Especially for first-time mothers, meal planning and diets can be stressful. What can I eat? What can’t I eat? What should I eat? Why should I eat it? What about cravings? Why do I crave things?
The craving question might be a difficult one to answer. A rather interesting article suggests that:
“No one really knows why pregnancy cravings occur, though there are theories that it represents some nutrient that the mother may be lacking — and the crave is the body’s way of asking for what it needs…
When that overwhelming desire for pickles or processed cheese hits…it could be the body asking for more sodium. That aching for a Big Mac and a plate of fries may be your need for more protein, sodium, or potassium. The burning in your belly for a double helping of chocolate double latte ice cream may be signalling a need for more calcium or fat.”
It is an interesting theory, and it does make a lot of sense. Our bodies are quite clever at letting us know what nutrients we need, especially so during pregnancy. But it still begs the question: why the strange cravings? The article further states that:
“It’s not that the body actually needs the specific food you are craving, but it may need something in that food. And your taste buds just interpret it as a craving for something specific…
What’s more, many experts say our taste buds do actually play a role in how we interpret our body’s needs. Studies show that the high hormone levels present during pregnancy can alter both a woman’s sense of taste and smell.”
But some cravings are more strange than others. According to the article, some woman really do crave the strangest things:
“During pregnancy a woman can crave — and eat — things like dirt, laundry starch, crayons, ground up clay pots, ice scraped from the freezer. As bizarre as it seems, the desire can be overwhelming…”
Obviously some cravings should not be given into. It might most probably be quite detrimental to your health. So what can and can’t you eat?
This article serves as a fantastic reference to foods that promote healthy growth in your baby. Here is a list of the best, healthiest foods for both you and your baby:
“1. LEAN MEAT
The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of every cell in your and your baby’s bodies. High-protein foods also keep your hunger at bay by stabilizing your blood sugar, which is why you should aim for three servings (that’s about 75 grams) of protein per day. Lean meat is an excellent option, since it’s also high in iron, critical to help your baby develop his red blood cell supply and support yours, too (blood volume can increase by as much as 50 percent when you’re pregnant, which is why anemia during pregnancy is so common). Iron also helps build baby’s brain by strengthening nerve connections. A little goes a long way, so add a bit of beef, pork or lamb to veggie-filled soups, salads and rice or noodle dishes.
Tip: Pump up your iron absorption by pairing an iron-rich food with one that’s high in vitamin C (like red bell peppers, citrus, tomatoes, strawberries or kiwi).
One of the most important nutrients for pregnant women is a B vitamin called (known as folic acid when you take it in a supplement) — and lentils are packed with it. Folate is vital toforming your baby’s brain and nervous system and has a powerful protective effect against neural-tube defects like spina bifida, a birth disorder in which part of the spine is exposed. Lentils also boast protein, vitamin B6 and iron. Plus they’re the most intestine (and spouse) friendly legume which readily absorbs a variety of flavors from other foods and seasonings. Eat as a side dish or toss into salads, soups and stews.
Don’t like lentils? Spinach is also rich in folate, along with iron, vitamin A and calcium. It comes completely ready-to-eat in prewashed bags. Eat it raw, in a salad, as a wilted bed for fish or chicken, or layered in lasagna.
Tip: Because the benefit of folate is so significant — and most effective very early in pregnancy (usually before you even know you’ve conceived) — most cereal, pasta, bread and rice products are now fortified with folic acid, and it’s a major ingredient in prenatal supplements.
Your baby needs calcium for his growing bones, and you need it to keep yours strong and to help your muscles and nerves function. Aim for about 1,200 mg (that’s four servings) every day. One of your best bets? Yogurt: cup for cup, it contains as much calcium as milk — plus it’s packed with protein and folate. The active cultures (i.e., good bacteria) in yogurt can also help prevent stomach upset as well as yeast infections (which are more common in pregnancy). Blend yogurt with fruit into smoothies, layer with granola in a breakfast parfait, substitute for sour cream or mayo in sandwich fillings, dips and salad dressings, or simply spoon it out of the carton.
Tip: To get the most calcium out of each serving, look for products that are also fortified with vitamin D, which boosts absorption.
Cold-water fish like salmon is packed with omega-3 essential fatty acids, most importantly a type called DHA. These healthy fats are “essential” for a number of reasons: The body can’t make them on its own, they help metabolize fat-soluble vitamins like A and E, they may help reduce the risk of prenatal depression, and they’re critical for the development of your baby’s eyes and brain (both the brain and retina are primarily composed of DHA). The Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency encourage pregnant women to eat 8 to 12 ounces (two to three servings) of fish every week. Opt for wild salmon, sardines, herring and farmed oysters, which are all high in omega 3s and safe for pregnancy. Cook or serve it up with acidic ingredients like sour cream, fruit salsa or lemon juice.
