Even if you've always been more of the Krispy Kreme and Diet Pepsi kind of girl, this nine-month enlightenment period may be just what you need to jumpstart a lifetime of healthier habits. "Pregnancy gives women the chance to begin eating healthy," says Rachel Brandeis MS RD, spokesperson for American Dietetic Association in Alpharetta, Georgia.
However, understanding what you and your baby's nutritional needs are, and how you can satisfy your taste buds and caloric needs nutritiously will help you to actually enjoy what you eat when you're expecting.
1. Knowing what you need
The first place to begin planning a healthy menu is developing an understanding of all of the basic food groups and how they affect your energy, health and well being. Rely on the recently revamped food pyramid (available at www.mypyramid.gov) and the advice of your health care provider to determine what your specific dietary needs are. In addition to eating a diet that allows for sufficient amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables, incorporating foods such as those that have Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) help develop your baby's brain cells. These acids are important to you and your baby because DHA is a major component of your baby's brain and other neural tissues including the light sensitive cells in the retina of the eye.
2. Counting calories
Everyone's heard about "eating for two." So can you? Nutrition experts and physicians happily dispel that myth. "Pregnant adult women require 300 more calories a day than when they were not pregnant. They shouldn't approach eating as though they can eat twice as much food as normal," explains Connie Diekman, PhD, a Registered Dietician and Professor of Nutrition at Washington University in St Louis. She also says that moms-to-be should approach eating as thought they need to eat "a little extra" and, she says, "skew toward 10 more grams a day of protein calories than they would normally consume."
3. Super snacks
What foods can busy, expectant women snack on? "It is always good to choose fruit or whole grains versus processed foods," says Brandeis. Specializing in maternal nutrition, Brandeis explains that protein packed snacks are healthy and also boost an expectant mother's energy level. "Snacks such as crackers and peanut butter that offer the combination of protein and carbohydrates and are terrific easy options for moms-to-be," Brandeis adds.
4. Skipping meals
Nutrition and health experts agree that starting the day with a healthy breakfast offers countless benefits. Unfortunately, when you're experiencing morning sickness, or feeling too rushed to squeeze in a balanced meal, eating breakfast falls to the bottom of a priority list. "Yogurt sprinkled with low fat granola, trail mix, nuts, or dried fruit and a glass of calcium enriched juice is a healthy way to start your day," says Brandeis.
Just because you aren't fond of scrambled eggs or able to tolerate pancakes doesn't mean you have to skip a meal. Eating foods that supply protein and heart healthy nutrients, can be accomplished with many creative combinations. "When I was pregnant with my first son, I ate fresh salsa and sesame seed crackers with nearly every lunch," says Lackawanna, New York mother of two Suzie Harris.
Whole grain crackers and peanut butter, or hummus and fresh vegetables, are just a few more foods that make eating breakfast or snacks on the go quick and easy.
5. Supplementing your diet
Nutrition experts such as Brandeis and Diekman stress the significance of eating whole foods instead of looking to gain nutrition from energy bars, drinks, powders and vitamins. Diekman says, "Vitamins should be taken in conjunction with a healthy diet, and not thought of as a replacement for healthy foods."
Whole, intact foods (instead of foods that have been processed) and grilled or steamed foods (instead of fried foods) are strongly suggested as alternatives to the energy bars and liquid processed shakes. "Cottage cheese mixed with granola, fresh fruit or nuts is more nutritious than a drink geared toward supplementing nutrition," says Diekman.
6. Organic eating
Eating organic foods is one way to stay healthy and give your baby a good start on a healthy, chemical-free life. Such foods are produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, preservatives and bio-engineering. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. (Find out where to get organic food near you at localharvest.org.)
7. To diet or not to diet?
Expanding waistlines lead many expectant women to contemplating going on a diet. Popular diets favorites such as The Atkins Diet, The South Beach Diet and others are alluring to women hoping to retain some of their pre-pregnancy figure.
These diets, however, are geared toward a general population and do not target or consider any type of medical disease or condition. Both Diekman and Brandeis emphatically agree that diet restricting particular foods groups are not suggested for expectant or nursing women. "Your body and your baby need nourishment from all of the basic food groups," Brandeis says. "Restricting carbohydrates, for example, can limit folic acid intake and iron. This can lead to anemia or neural tube disease."
8. Planning your menu
There are numerous food combinations that support a healthy, balanced diet. If certain textures, aromas and tastes of nutritious foods aren't appealing, you can still ensure you and your baby are well fed. Choose smart substitutes such as eating whole grain bread instead of white bread and oatmeal instead of sugary cold cereal. For quick snacks, don't let yourself grab a candy bar -- try fruit or yogurt instead to get you past that sugar craving.
Make a list of foods that are appealing as well as those that provide a balanced diet. Add a bit of fresh spinach leaves to a salad, and watch fat intake when jotting your grocery list. "Switching to skim milk and other low fat dairy products helps moms-to-be plan healthy meals for herself and her family," Brandeis adds.
9. Coffee, tea or milk?
In addition to watching what you eat, making sure to remain properly hydrated, and aware of the nutritional value of what you drink is essential when you're pregnant. "Pay attention to the amount of sugars and empty calories that are in many drinks," cautions Diekman. Choose beverages that offer the benefits of calcium and folic acid aid in the quest to consume a healthy diet and quench your thirst. "It is also important that expectant mothers reduce or restrict their caffeine intake," adds Diekman.
10. Calming the cravings
Yearnings for a double beef burrito or a pan of warm, gooey brownies tends to push thoughts of eating healthy out of an expectant mother's mind. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet doesn't mean you have to give up all desserts or eliminate your favorite junk foods. You can feed the cravings in a healthy fashion. For examples, opt for low fat ice cream, baked goods made with low fat substitutes such as applesauce instead of vegetable oil, and baked chips instead of those cooked in fatty oils. If those don't quell your craving, indulge in just one rich, delicious bite -- and savor every second of it.
We know it's easy to fixate on all the things you're not allowed to eat during pregnancy. If you start to fall into that trap, stop for one minute and consider three things: (1) You're helping to give your baby a healthy body, the benefits of which will last him or her an entire lifetime. (2) Forget new year's resolutions! This is the best ever reason to improve your eating habits for the rest of your lifetime. (3) If it's really hard, just take it day by day. Before you know it, your little one will be here and you can get back to eating what you want -- and you'll always have the satisfaction of having done the very best for your baby.