Change Your Eating Habits During Pregnancy

Many women have the perception of pregnancy as the sole time during their lives when they don't have to diet and can eat whatever they want. It's true that pregnant women need a moderate amount of added calories, but if "eating anything" means eating a high percentage of junk food and sugar-laden desserts, then maybe it's time to reassess your overall eating habits.

"Pregnancy is an ideal time to make long-term changes to your diet because you are embarking on the lifelong job of nurturing your child," says nutritionist Maria Pari-Keener, MS, RD of Maternal Health Matters in New York. "You will need to be at your healthiest during your pregnancy and beyond, and will need to help your child to be healthy too."

Don't confuse healthy eating habits with dieting. They are not necessarily the same thing, whether you are pregnant or not. Those on the dieting roller coaster are typically more concerned about their weight than about their health. Of course, you'd probably have fewer weight woes if your regular diet included the healthy mix of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, grains, and legumes required during pregnancy and, really, for the rest of your life.

What You Should Eat

A child raised with a larder full of junk food is a prime candidate for health and weight problems, if not in childhood then later in life. Establishing good eating habits for yourself makes you better prepared to make smart decisions about what your family eats.

Pregnant women need about 2200-2500 calories a day, compared to 1600-2200 for other adult women (the more active the woman, the more calories recommended). That's not a big difference. The United States Department of Agriculture's food guide pyramid is a great reference tool that gives recommended daily servings of each of the major food groups. Pregnant women should generally eat in the high range of the recommended serving amounts (i.e., about 10 servings in the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group per day), especially during the second and third trimesters. Look on the label of most canned or packaged foods for serving size amounts. Otherwise, using your common sense will probably work just fine!

Diversify your diet

You're only going to be able to make long-term dietary improvements if you know what is and what is not good for you. If you believe the french fries with your burger are a vegetable and think "legumes" are a type of candy, then you are in need of some serious food education. (Legumes are beans, by the way.)

Learning what is and what is not good for you is only the first step. The next step is widening your diet to include an appropriate diversity of foods. All of you picky eaters who think that a prenatal vitamin will cover your nutritional needs should think again. "A varied diet ensures that you are getting all of the nutrients you need," says Pari-Keener. "If you eat the same foods over and over, you may be missing out on important nutrients, especially when you're pregnant. I just don't believe that a multivitamin would cover you."

Expand your horizons

You may have certain food aversions when you're pregnant, but often picky eating goes way back to one's own early days. What chance do you have of preventing your kids from being picky eaters if you still turn up your nose at the foods you disliked as a child? Be a little adventurous. Just because you hated the canned beets your mother fed you doesn't mean you still don't like them. Reinvent foods with negative associations by approaching them with fresh eyes and new preparations. A great primer on the ABCs of food, nutrition, and food preparation, says Pari-Keener, is The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition: How to Buy, Store, and Prepare Every Variety of Fresh Food by Sheldon Margen, MD. Start buying new cookbooks or reacquaint yourself with the ones you've got. Make foods you've never made before and find more appealing recipes for foods you assume you dislike but haven't tried for a long time.

What You Should Not Eat

You may be surprised to hear this, but unless a food is dangerous to your health (like certain fish, for instance) when you are pregnant, no food should be considered forbidden. Remember, telling yourself you can't eat something is only going to make you want it more. The key is diversification and moderation.

An important benefit to bulking up your food knowledge is that you will have the know-how to replace high-sugar, high-fat cravings with more sensible, yet satisfying, alternatives. Here are some suggestions:

You crave: Cake

Choose instead: Graham crackers and a glass of skim milk.

You crave: Soda

Choose instead: Seltzer with a splash of fruit juice

If it's just one of those nights when nothing but cake will do, then, by all means, let them eat cake — just make it a small slice!

Eating for Two?

Don't fall for the old cliche that you are eating for two when you're pregnant. Eating well for one is more like it. Adding the necessary extra calories during pregnancy is almost too easy. Here are some ideas that will add about 300 calories to your daily diet.

One slice of whole wheat bread with one tablespoon peanut butter. Drink with one cup skim milk.
Fresh fruit cup: half a cantaloupe with half cup blueberries, a kiwi, half of a banana, a half cup grapes.

Burrito-size flour tortilla with 1/2 cup canned red or black beans topped with 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (add salsa if you like — it's low in calories and big on taste).

Pari-Keener urges pregnant women to think smart about adding calories during mealtime. Here are some commonsense suggestions:

Have a cup of soup with your sandwich at lunch

Eat an extra piece of chicken at dinner

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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