Have you gone in for your doctor’s appointment and been given the “Do not eat this” list? The list is so long, it seems like there is hardly anything left that you CAN eat—let alone food that actually tastes good. So, how do you balance maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet for your baby, not adding on excess pregnancy weight, and not wanting to die from all the kale and vegetables you have to eat? Here are the Dos and Don’ts of a safe and healthy diet for you and your baby. After having three baby girls while dealing with my own health issues, I found these tips to be the best balance of satisfying and nutritious.
- Give in to your Crazy Cravings—What do you do when you get those crazy, pregnancy cravings for fat-packed foods and odd combinations? Well, you listen to your body! It is most likely telling you that it needs a nutrient from the food you are craving. This does not give you the excuse to go out and eat a Big Mac and a large fry (this is my favorite cheat meal), it means that your body could be craving fats. You can get healthy fats from eating avocados, nuts, olives, olive oil, salmon, etc. Give in to the ingredient, not the unhealthy meal. Making sure to balance these fats into your diet can curb those cravings BEFORE they happen!
- You CAN eat Cooked Seafood—Most fresh seafood is safe to eat and packed with omega-3 fatty acid, which is a great nutrient for you and your baby. Omega-3 is known to help with your baby’s brain development, so both of you can enjoy cooked and delicious fish. Just make sure that you cook it all the way through, so that all the harmful bacteria is burned off. Another great way to obtain Omega-3 is by sprinkling flax seeds on meals. This is a great way to get nutrients when you are on the go!
- Lots of Fruits and Veggies—First of all, make sure to always wash your fruits and veggies extremely well before you use them. This eliminates whatever bacteria that has clung to them in the process from farm to kitchen, as well as any leftover pesticide residue. Doctors recommend 3 servings of fruit a day. Benefits of fruit include curving sugar cravings, plenty of natural antioxidants and high Vitamin C content. But, be careful not to overdue it on the sugar, especially processed sugar that can cause post-pregnancy weight to stick. It is also recommended to have 5 servings of veggies a day. The best vegetables to eat are high in potassium (leafy greens), folic acid (peas, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts), beta-carotene (sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin) and vitamin C (peppers, kale, cauliflower). Avoid dressed salads made in delis, for they can increase risk of salmonella.
- Increase Iron Intake— It is recommended to eat red meat three times a week during the second trimester. Combining red meat with veggies and salad, rich in Vitamin C, increases your body’s absorption of iron as well. Walnuts and almonds are also high in iron and are great snacks to have with you when you get the munchies. Personally, I love dipping almonds in hummus as a nutritious and filling, after-lunch snack. Anemia can cause your baby to be born too small or prematurely. The CDC recommends moms to take a low-dose iron supplement daily with prenatal vitamins.
- Load up on Fiber and Whole foods—Great foods to keep around the house include high-fiber cereal and protein rich peanut butter. I love peanut or almond butter with celery! Wheat is also high in fiber and prevents pregnancy symptoms that none of us enjoy like hemorrhoids and constipation. In fact, 2-3 servings of whole-grain bread or an alternative (like rice cakes and quinoa if you are gluten-free) is recommended daily. Whole-grain is much better for your baby and you when compared to regular, white bread because it is less processed, has less sugar, and more nutrients like Magnesium, B Vitamins and Iron. It is also best to have 3 servings of protein spread out throughout the day (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) to feed your baby’s rapid growth development.
- Avoid Sushi at all Costs—While you can eat cooked seafood, definitely avoid all raw seafood. Some think it is safe, but honestly, it’s not worth the risk. Also, avoid fish with a high mercury content and a high oil content (you don’t want mercury poisoning) like tuna, shark, and swordfish. If you are a sushi lover (like me), here is an approved, complete list from the NRDC of lower mercury level fish versus higher. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/mercury-levels-in-sushi/
- No Foods High in Sugar— Foods that are higher in sugar easily transferred across the placenta to your baby and increases risk during childbirth. Excess sugar also increases your body weight, making it harder to lose weight post-pregnancy. Foods high in sugar include candies, bread, dried fruit, cookies, jams, cereals, sauces, gravies, and ice cream. Also avoid drinks with high sugar content like soft drinks and processed fruit juices. I know I have just listed all our favorite desserts and this seems terribly impossible. We all have those days where we NEEd chocolate. The key here is to limit yourself instead of binging. For example, have just 1 scoop of ice-cream, 1 mini muffin, half a bar of chocolate, or 2 cookies instead of a whole pint or package.
- Don’t Risk Unpasteurized Dairy Products— Avoid unpasteurized dairy products when pregnant because it increases risk for food poisoning. When grocery shopping, always check the label and make sure it is pasteurized. Dairy products include milk, cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, etc. Also, unpasteurized dairy products, ready-to-eat deli meats, refrigerated meat spreads, soft cheeses (like feta and brie), refrigerated smoked sea food, and raw sprouts have been labeled by Food Safety as susceptible foods to listeria bacteria. It is a rare bacteria to encounter, but like I always say: It’s not worth the risk! Listeriosis increases risk of miscarriage, still birth, preterm delivery, and infection.
- Canned Food and Anything Served in Plastic— During pregnancy, your baby is especially vulnerable to preservatives–which canned food is full of to preserve its long lasting shelf life. Canned food and mass-produced plastics may also contain BPA (Bisphenol A) that can negatively affect fetal endocrine activity and cause developmental toxicity. This means fresh food is always the way to go, momma! So, no drinking out of plastic water bottles left in the car, especially in the heat, or reheating leftovers in plastic tupperware. Buy yourself a fun and colorful glass water bottle to keep track of water consumption and motivate you to drink lots of water throughout the day.
- Vitamin-Packed Energy Bars and Energy Drinks— Energy drinks should be avoided whether you’re pregnant or not, especially during physical exertion or dehydration. Excess caffeine puts your baby at risk! A 2003 study showed that women who drink more than 8 cups of coffee a day are twice as likely to give birth to a stillborn baby (WebMD). Keep in mind, that a normal cup of filtered coffee has more caffeine than a shot of espresso as well. Also, energy bars can be packed with so many vitamins that it can overload the body. Calcium and Iron are the most harmful when taking in excess. Instead of energy bars, focus on bars that are high in protein for those days you are too busy to eat high-protein foods.
Moms–Overall, your daily diet should consist of a healthy balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and micronutrients. I recommend making a food plan that fits your favorite tastes while maintaining variety to keep you from getting bored with the same routine foods.