When you’re pregnant, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re following a sensible diet, as your nutritional needs are different than they were before you conceived. It’s important to drink at least eight glasses of water a day to stay hydrated, and if your morning sickness allows for it (or once it eases), you’ll also need to add some nutrient-rich foods to your diet as well.
Folate and Folic Acid
Both folate, a naturally occurring B vitamin, and folic acid, the synthetic version of the vitamin found in supplements and fortified foods, are essential nutrients for pregnant women. The March of Dimes recommends taking a folic acid supplement and supports the Mayo Clinic’s recommendation that pregnant women get 1,000 mcg of folate per day to help prevent neural tube and other birth defects. Peas, spinach and citrus fruits are high in folate, while many cereals and whole-grain foods are fortified with folic acid. Per FDA regulations, any food fortified with folic acid must be labeled as such, so finding those products is easy.
It’s important to eat at least four servings (or the equivalent of 1,000 milligrams) of calcium per day during your pregnancy. Calcium not only helps keep your bones and teeth strong, but getting an adequate amount will also ensure that your baby is able to build a strong skeleton without leaching calcium from your bones to meet his needs. Calcium can be found most easily in dairy products. However, if you’re lactose intolerant or just don’t like milk, it’s also in leafy green vegetables, tofu and fortified products like orange juice, cereal or bread.
Fight infection and prevent anemia by eating foods high in iron. Though red meat, spinach and chicken are all good natural sources of iron, since pregnant women need twice as much iron as non-pregnant women, your obstetrician may ask you to take an iron supplement, too. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating foods high in vitamin C with your iron-rich foods in order to maximize your iron absorption.
Eating eggs, peanut butter and nuts in addition to your daily serving of meat will help you meet the protein needs of your pregnant body and growing baby. This is especially important during your second and third trimesters, just about the time morning sickness subsides enough to let you eat heavier foods. Protein-rich fish that are low in mercury, such as salmon, pollock and shrimp, are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acid, a nutrient that can aid in healthy brain development.
Fruits and Vegetables
Eating up to five servings of fruits and vegetables a day will add much-needed fiber, vitamin C and vitamin A to your diet. The vitamin C will not only help you absorb iron, but it will also help keep your gums healthy during pregnancy. This may stave off pregnancy gingivitis, a complication that can lead to preterm labor.