Malcolm McDowell Woods
Simply Health

Eating for two

By - Sep 1st, 2009 12:01 am
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Judy Mayer. Photo by Stephanie Bartz

Life changes once you become pregnant, and so must your diet. You are solely responsible for the growth and development of your growing baby and there are countless things you must think about during this amazing process of pregnancy. Don’t eat too much, don’t eat too little, take your vitamins, stay away from lunchmeat, don’t drink alcohol – overwhelming!

Let’s start at the beginning. Research has shown that the nutritional status of the mother before, during and after pregnancy can predict the child’s destiny of good or poor health and chronic disease in later adulthood. Good health and nutrition at the time around conception is vital for the development of the baby. For this reason, folic acid supplementation should begin at least one month before conception. Taken before pregnancy, supplementing with 400 mcg (micrograms) per day of folic acid can reduce the risk of neural tube and other birth defects. It is critical for cell development and growth. The neural tube, which develops into the baby’s brain and spinal cord, is formed during the first 18 to 30 days of pregnancy – often before many women are even aware that they’re pregnant.

This is one of the few times that a supplement is best. Research has shown that folic acid is better absorbed from a vitamin pill than food. The best food sources of folic acid are fortified foods, but it is also found in lentils, beans, spinach (frozen and raw), asparagus, sunflower seeds, whole wheat bread and more.

After you find out you’re pregnant – your doctor may prescribe a prenatal vitamin to ensure that you and your baby are getting the nutrients needed for good health and to make up for any nutrient deficiencies. Make sure that it contains 800 to 1000 mcg of folic acid. While there’s no single must-have nutrient for expectant moms, iron, calcium, omega–3 fats and fiber play important roles in a healthy pregnancy.

During pregnancy, iron needs almost double because your body produces more iron-rich red blood cells to support the growing baby. Iron-rich plant foods, iron-fortified foods or meats should be eaten with vitamin C rich foods to enhance absorption. Calcium needs do not increase during pregnancy. A woman’s body becomes super efficient at absorbing calcium – but mothers must make sure they’re getting the 1000mg required in their diets. The omega-3 fatty DHA is important for the developing brain, but there are no supplement recommendations for pregnant women at present. Food sources are: grass-fed meat or eggs, chickens that were fed omega-3’s, canola oil, walnuts and omega-3 fortified foods.

The next big issue and the one that is most often on the minds of women — pregnant or not — is weight gain. “She’s eating for two,” people say, and there’s truth to that, but it’s a better idea to eat twice as well, not twice as much. The guidelines for weight gain should be individualized according to your pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), the number calculated from a person’s weight and height.

The recommended prenatal weight gain:

  • Underweight 28-40 pounds BMI <19.8
  • Normal weight 25-35 pounds BMI 19.8-26
  • Overweight 15-25 pounds BMI >26-29
  • Obese at least 15 pounds BMI >29

In your first trimester, your calorie needs are about the same as they were pre-pregnancy. In your second and third trimesters, your energy needs increase by 300 calories per day. This is the equivalent of one substantial snack; a slice of toast spread with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or a cup of low-fat yogurt and a piece of fruit, or (if you must) two chocolate chip cookies.

Keep in mind that some of that extra padding put on during pregnancy is nature’s way of storing energy for breastfeeding.

What to Avoid?

Pregnant women should avoid un-pasteurized juices, raw sprouts, any meats, poultry, eggs, fish, or shellfish that are undercooked as they may contain harmful bacteria. Leftovers, hot dogs, luncheon and deli meats should be thoroughly re-heated to kill potentially harmful salmonella bacteria. Other foods to avoid are soft, raw or unpasteurized cheeses, high-mercury fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, and alcohol. For example: 3 to 4 ounces of canned, light tuna in water is recommended to be eaten just once a week.

The caffeine in coffee should be limited to two to three cups per day. As always, go easy on saturated fats, sodium, and empty sugar calories.

For general safe-eating guidelines when it comes to fish from Wisconsin waters, refer to this web site: 
A sustainable guide for safe seafood and fish in the United States can be found at:
<> Search for “seafood watch.”
<> Menu planner for Moms
<> Vegetarian pregnancy

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