How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy & Postpartum (Part 1)

what should I eat while pregnant

Many of us wonder what we should be eating during pregnancy and after. Here’s the skinny, from a respected registered dietitian, experienced clinician, and mom.

Q: What are your best tips for expectant and new moms who want to eat healthy?  

A: Pregnancy and postpartum are times of significant change for your body and nutritional needs are uniquely different during these periods. Luckily, we have research-backed recommendations to help ease your mind when it comes to nutritional requirements.

One of the top questions I get asked is, how much extra should I eat? It’s an excellent question. The answer depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy, since energy needs won’t increase until the second trimester. In the second trimester of a singleton pregnancy you will need 340 additional calories a day and by the third trimester your needs increase to 452 calories per day. And, increased energy needs don’t stop there. If you are breastfeeding you will continue to need an extra 400-500 calories a day.

In addition to extra calories, your body also needs the right amount of key nutrients and vitamins such as iron, folic acid, calcium, and omega-3s. While it is important to talk to your doctor about the right prenatal vitamin to take containing many of these ingredients, you can also maximize the nutrient power of your daily diet to help support a healthy pregnancy.

Let’s go through some specific food suggestions for each food group:

Vegetable Group:

  • Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes
  • These veggies contain Vitamin A and potassium. Vitamin A helps support bone growth and potassium can help prevent leg cramps.

Fruit Group:

  • Cantaloupe, honeydew melon, mangoes, prunes, bananas, apricots, oranges, grapefruit
  • These fruits contain potassium as well. Potassium is also needed during pregnancy due to your expanding blood volume, which increases by 50%!

Dairy Group:

  • Low fat or fat free milk, yogurt, or calcium fortified soy milk
  • These provide calcium, potassium, and vitamins A/D. Calcium helps build strong bones while also promoting muscle and nerve function.

Grains Group:

  • Fortified cereals or bread products, and whole grain options
  • Fortified products typically contain iron and folic acid. Folic acid helps support the placenta and helps prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida. Iron helps prevent anemia, low birth weight, and premature delivery.

Protein Group:

  • Beans, peas, nuts, seeds, lean beef/lamb/pork, salmon, trout, and pollock
  • All of these foods provide iron, and meat sources provide the most readily absorbed type of iron called “heme-iron”. Seafood like salmon provides an excellent source of omega-3s, which have a positive effect on visual and cognitive development in babies. Avoid seafood that is high in mercury like shark, swordfish, or king mackerel.

Guest Contibutor:

Nina Gasow, RD, LD

Stay tuned for more of Nina’s tips on healthy eating for expecting moms!

Nina Gasow is a Registered Dietitian specializing in eating disorder treatment. In her private practice, Nina is devoted to counseling those who are struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating behaviors by guiding and educating clients down their path of recovery. Nina is an advocate for positive body image and an expert on developing a balanced, non-restrictive relationship with food to take back the joy in eating.

best foods to eat while pregnant I
This post is part of a series called “Ask the Experts.” I love getting questions from readers! But sometimes a question needs a bit more from another expert. Rather than give you a bland, so-so answer, I’ve reached out to my respected (and very talented) colleagues to provide you with the best info. Thanks for your insightful, timely questions!

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