20 Things Pregnant Women Should Add to Their Diet
Fortified foods like breakfast cereals
Fortified foods are extremely important for mamas-to-be. “Many women think they should be cutting these foods out of their diet because they have ‘too many carbs,’ but fortified foods contain folic acid and iron, two nutrients that are essential during pregnancy,” Largeman-Roth said. According to the CDC, folic acid can help prevent birth defects of the baby’s brain and spine (spina bifida). Largeman-Roth suggests eating fortified breakfast cereals like Total Raisin Bran that have as much as 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per one-cup serving — pregnant women need to get between 600 and 800 mcg of the B-vitamin every day. You can get most of your day’s grains with a bowl of fortified cereal for breakfast, a lunchtime sandwich made with two slices of whole-wheat bread and whole-wheat pasta for dinner.
Yogurt is great for pregnant women for a few reasons, including protein, high calcium content and probiotics that are good for digestion. All women 19 years and older need to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Largeman-Roth says the problem is that most women don’t get nearly enough. When you’re not expecting, you can get away with not meeting your calcium needs, she said. But once the baby starts growing and you don’t consume enough to support the baby’s bones and teeth, the baby will start borrowing from your own bones, leaving you calcium-deficient.
Bananas are high in electrolytes like potassium and offer a quick energy boost to combat pregnancy fatigue. One medium banana has 422 grams of potassium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pregnant women need 2,900 milligrams of potassium daily. It’s important to note that although multivitamins and mineral supplements do contain potassium, they typically provide far less than what’s found in natural foods. Bananas also pack in vitamin B6, which is essential for a healthy immune system for both mother and baby.
There’s a reason our moms forced us to eat greens — they’re loaded with nutrients. Dark, leafy greens like mustard greens and spinach provide folate and iron for pregnant women. Largeman-Roth recommends choosing triple-washed greens that are ready to eat. She also advises pairing iron-rich foods like spinach with a vitamin-C rich food like red bell peppers, oranges or strawberries to boost the absorption of iron.
For a nutrient-dense and filling food choice, look no further than sweet potatoes. One cup of cooked, boiled sweet potato provides 8 grams of fiber and 2000 mcg of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which is essential for skin and eye cell growth as well as a healthy immune system, according to Largeman-Roth. Try to squeeze in sweet potatoes at least once or twice a week, if not more.
Fatty fish like salmon
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, omega-3 fatty acid, a type of fat found naturally in some fish, is beneficial for a baby both before and after birth. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies. Largeman-Roth said there are two types of omega-3 fats in these fish — docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid — that have been shown to play a key role in the development of a baby’s brain. The FDA recommends pregnant women eat between 8 and 12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week.
Lean red meat
Lean red meat is packed with iron, which is essential for moms-to-be. The body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. And because your blood volume increases by 50% to provide oxygen to the developing fetus when you’re pregnant, the need for iron also increases.
Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are a versatile and delicious source of plant-based protein, as well as fiber and other nutrients. Canned beans are also inexpensive and work as quick meal-starters. Saute some fresh diced tomatoes with sliced onions in olive oil, garlic and cilantro — throw in a can of drained kidney beans, season it up for taste and enjoy a super-fast lunch served alongside some crusty bread.
Avocados are full of healthy fats, high in dietary fiber and a great source of folate. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the fats that you eat during pregnancy provide energy and help build many fetal organs including the placenta — so stick to plant-based healthy fats. Folate, as we know, is also especially important during early pregnancy, because it can reduce the risk of birth defects. For a scrumptious snack, make avocado toast by mashing avocado gently onto a piece of whole-wheat toast, then sprinkling it with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and a touch of chili flakes.
Cauliflower is having a bit of a moment in the food world. There are cauliflower pizza crusts and cauliflower rice, and it’s becoming a popular meat substitute for dinner with its full-bodied texture and versatility. It’s also rich in vitamin C, making it a great choice for pregnant women. Vitamin C is particularly important in promoting a baby’s growth and development, according to an article published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Quinoa is especially high in protein, with 8 grams per serving. “It’s easy to make a satisfying grain bowl with a base of quinoa,” Largeman-Roth said. “You can top it with raw and cooked veggies, a fried egg, a few avocado slices, a little cheese and some nuts.” Quinoa is also an ideal choice for flexitarian diets, which lean heavily on meatless meals.
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According to an article by Jill Jin, MD, MPH in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the symptoms of nausea and vomiting are experienced by more than 85% of pregnant women and most women feel the symptoms throughout the day — not just in the morning. According to Jin, ginger is one of the best over-the-counter remedies proven to treat nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It’s easy to find ginger in many forms, from fresh to candied and even in caffeine-free herbal teas. “I recommend keeping candies made from real ginger (such as Gin Gins) in your purse or gym bag to keep nausea in check, Largeman-Roth said. “Real ginger beer, such as Reed’s or Fever-Tree, are also good picks.”