While the term “eating for two” is a bit of an exaggeration, nutrient and calorie needs do increase considerably during pregnancy and while a new mother is breastfeeding. Particularly important are nutrients such as protein, calcium, iron and B vitamins, which growing babies need in plentiful supply. If you are pregnant, rather than focus on a few particular nutrients, you’ll want to follow the general guidelines for good eating by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid. The Pyramid supports a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy foods.
While there are not many new studies looking at diet during pregnancy, a recent government report has created new guidelines about appropriate weight gain and nutrient supplementation that spell a major shift in the thinking about these two subjects. Perhaps the real cutting- edge scientific news for women who are pregnant is the impact of diet during the preconception phase. Numerous studies suggest that the amount of folic-acid rich foods you eat before you even become pregnant can have a huge impact on the health of your baby.
Speculation is that the overall quality of the diet prior to pregnancy may be just as important, if not more so, than what you eat during pregnancy.
Preconception Diet Planning
It’s well known that a poor diet during pregnancy can hinder a child’s capacity to learn and have a negative impact on a newborn’s behavior. Yet little research has been done to learn about how diet influences health prior to pregnancy and in the first few weeks of a pregnancy, when many women aren’t even aware of their condition. There are a few preliminary findings.
For instance, one recent study finds that a heavy alcohol intake prior to conception can result in a lower-birth-weight baby. (Lowest-birth-weight babies can be plagued with teaming and growth problems.) Numerous reports link a diet low in folic acid to increased risk for neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida.
Foods high in Folic Acid: spinach, asparagus, lima beans, broccoli, wheat germ, beets, cauliflower, orange, cantaloupe.
All the Right Foods
While pregnant women need to eat the same kind of foods that the rest of us do, they do need a little bit more of certain nutrients.
Protein-Although protein needs jump from 46 to 50 grams prior to pregnancy to 60 grams (during pregnancy) and 65 grams (while breastfeeding), most women already eat these higher levels of protein. (Americans tend to eat double the RDA for protein.) However, the difference, which amounts to about 10 to 15 grams for most women is easily met by adding an extra one and a half ounces of lean meat or 12 ounces of milk each day.
Calcium-Calcium needs jump an extra 400 milligrams during pregnancy and lactation. An extra glass of low-fat milk (which provides about 300 milligrams of calcium) almost meets this extra demand.
Vitamin A-Vitamin A is required for growth and normal development of the fetus. Studies suggest that the nutrient is also critical to the healthy immune system.
However, your requirements for this fat-soluble vitamin do not change during pregnancy. They do increase from 800 micrograms (retinol equivalents) to 1,300 while you are breastfeeding. Fortified milk and eggs are good sources of Vitamin A. In addition, the beta-carotene found in plants (bright orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots and cantaloupe; dark leafy greens such as broccoli and spinach) can be converted by the body to Vitamin A.
Vitamin C-Important to wound healing and healthy immune function, Vitamin C requirements increase slightly during pregnancy; needs are even higher during lactation. These increases are easily met with Vitamin-C-rich foods such as citrus fruit, strawberries, broccoli, and potatoes.
B Vitamins-Your need for these B vitamins-thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamins B and B12-is slightly higher during pregnancy and lactation. Rather than focus on each of these vitamins, which are widely available in foods, you can meet the increased demands by boosting your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fortified breads and cereals often contain several of these B vitamins.
Vitamin E-Important for normal neurological development, Vitamin E requirements increase only slightly during pregnancy. A fat-soluble vitamin found in vegetable oils, whole grains, nuts, and dark, leafy green vegetables, Vitamin E appears important to the healthy immune system.
Vitamin D-Since Vitamin D is needed for skeletal growth (strong bones), it’s no surprise that requirements for this nutrient are higher during pregnancy and lactation. If your skin is regularly exposed to small amounts of sunlight, the body can manufacture enough Vitamin D to meet these needs. Vitamin D can also be obtained from fortified milk and dairy products; make sure to choose the low or reduced fat variety.
Zinc-Critical for immune function, zinc is important during pregnancy and lactation. Your requirements will increase from 12 milligrams per day to 15 milligrams per day during pregnancy. Requirements increase to 19 milligrams during lactation. If you are eating lean meats and poultry, seafood, eggs, milk, and whole grains, it should be easy to meet these increased needs. Iron-Your need for iron doubles during pregnancy (from 15 milligrams per day to 30 milligrams). Some doctors prescribe iron supplements to help meet these requirements, but you can boost your intake with iron rich foods. Iron from meat is more readily absorbed than iron from vegetables.
Phosphorous-The mineral phosphorous is another nutrient critical for normal skeletal formation. It works in tandem with calcium and other nutrients such as magnesium to create strong bones, which is why needs increase during pregnancy and lactation. Good sources of phosphorous include dairy products, lean meats and poultry, fish, and whole grains.
Magnesium-Critical to strong bones, magnesium is also needed for normal muscle function and nerve transmission. Your needs will increase only slightly during pregnancy and lactation. The extra requirements are easily met through low-fat milk, meat, legumes, green vegetables, and whole grains.
The Health Nutrient Bible