What foods should you include in your prenatal diet? Learn 12 pregnancy superfoods to reach for to satisfy cravings and nourish you and your growing baby.
Power Foods for Pregnancy
You're pregnant and hungry and could eat almost anything in sight. But what should you eat? Find out which foods to reach for to satisfy your cravings and nourish you and your growing baby. Get ideas for folate- and nutrient-rich foods and tips on foods to avoid in your prenatal diet.
Ice cream is okay every once in a while, but try to kick your constant cravings for it with this healthier dessert. Sorbet in a dark berry flavor, such as raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry, contains vitamin C, a touch of fiber, and a lot of antioxidants, which help boost your immune system. Just be sure to set limits on your sweets. Avoid eating more than two to four servings of fruit and multiple desserts a day to limit your sugar and prevent gestational diabetes.
Pregnancy is not the time to go on a diet, such as a low-carb eating plan. Your body needs six to 10 servings of grain products throughout pregnancy. Opt for cereals with the words "whole" or "whole grain" up high in the ingredient list to get the most fiber and nutrients from hearty wheat, barley, and oats in your breakfast. Most cereals are enriched with folate — which is crucial for fetal development - and other vitamins and minerals you need, so low-sugar cereal is a wise meal or snack for women on the go.
You need three or four servings of lean protein a day during pregnancy. Great sources include veal, chicken, turkey, pork, and eggs. Veal is low in fat and high in folate and iron, which helps guard against anemia. If veal isn't your favorite type of beef, look for cuts of meat that are 90% lean or leaner. Meat labeled with the word "prime" tends to be fattier, while words like "select" or "choice" often indicate leaner meat.
Many women think they can't touch seafood with a 10-foot pole when they're pregnant. While it's important to watch out for some seafood, such as swordfish, mackerel, shark, tilefish, fresh tuna, and seabass, (print this list for a reminder of what's safe), shrimp is fine to eat because it doesn't have high mercury levels. Shrimp is a great form of lean protein that can help you get the three to four meat or protein servings you need daily. Just make sure to avoid undercooked and raw seafood.
Water is the best thing to drink during pregnancy, so you should have at least six glasses a day. But a glass of orange juice with breakfast or a snack provides folic acid, potassium, vitamin C, and other vitamins. Because of juice's high sugar content, don't make it your all-day drink of choice.
Beans offer variety in meals and side dishes, from chili and soups to rice dishes and salads. They're full of protein, fiber, iron, folic acid, and complex carbohydrates (the good kind of carbs that provide longer-lasting energy). If you're tired of eating the same sources of lean protein, such as chicken, whip up a meal with black beans, white beans, kidney beans, or garbanzo beans (chickpeas) as the main ingredient. Rinsing canned beans in a strainer can help cut down the sodium content.
Okay, so pretzels don't pack loads of nutrients. But they're a great low-fat, low-calorie snack and much better for you than greasy potato chips. Women struggling with morning sickness may find that snacking on a few pretzels, crackers, or other plain snack right when they wake up in the morning helps them feel less nauseated. For extra fiber, go for whole-wheat pretzels, and if you have high blood pressure, opt for lower-sodium pretzels without salt.
Broccoli may be a health-food cliché, but it rocks in terms of nutrition, containing everything from vitamins C, K, and A to potassium, iron, magnesium, and even calcium. Make sure you thoroughly wash your broccoli — and all your produce — well during pregnancy to avoid pesticides and toxoplasmosis that can contaminate soil. When boiling broccoli, just be sure to cook it for less than 10 minutes in order to maintain its rich nutrients.
Here's another food that makes it onto many healthy-eating lists - and for good reason. Bananas are packed with nutrients, including potassium, folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin C. They may help lower the risk of colorectal and breast cancer. And they're conveniently packaged in a peel for on-the-go snacking. If you don't love the taste of bananas, spread on a tablespoon of peanut butter or add them with other fruits into a smoothie.
Calcium is always important for women, who are prone to bone-mineral loss as they age, but it's especially vital during pregnancy. Your baby needs calcium for bone growth, too, so if your body doesn't have enough of this nutrient, your baby's calcium supply will come directly from your bones. Yogurt will help you get the four to six servings of dairy and 1,000 mg of calcium you need daily. A perk is that it may aid in digestion if you're constipated. Dairy foods to avoid during pregnancy include soft cheeses, like brie and feta, because they're usually not pasteurized. But cottage cheese and cream cheese are fine to eat.
If you're tired of regular potatoes or your usual starches, try sweet potatoes for a change of pace. Sweet potatoes taste great roasted with chicken or turkey, or sliced and baked as fries. They're a great source of vitamin A, along with some other orange foods, such as carrots, pumpkin, and cantaloupe. Just be sure to watch your vitamin A intake during pregnancy, because excessive amounts have been linked to fetal malformations. Sweet potatoes and other sources of vitamin A are best eaten every other day.
Soy beans are a natural source of protein and iron and they're very versatile in cooking. You can purchase whole soy beans whole – as bright green edamame – in most grocery stores' freezer sections these days or order cooked edamame from a Japanese restaurant. It's tasty steamed with a dash of salt, eaten with or without the pea pod-like shell. Soy beans are also used to make veggie burgers and tofu — great meat substitutes for vegetarians.