Pregnancy changes everything, from the arrangement of furniture in your home to what you do in your free time and what foods you choose to eat. Whether your diet was mostly clean or the furthest thing from clean prior to pregnancy, now is the time to focus on nutrition as well as flavor.
Just as you see a doctor for medical advice while pregnant, working with a nutritionist can help you determine what to eat and not eat while expecting. We have some tips to get you started.
The Importance of Eating Healthy While Pregnant
Eating nutrient-dense foods while pregnant can provide the following benefits for you and your developing baby:
- Reduced risk of gestational diabetes, especially if you’re overweight or obese
- Reduced risk of pre-eclampsia
- Improved comfort with a healthier rate of weight gain
- Baby receives nutrients needed for healthy development in the womb
- Baby may receive nutrients needed to remain healthy throughout their adult life
- Reduced impact of common pregnancy discomforts, including nausea or morning sickness
To maximize these benefits, you can work with a nutritionist to develop a customized meal plan for your pregnancy. The tips presented here are general guidelines for a healthy pregnancy. Working with a pregnancy nutritionist ensures your unique dietary and health needs are taken into consideration.
4 Steps to a Healthy Pregnancy Diet
Eating healthy while pregnant isn’t much different from eating healthy at any other point in your life. The nutrients that your body needs to support a healthy pregnancy and that your baby needs for healthy development aren’t unique. For many women, it’s a matter of learning how much to eat and how to make room on the plate for healthier foods without feeling deprived.
Step 1 – Ditch the “Eating for Two” Mentality
While your baby does depend on you to provide nutrients needed for healthy development in the womb, you aren’t actually eating for two. That mentality can lead to unrestrained consumption of unhealthy foods, which increases your risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and unnecessary weight gain.
How many calories do you need to consume while pregnant? Research has shown that you need an extra 300 calories in your second and third trimesters. That means you should eat about 300 calories above the amount needed to sustain your own body pre-pregnancy. You don’t need to count calories, but you should focus on eating nutrient-dense foods rather than heavily processed foods with little nutritional value.
Adding 300 calories basically means adding one small meal or snack a day. You can also make each of your meals just a little larger by adding more fruits and vegetables to your plate.
Step 2 – Focus on What You Can Eat, Not What You Can’t
Focusing on the foods that you should avoid while pregnant can leave you feeling deprived. Healthy eating is a lot easier when you focus on what foods you need to consume for the health of your body and your developing baby. As you work to fit in more healthy food, you will naturally find yourself consuming less unhealthy food.
Fruits and Vegetables
You need a variety of fruits and vegetables because they deliver many vitamins and minerals that you and your developing baby need. Try to include some fresh and cooked produce, and challenge yourself to try something new. There are all kinds of interesting fruits and vegetables that you may overlook when not eating healthy intentionally.
You can add fruits and vegetables to your meals as side dishes, eat them as snacks, or blend them into smoothies. Sweet fruits are also excellent substitutes for candy, cakes, and other sweet treats that have no nutritional value.
Whole grains are excellent sources of folic acid and fiber. Try switching from white, refined pasta noodles, bread, and rice to whole-grain versions. It’s a simple dietary tweak that can make a big difference in your health.
Choose high-quality meats with as little saturated fat as possible. Try to opt for grass-fed beef and pasture-raised poultry, and look for labels that specify that hormones and antibiotics weren’t used in raising the animals.
Fish is an excellent source of protein, but you should avoid uncooked fish and large fish that may have high concentrations of mercury.
Step 3 – Don’t Deprive Yourself of the Occasional Treat
Eating healthier during pregnancy doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a slice of cake at a birthday party or a few bites of your favorite dessert after dinner once or twice a week. The trick is to stop eating on autopilot. When you reach for the bag of cookies or dive into a large restaurant dessert without thinking about what you’re doing, you’re likely to eat more than you need or want. Treat yourself occasionally, and then get right back on track with nutrient-dense food selections.
Step 4 – Embrace Intuitive Eating
If you often snack on autopilot or eat due to boredom, emotion, or stress, you may need to become intentional about stopping yourself. The goal is to eat what your body needs and wants, and that requires listening to yourself.
Make it a habit to stop and ask yourself a few questions before you eat anything:
- Do I really want to eat this?
- Why do I want to eat this?
- Do I want to eat this right now, or can it wait until later?
The second question is important because it can help you identify when you’re truly hungry and when you’re eating due to emotions or just out of habit. Honesty with yourself when answering the questions is critical. If you find that you are genuinely hungry, the food you’re considering is what you really want to eat, and you want or need it now, then enjoy it without self-judgment or guilt.
Get the Support You Need from Day One
If changing your diet for pregnancy feels overwhelming, remember that learning how to start eating healthy is the hardest part. Once you have a customized nutrition plan and are aware of the foods that your body needs for a healthy pregnancy, it gets easier. Getting to that customized plan and figuring out what you should and shouldn’t eat is easier if you work with a professional nutritionist. The most convenient way to find a nutritionist and get your diet on track is to work with an online service. You can select a professional who has experience with pregnancy nutrition and work with them virtually.