Choosing the Proper Pregnancy Diet

A pregnant woman should eat a healthy extra 300 calories a day for the baby. See more pregnancy pictures.
A pregnant woman should eat a healthy extra 300 calories a day for the baby. See more pregnancy pictures.

If your diet is balanced and not too heavy in sugar or fat, you don't need to modify the way you eat dramatically.

During pregnancy, you should take in roughly 300 extra calories a day, on average. That means that if you're at a healthy weight and you're taking in 2,100 calories per day, while pregnant you should take in an average of 2,400 calories per day (perhaps a little less during your first trimester and a little more during your third trimester).


Where are you going to get the extra 300 calories a day you need during pregnancy? You could stop off for a double cheeseburger and fries (actually, that would put you well over 300). Or you could opt for low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese. It's easy to see which choice is wiser. The key is to make sure that your extra calories are packed with nutrients, protein, and carbohydrates.

It is very common for women to experience morning sickness during the first trimester. If you are experiencing this nausea and are unable to eat a well-balanced diet, you may wonder whether or not you are getting enough nutrition for you and the baby. The fact is, you can go for several weeks not eating an optimal diet without any ill effects on the baby. You may find that the only foods you can tolerate are foods heavy in starch or carbohydrates. If all you feel like eating are potatoes, bread, and pasta, go right ahead. It is more important that you keep something down rather than starve.

No single food can satisfy all of your important nutritional needs. The food pyramid from the USDA is a general guideline that illustrates how much food from each group you should eat.

An important underlying concept in the food pyramid is that the most important food groups are grain products, fruits, and vegetables. These should be complemented by low-fat foods from the other groups (protein and dairy products) as well. While fats, oils, and sweets are also included in the pyramid, these groups should constitute only a small part of your diet. The food pyramid shows you the relative proportions of servings you should eat in each group.

See the next page to view food recommendations.



Pregnancy Food Pyramid

Grains, fruits and vegetables should be the largest component of your diet.
Grains, fruits and vegetables should be the largest component of your diet.
© Schweitzer

Fats and Sweets in Your Pregnancy Diet

The tip of the pyramid includes fats, oils, and sweets. Foods containing these yummy but less nutritional substances include candy, many desserts, butter, mayonnaise, and salad dressings. You can look for low-fat varieties of these foods in the supermarket, but remember that even though they may be lower in fat, they often still contain lots of calories.

Sources of Protein in Your Pregnancy Diet

The second level of the pyramid contains food rich in protein and calcium: meat, chicken, fish, nuts, beans, eggs, and milk products such as cheese, yogurt, and, of course, milk. You want to eat 2 to 4 servings of protein, and 3 or 4 servings of dairy a day. A single serving of chicken, turkey, lean meat, or fish is about 2 to 3 ounces. Two tablespoons of peanut butter or one egg is equal to 1 ounce of meat.


Fruits and Vegetables in Your Pregnancy Diet

The next-to-the-bottom level on the food pyramid is the fruit and vegetable group. You need to eat about 3 or 4 servings of each of these. Fruits and vegetables are not only a good source of vitamins and minerals, they also provide fiber, which is very important during pregnancy to help reduce constipation. Vegetables are high in vitamins A, C, and folate, as well as iron. Fruits, too, contain healthy amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as potassium.

The bottom tier on the pyramid is the broadest and largest, comprising such foods as bread, cereal, pasta, rice, and other grains. This group is important because it provides complex carbohydrates, which are long-lasting energy sources. In addition, grains are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. On average, you need to try to eat about 8 to 10 servings from this group each day. While this may seem like quite a lot of food, satisfying this requirement is easier than you think. One slice of bread, a few crackers, or half a cup of pasta each make up only a single serving. If you are like most of us, when you sit down to order some pasta primavera or shrimp marinara, you usually eat more than 1/2 cup.

Also be sure to drink plenty of water, milk or juice — about 6 to 8 glasses a day. As your pregnancy progresses, your body needs a lot of extra fluid. Early on, some women who don't drink enough liquid feel weak or faint. Later in pregnancy, dehydration can lead to premature contractions.

Excerpted from Pregnancy For Dummies™, published by John Wiley & Sons.