Read today’s News-Press column: Good habits vital in pregnancy

Posted October 6th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in The News-Press Column

Whether you are pregnant, preparing for pregnancy or you know someone who is, good nutrition is vital to a healthy pregnancy. By following simple guidelines of good nutrition, a pregnant mother can help ensure the health and proper development of her baby.

The old saying about eating for two during pregnancy doesn’t mean you need to eat double the calories. In fact, you need only 300 extra calories per day in the second and third trimesters to support proper growth and development of your baby.

By monitoring your caloric intake and eating a prenatal diet rich in nutrient-dense foods, you can prevent unnecessary weight gain that may lead to health complications later on.

While pregnancy doesn’t mean giving up foods you enjoy, you should avoid empty calories and limit fats and sugar. Give in to a pregnancy craving now and then, but in moderation. Limit sweets to one small portion a day so you won’t feel deprived or tempted to overeat.
Some examples of nutrient-dense foods that you should incorporate into your pregnancy diet include yogurt, peanut butter, chicken, eggs and dairy products that are higher in protein, calcium and iron. Lean pork and lean beef also contain protein, vitamin B, iron and zinc, which are essential to a healthy pregnancy. Orange juice offers folate, a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects, and vitamin C, which helps you absorb iron from foods such as fiber-rich black beans and spinach.

In addition, a healthy pregnancy diet should include whole grains, a great source of fiber, B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Calcium is especially important to a pregnant women’s diet. Mothers-to-be need approximately 1,500 mg of calcium daily to support the baby’s bone growth and to prevent the mother from losing her bone density. It is important to remember that most women do not get enough calcium even when they are not pregnant. Therefore, extra effort has to be made to get the right amounts of calcium throughout pregnancy. Calcium-rich foods include tofu, salmon, green leafy vegetables and dairy products.

In addition to getting enough calcium, folic acid is important to proper fetal growth. Natural foods such as dark green vegetables, oranges, grains, beans, lean meat and liver are rich in folic acid.

Eating four small meals and making healthy snack choices can help you control hunger during pregnancy. The best way to make sure that you’ll get all the proper nutrients is to eat the following recommended servings daily:
- Six to 11 servings of whole grains such as bread, cereal, rice and pasta
- Two to three servings of protein-rich foods including meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts;
- Four or more servings of vegetables;
- Three to four servings of fruit; and
- Three to four servings of dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese.

In addition to eating the right foods, you should drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. Drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water daily to help prevent dehydration. You should avoid alcohol and caffeine during pregnancy.

Be sure to take a daily prenatal vitamin that contains 100 percent to 200 percent of the recommended dietary intakes for vitamins and minerals. Always discuss vitamin and supplement choices with your health care provider or registered dietitian before you start taking them.

Developing healthy eating habits during pregnancy can help ensure the proper growth and development of your baby, not to mention the health benefits for mom too. Eating well during pregnancy and continuing those habits after your baby arrives will set the stage for your child to have healthy eating habits too and potentially reduce his or her risk for certain illnesses.

Give your baby the best start at life by eating smart and living well.

Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian and owner of Associates in Nutrition Therapy in Fort Myers. Contact her at or Visit her blog for the latest information on nutrition and great tips for staying healthy: