Food Matters When You’re Eating for Two

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You’re probably tired of hearing that “You’re eating for two now.” But it’s true — and from the very start, even before conception, your diet has an impact on your baby’s health.

Proper nutrition helps your baby grow to a healthy, appropriate size, and helps keeps your own weight in check. Poor nutrition can result in an infant who is underweight or overweight, and possibly at risk for a variety of health problems. A healthy, well-balanced diet can also help to reduce some pregnancy symptoms, like nausea and constipation.

Your Weight: How Much Is Too Much?

Eating for two doesn’t necessarily mean eating a lot of food; it’s all about eating the right amount of the right foods. In general, most pregnant women should consume 300 additional calories daily. Ask your doctor how much weight you should gain during pregnancy and how many calories you should consume. It’s different for every woman, depending on your weight prior to conception and other health factors.

A Pregnancy Must-Have ListNutrition and Weight Gain During Pregnancy - In Content

Even though your doctor is likely to prescribe prenatal supplements, it’s still very important to consume the following:

  • A well-balanced diet. This comes from a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with sweets and fats kept to a minimum.
  • Folic acid. The U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Folic acid is found in some green leafy vegetables, most berries, nuts, beans, citrus fruits, fortified breakfast cereals and some vitamin supplements. It can help reduce the risk for birth defects of the brain and spinal cord (called neural tube defects).

    Folic acid is most helpful during the first 28 days after conception. This is when most neural tube defects happen. Unfortunately, many women do not realize they are pregnant before 28 days. Therefore, begin taking folic acid before conception and continue through pregnancy.

  • Iron. Pregnant women need at least 27 milligrams of iron a day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Recommended foods include red meat, chicken and fish (see below for warnings about some seafood), fortified cereals, spinach, some leafy greens, and beans. If you are vegetarian or don’t eat a lot of meat, increase your body’s absorption of iron by combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C-rich foods. For example, try spinach salad with mandarin oranges or fortified cereal with strawberries.
  • Calcium. The development of your baby's teeth, bones, heart, nerves and muscles depends on calcium — so much so that if you don’t consume enough, it is taken from your bones for the baby. The recommended amount of calcium during pregnancy is 1,000 milligrams per day for adolescents 14 to 18 years old and 1,300 milligrams per day for women ages 19 to 50. That means at least three daily servings of calcium-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese (see warnings, below, about some dairy products) or calcium-fortified cereals and juices.
  • Fluids. Women can take in enough fluids by drinking several glasses of water each day, in addition to the fluids in juices and soups. Talk to your doctor about restricting your intake of caffeine and artificial sweeteners. All alcohol should be avoided.

Food Dangers and Precautions

There are three main dangers lurking in the food pregnant women eat, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. They are:

  • Listeria, a dangerous bacterium that can grow even in cold refrigerators
  • Mercury, a harmful metal found in high levels in some fish
  • Toxoplasma, a risky parasite found in undercooked meat and unwashed fruits and vegetables

All of these things pose a risk to the health of you and your baby, and can even result in death. So, it’s important to avoid:

    Eating for two doesn’t necessarily mean eating a lot of food; it’s all about eating the right amount of the right foods.
  • Unpasteurized milk and foods made with unpasteurized milk
  • Soft cheeses, including feta, queso blanco and fresco, Camembert, brie, or blue-veined cheeses (unless labeled “made with pasteurized milk")
  • Hot dogs and luncheon meats, unless they are heated until steaming hot before serving
  • Refrigerated pâté and meat spreads
  • Raw and undercooked seafood (including smoked seafood), eggs and meat. Do not eat sushi made with raw fish (cooked sushi is safe).

Some additional notes about seafood:

  • Limit the amount of seafood you eat to no more than eight to 12 ounces a week (about two average servings)
    • The safest fish to eat are those low in mercury and high in omega 3 fatty acids. These include salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, trout, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, shrimp, pollock and catfish.

In addition, when preparing food, don’t forget to:

  • Wash. Rinse all raw produce thoroughly under running tap water before eating, cutting or cooking.
  • Clean. Thoroughly wash your hands, knives, countertops and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
  • Cook. Beef, pork or poultry should be cooked to a safe internal temperature using a food thermometer.
  • Chill. Promptly refrigerate all perishable food.

If you have questions about your diet or nutrition, your doctor can refer you to a registered dietitian, who will ask you to keep a food diary for several days. A dietitian can help you develop a personalized nutrition plan based on your unique needs.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Small Steps: Head to the Doctor
Go to as many prenatal appointments as you can to hear firsthand how the pregnancy is progressing. And listening to your baby’s heartbeat is really cool!