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Eating for Two: The Pregnancy Diet

If you're pregnant (congrats!), you've never had a better reason to eat healthy. The food you eat now provides the foundation for your baby's growth and development. While experts used to think that any nutritional deficiencies would be made up for by mom's body (if short on calcium, baby would take it from mom's bones, for example), current thinking is that a baby suffers or thrives based on what mom provides via her diet.

Eating for two doesn't mean eating twice as much, though. Most women need only about 300-450 extra calories each day in the second and third trimesters—and no extra calories in the first. If you're very under- or overweight, you may need more or less; your doctor will be able to advise you.

If you're the type who likes to keep close track of your diet, you might find the USDA's Health & Nutrition Information for Pregnant & Breastfeeding Women or Harvard University's Healthy Eating Pyramid helpful (even though it's not pregnancy specific).

Otherwise, simply aim to eat a balanced diet with a wide variety of foods:

  • various whole grains, which will provide carbohydrates for energy, fiber, iron, B vitamins, minerals, and protein
  • plenty of fruits and veggies of different types/colors to provide an array of vitamins and minerals and help with digestion
  • good protein sources--essential for growth--such as eggs, lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts
  • low-fat dairy products, which also provide calcium and vitamins
  • healthy fats, which are crucial for your baby's brain and eye development as well as growth of the placenta and other tissues. Read more about which fats are healthy.

One of the best ways to ensure that you eat well during pregnancy is to stock up on snack foods that pack plenty of nutrition. Then, when a craving strikes, you're able to respond with healthful foods rather than the sometimes overly-tempting empty calorie snacks. Got a hankering for ice cream? Low-fat ice creams or frozen yogurts topped with fresh strawberries can fill the bill. Chips calling out to you? A handful of walnuts or whole grains crackers with a slice of cheese instead can satisfy with crunch, healthier fats, and protein.

To make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need in adequate amounts, you'll also want to take a prenatal multivitamin. This is not a substitute for eating well, but helps make up for any vitamin or mineral shortfalls you may have.

There are some specific foods to avoid while you're pregnant as they can pose possible risks to your baby. These include: raw or undercooked fish/shellfish and meat; undercooked eggs; unpasteurized juices and milk; cheeses made with unpasteurized milk (such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, queso fresco and Panela); raw sprouts; fish that are high in mercury* (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish); hot dogs; and refrigerated pates, meat spreads, or smoked seafood. You'll also want to avoid foods that contain pesticides, as these cross the placenta. Learn more about pesticides in foods.

You may want to check out the healthful recipes—including many for tasty snacks and quick meals—on this site.

What's your favorite go-to pregnancy food?

*Note: find more information on mercury in fish, including tuna recommendations, on the FDA's website.