What Foods You Should Eat (and Not Eat) When Pregnant
Upon finding out you’re pregnant, the shocking revelation hits: you are not only responsible for your own health with the food choices you make, but for a growing life inside of you. This coupled with the common notion that: “I’m eating for two.”
It’s a common misconception that pregnant women need to eat significantly larger amounts of food when they are expecting. In fact, pregnant women only need about 250 to 300 extra calories per day, which is sufficient to provide adequate nutrition for the baby.
How Much Weight to Gain When You’re Expecting
Most experts recommend gaining about 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Keeping your weight gain under control not only will allow you to have a more comfortable pregnancy, but it also makes it far easier to return to a healthy, pre-pregnancy weight. Here’s how that 25 to 35 pounds is distributed.
- 7 – 8 pounds is baby
- 7-8 pounds is stored nutrients
- 8 pounds is extra blood and other extra bodily fluids
- 4 pounds is breast and uterine enlargement
- 2 pounds is amniotic fluid
- 2 pounds is placenta
Problems Associated With Too Much Weight Gain
Excessive weight gain during pregnancy is linked to a number of negative health effects for both mom and baby. According to the CDC:
- It is associated with higher birth weight babies, as well as more development of fat cells in babies before they are born. In fact, babies born to moms who gain excessive weight during pregnancy have a higher risk of becoming overweight children, and later overweight adults.
- It makes it much more difficult to lose pregnancy weight after delivering.
- It increases risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.
- It amplifies risks of other pregnancy complications.
- It increases risk of c-section. The U.S. rate of cesarean section is the third highest in the world.
- It increases risk of type-2 diabetes in baby.
- It increases risk of fetal and maternal death.
- It increases the length of post-birth hospital stays.
Food You Eat Is Important
How much you eat when you’re pregnant isn’t as important as what you eat. Mothers-to-be have unique nutritional needs to protect their health and aid in the development of the baby.
Folic Acid: Pregnant women (and those planning on becoming pregnant) need higher levels of folic acid. Getting enough folic acid (also called folate or vitamin B9) during pregnancy is necessary for fetal neural tube growth, and can prevent common neural tube defects like spina bifida. Since these defects can occur before a woman knows she’s pregnant in the first four weeks after conception, it is especially important for women of child bearing years to get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. She should also continue to consume 600 micrograms of folic acid throughout pregnancy. Foods containing folic acid include lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, spinach, asparagus, black beans, peas, green cabbage, and collard greens. Supplementation may also help provide adequate levels; however, research suggests more than 1,000 micrograms per day from supplemental sources such as fortified foods and supplements is not recommended.
Protein: While many pregnant women worry that a vegetarian diet contains insufficient levels of protein during pregnancy, the opposite is, in fact, true. The World Health Organization recommends pregnant women receive 6 percent of her calories from protein. This is well within the bounds of a plant-based diet.
As I discuss in The Beauty Detox Solution, excess protein produces excess acidic wastes in the body. Read below on the dangers of consuming animal protein while pregnant.
Vitamins and Minerals: Your body has unique requirements for vitamins and minerals as you grow a baby. Eating a plant-based diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables across the spectrum of color is the best way to ensure you consume the nutrients you and your baby need. Choose locally grown, in season, organic fruits and vegetables, and be sure to include whole grains like brown rice and quinoa. Your doctor or midwife may also recommend a prenatal supplement to ensure proper vitamin intake. One nutrient with significantly increased requirements is iron, which will help you produce the extra blood your body needs. Dark leafy greens, legumes like lentils and kidney beans, dried fruits, and artichokes are all excellent sources of iron.
Foods You Don’t Eat Is Important, Too
Along with making sure you take in the right nutrients when you’re pregnant, you also need to keep out things that may be harmful. Keep in mind that what you eats, your baby eats, too.
Pesticides: These toxic chemicals can be harmful to the developing fetus and to the mother. Choose organic foods, and wash all produce well before eating it.
Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Food Additives: Chemicals can have a deleterious effect on the health of your baby. Avoid processed foods, and read labels for additives and preservatives. Also avoid excitotoxins like monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (NutraSweet), and other artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Food dyes should also be avoided, along with any ingredient on a label you can’t pronounce. The easiest way around this is by eating a whole, plant-food diet of the freshest foods you can buy. Avoid anything that comes in cans, boxes, bottles, or jars unless you know what each of the ingredients listed on the package is.
“Vice” Substances: Pregnancy is not the time to indulge your vices. Caffeine not only speeds up your heart rate and blood pressure, but it crosses the placenta into your baby. It can also cause birth defects, preterm delivery, and increase the risk of low birth weight. Some research has shown that caffeine intake before and during pregnancy has been found to double the risk of spontaneous abortions.
Maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause birth defects, fetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and many other issues. According to the March of Dimes, no amount of alcohol consumption is safe during pregnancy.
Smoking exposes your baby to harmful chemicals, lowering the amount of oxygen the baby receives. Smoking during pregnancy also increases risk of low birth weight, stillbirth, placental previa or abruption, prematurity, cleft palate, and other birth defects.
Animal Protein: Animal proteins including eggs, meat, poultry, and fish contain numerous toxic substances for mom and baby and are one of the chief ways that harmful toxins can be ingested. For example, fish contains high levels of mercury that can lead to a host of neurological and developmental problems. A study in Michigan found that school-age children who were exposed to low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) while in the uterus had an average decrease in IQ scores of 6.2 points. The PCBs were attributed to the mothers consuming fish while pregnant, which can lead to damage to the nervous system of the developing child. Fish are a mjaor source of human exposure to PCBs.
Factory farmed animal proteins also contain high levels of hormones and antibiotics, which can cross the placental barrier into the baby. If your doctor won’t let you take medications like hormones or antibiotics when you’re pregnant, why would ingesting them in the foods you eat be any safer? Additionally, animal proteins create acid in the body, which require minerals to neutralize them. This can rob your baby of vital minerals necessary for growth and development.
Astrocytoma, a common brain cancer in young children, has been linked to mothers consuming nitrosamine-containing meats (such as hot dogs) while pregnant.
The Way to Eat
Choose a healthy, organic plant-based diet that provides your baby with the rich nutrients he or she needs for the best possible start in life.
Have a family member or friend who is currently pregnant? I personally have a few! Be sure to share this info with them, which will hopefully be helpful to them and will help protect their unborn child.