Eat Beat

Pregnancy Provides a Path to Healthy Eating

by Gina Roberts-Grey

Eating when you don’t want to, or eating foods you don’t prefer can be stressful for expectant mothers. Counting nutrients, balancing food groups and finding foods that are as appealing as they are healthy doesn’t have to leave you hungry for an easier way to eat.

“Pregnancy gives women the chance to begin eating healthy,” says dietitian Rachel Brandeis, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Good nutrition is important during pregnancy, especially during the critical first trimester. Understanding your nutritional needs and your baby’s, as well as how you can satisfy your taste buds and caloric needs nutritiously will help you enjoy what you eat while you’re pregnant and get into good eating habits for the long haul.

Know What You Need
You can begin planning a healthy menu by developing an understanding of the basic food groups and how they affect your energy, health and well-being. Rely on the recently revamped food pyramid (available at and the advice of your health care provider to determine your specific dietary needs.

In addition to consuming sufficient amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables, incorporating foods with the Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA help develop your baby’s brain cells. These nutrients, found in fish and nuts, particularly walnuts, are important 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.

The Environmental Protection Agency suggests pregnant and breastfeeding mothers eat up to 12 ounces (equivalent to two meals) of a low-mercury content fish each week.

Albacore tuna, which has a higher mercury rate, can be chosen for one of the two meals, but should not be chosen for both. Fish and seafood low in mercury include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

Counting Calories
Experts happily dispel the myth that expectant moms are “eating for two.”

“Pregnant adult women only require 300 more calories a day than other women. They shouldn’t think they can eat twice as much as normal,” says dietician Francine Steinert of Wyndmoor, PA. Moms-to-be should “skew toward 10 more grams a day of protein calories than they would normally consume,” says Steinert.

What are good foods for busy, expectant women to snack on? “It is always good to choose fruit or whole grains versus processed foods,” says Brandeis. 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 are terrific, easy options for moms-to-be,” she adds.

Nutrition and health experts agree that starting the day with a healthy breakfast offers many benefits. “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,” notes Brandeis.

Unfortunately, when you’re experiencing morning sickness or feeling too rushed to squeeze in a balanced meal, eating breakfast can fall by the wayside. 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.

“I ate homemade salsa, sesame seed crackers and celery with low fat cream cheese for snacks at lunch,” says new mother Diane O’Donnell of Dover, DE. Whole grain crackers and peanut butter or hummus as well as fresh vegetables can make eating breakfast or snacks quick and easy.

Nutrition experts stress the significance of eating whole foods instead of looking to gain nutrition from energy bars, drinks, powders and vitamins. “Vitamins should be taken in conjunction with a healthy diet, not as a replacement for food,” says Steinert.

Dietitions recommend eating whole, intact foods instead of foods that have been processed and grilled, and eating steamed instead of fried foods. “Cottage cheese mixed with granola, fresh fruit or nuts is more nutritious than supplements, powders and drinks,” says Steinert.

To Diet or Not?
Expanding waistlines lead many expectant women to contemplating going on a diet. Popular diet plans are geared toward a general population and do not consider any type of medical condition. Emphasizing that restricting particular foods groups is unhealthy anytime, both Steinert and Brandeis emphatically say these diets are not recommended for expectant or nursing women.

“Your body and baby need nourishment from all of the basic food groups. Restricting carbohydrates, for example, can limit folic acid intake and iron. This can lead to anemia or neural tube disease,” says Brandeis.

If certain textures, aromas or tastes of nutritious foods aren’t appealing, select substitutes, such as whole grain bread instead of white bread, oatmeal instead of cold cereal, fruit cocktail instead of a candy bar.

Add a bit of fresh spinach to a salad, and watch the fat count when jotting your grocery list. “Switching to skim milk and other low-fat dairy products helps a mom-to-be plan healthy meals,” says Steinert.

Calming the Cravings
Yearning for a double beef burrito or a pan of warm, gooey brownies tends to push thoughts of healthy eating out of an expectant mother’s mind.

A well-balanced, healthy diet doesn’t mean you have to give up all desserts or comfort foods. “I indulged with healthy choices,” says Barbara Melton of Browns Mills, NJ. 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 chips cooked in fatty oils.

In addition to watching what you eat, make sure to remain properly hydrated and aware of the nutritional value of what you drink. “Pay attention to the amount of sugars and empty calories that are in many drinks,” cautions Steinert.

Beverages that offer the benefits of calcium and folic acid quench your thirst and provide important nutrients. “It is also important that expectant mothers reduce or restrict their caffeine intake,” Steinert adds.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer.