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Pregnancy: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Learn about the necessary vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, as well as what foods pregnant women should avoid.

In this article, you will find:

Calcium; iron

Pregnancy: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Although calcium is needed throughout life, it is particularly important during pregnancy. (At last, you finally learn why everyone pesters you to drink your milk.) Your daily requirements remain at 1,000 milligrams—but some experts recommend up to 1,500 milligrams. That's approximately 3–4 servings of dairy (for example, 1 cup of milk + 1 cup pudding + 1 cup fruit yogurt + 1½ ounces of hard cheese).

Won't the prenatal vitamins
cover all the calcium my baby will need?

Definitely not! Prenatal supplements supply about 200-250 milligrams per pill; that's not even one serving from the dairy group


Don't think, “Hey, I'm pregnant; I can eat whatever and whenever I want!” With pregnancy comes increased caloric and nutrient requirements, but you can meet you'll be wearing after these needs without putting on 20 pounds of flub. Don't deprive yourself of cravings; that's one of the fun things about pregnancy. (Chocolate was definitely one of mine.) Just don't go overboard. Extra weight gained during your pregnancy is extra weight the baby is born.

As you learned in Calcium and Healthy Bones, calcium is responsible for strong bones and teeth and for the proper functioning of blood vessels, nerves, and muscles, as well as maintaining healthy connective tissue. During pregnancy, calcium is especially critical because you have to worry about your own bones and your growing baby's bones, tissues, and teeth as well. In fact, your baby counts on your calcium for normal development. Therefore, when you skimp on the calcium-rich foods (and don't take supplementation), the calcium in your bones will be supplied to meet the increased demands of the growing fetus. In other words, you'll be placing yourself at a much greater risk for osteoporosis.

Hiking Up the Iron

Ever wonder why the prenatal vitamins are loaded with iron? It's because during pregnancy, your body requires about double the amount of this mineral than usual. In fact, you go from normally needing 15 milligrams to requiring a daily dose of 30 milligrams when you're expecting.

Why do pregnant women require more iron? Remember, iron is found in your blood and is responsible for carrying and delivering oxygen to every cell in your body. Pregnant women have an expanded blood volume, so it makes sense that more blood requires more iron. Also, you have to supply oxygen to both your cells and the cells of your growing baby. Once again, this greater demand for oxygen requires greater amounts of iron.

Because nursing your baby also requires an increase in a variety of nutrients, nursing women will also benefit from following the same general eating guidelines discussed in this chapter. Take a look:

  Before Pregnant Lactating
Calories Varies +300 +500
Protein (g) 50 60 65 for first six months
62 for second six months
Calcium (mg) 1,000 1,000 1,000
Folic acid (mg) 400 600 500
Iron (mg) 15 30 15
These requirements are for healthy women 19–50 years of age.
Food for Thought

Pregnant women with lactose intolerance should eat plenty of nondairy calcium-fortified foods, along with the special lactose-reduced products. Also, speak with your physician about calcium supplementation.

Just because the prenatal vitamins are brimming with the stuff, don't think you can slack off in the food department. Understand that prenatal supplements (providing around 30–60 milligrams) are merely “just in case”—you still need to eat a lot of iron-rich foods. On the eating plan, you require 2–3 servings of protein foods each day. This will help satisfy your body's extra demand for both protein and iron because the best absorbable iron is found in the foods within this group. For further tips on boosting your iron, read Symptoms of Iron Deficiency and Sources of Iron.

  • Best sources of heme iron: Animal foods such as liver, beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken, turkey, and eggs.
  • Good sources of nonheme iron: Nonanimal foods such as enriched breads and cereals, beans, dried fruits, seeds, nuts, broccoli, spinach, collard greens, barley, chickpeas, and blackstrap molasses.

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