carbs fill you up and are highly nutritious to boot, with plenty of vitamins and protein, furnishing many of the extra calories you need to provide nutrition for your unborn baby. There’s one catch: If you have gestational diabetes, it’s especially important to check with your doctor about your carbohydrate intake, since you may need to moderate your starchy foods to control your blood sugar.
Whole Grain Bread
Pick yeast breads, pita bread and English muffins made from 100 percent whole wheat, whole rye or whole spelt, or choose multigrain breads. Be careful of corn muffins; aside from the fact that they often contain refined wheat flour, the regular corn meal used in quick corn breads is usually refined, so make your own from whole grain corn, ideally by milling it on the spot, as the germ in corn goes rancid quickly. When shopping for whole grain bread, look for the words “whole” or “100%” on the package ingredients list, but be alert to ingredients such as “wheat flour,” “enriched flour” or “all-purpose flour,” which are a heads-up that the food is not 100 percent whole grain.
Whole Grain Pasta
Sprouted grain pasta, brown rice pasta and whole wheat pasta make delicious alternatives to regular, refined wheat pasta. The cooking times vary—avoid overcooking brown rice pasta especially. The white rice noodles you get in Asian stores, by the way, are not whole grain, and therefore are simple carbohydrates. If possible, stay away from all refined spaghetti noodles, macaroni and lasagna while you’re pregnant—these are all available in whole wheat pasta form.
Make brown rice a staple in your pregnancy diet. Brown rice comes in many more varieties than simply the beige-colored long-grain variety, many of them nutty and flavorful. Brown rice varieties include brown jasmine, short-grain sweet brown rice, brown basmati rice, and the darker, aromatic brown and black rices like Wehani and Japonica. Wild rice, which is not a true rice, but a grass, is a great complex carbohydrate, but avoid the wild rice mixes that include refined white rice.
Beans and Legumes
Peas, including both green peas and black-eyed peas, lentils, kidney beans, navy beans, and other bean varieties are extremely high in fiber and protein, and are nourishing as well as filling. Eat them with whole grain rice to make a complete protein.
Include cooked sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin, butternut squash and white potatoes in your pregnancy diet as a source of high-nutrient healthy carbs. White potatoes are a good source of potassium and iron, while orange sweet potatoes and squash are rich in beta carotene, vitamin A and potassium. Eat the unblemished skins. Cook baking or boiling potatoes well, since they’re toxic uncooked. For those times when you want a healthy, high-carb snack, indulge in potato fries—sliced potatoes or sweet potatoes coated in olive oil and garlic, and roasted until tender.