Tip: Avoid large ocean predators including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, fresh tuna, sea bass, tilefish, mahi mahi, grouper and amberjack, which can be potentially high in toxins like mercury and dioxin.
Loaded with folate, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6 (which helps baby’s tissue and brain growth as well as eases morning sickness), avocados are a delicious way to get your vitamins. Spread some ripe avocado on your whole grain roll as a healthy substitute for mayo.
Tip: Keep in mind that avocados are high in fat (though the very good kind) and calories, which makes them filling — but be careful not to overdo it unless you’re having trouble gaining weight.
Oats are full of fiber, B vitamins, iron and a host of other minerals. Along with other complex carbs, they’re also packed with fiber (helpful if you’re dealing with constipation). Fill your breakfast bowl with them, but don’t stop there — add oats to pancakes, muffins, cakes, cookies, even meatloaf. Aim to eat plenty along with a variety of other whole grains (whole corn, rice, quinoa, wheat and barley) to up your dose of a slew of baby-building vitamins and minerals.
Tip: Another whole grain that’s an easy way to up your intake: Air-popped popcorn. Its starchiness can help quell nausea, too!
These green pods are actually cooked soybeans — and they taste so much better than they sound. Packed with protein, calcium, folate and vitamins A and B, edamame can be scooped up by the handful as a snack (salt them lightly, and you’ll never miss the chips), or tossed into just about anything you’re cooking, from soups, to pasta, to casseroles, to succotash, to stir-fry.
Tip: Edamame makes a great gas-free stand-in for beans.
Nuts are chock-full of important minerals (copper, manganese, magnesium, selenium, zinc, potassium, and even calcium) and vitamin E, plus they’re easily portable, making them a filling on-the-go snack. Even though they’re high in fat, it’s mainly the good-for-you kind. So in a nutshell, go nuts with nuts (a little if you’re gaining quickly, liberally if you’re gaining slowly).
Tip: Nuts are a versatile super-food — toss them into just about any dish: salads, pasta, meat dishes, baked goods and more.
CARROTS & PEPPERS
Carrots and red peppers are packed with beta-carotene, which the body converts it to vitamin A — critical for the development of your baby’s eyes, skin, bones and organs. They’re also a good source of vitamins B6 and C, plus fiber to keep things movin’. Both are perfect for munching on the go, with or without dip. Carrots also shred neatly into almost anything (from salads to meatloaf to cakes to muffins). And sweet red peppers are perfect in salsa, stir-fries and pasta dishes; or roast (with a little olive oil, garlic, and lemon) and add to sandwiches, salads or antipastos.
Tip: Watch your intake of “preformed” vitamin A. It’s found in some supplements, fortified foods, medications and skin products (look for the word “retinol” on the label as a clue). Unlike beta-carotene, which is completely safe during pregnancy, excessively high levels of preformed A can increase the risk of birth defects.
Good news if your stomach does flips at just the thought of veggies: mangos contain more vitamins A and C bite for delicious bite than a salad. It’s a perfect complement to both sweet and savory dishes. Blend it into smoothies or soups, chop it up in salsas or relishes, simply scoop and enjoy.
Tip: Like bananas, this tropical favorite is also packed with magnesium, which may help relieve a common pregnancy symptom: leg cramps.
OK, it’s not technically a food — but getting enough is just as important to your health as any nutrient. Water has lots of benefits for you and your growing baby: building new cells, delivering nutrients, flushing toxins and more. Water also makes your tummy feel full, so you’re less tempted to reach for chips or cookies, and it can help with constipation during pregnancy. Plus the dangers of dehydration are real: It can up the risk of early labor. So fill up one of those stainless-steel water bottles and take it wherever you go.
Tip: Water from all sources counts (100 percent juice, milk, soup, tea), so don’t stress too much if two quarts a day of plain water is, well, too much to swallow. Focus instead on total fluid intake.
Of course this is just a short list. There are plenty of other nutritious powerhouse foods to choose from — grains of all kinds, seeds, yams and winter squash, apricots, kiwi (one small kiwi contains as much vitamin C as an orange, plus it’s unparalleled for its laxative effects), papaya and much more.
One last word to the wise: How much you eat is as important as what you eat. If you’re starting your pregnancy at a healthy weight, you don’t need any extra calories in the first trimester, only 300 extra calories a day in the second trimester (about a cup of low-fat Greek yogurt and a whole-wheat English muffin), and 500 more in the third trimester. If you’re underweight to begin with, or are carrying multiples, your doctor may suggest you eat a bit more; if you’re overweight, a bit less. Following her recommendations will help keep your pregnancy weight gain on track — which in turn lowers your risk for having a baby who’s too small or too large and reduces your risk for complications like gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.”
FOODS TO AVOID
Okay, so these are what you can and should eat. But what about foods you should avoid? You can’t give in to all your cravings, right? The following article is also a great source for foods to avoid during pregnancy:
“Avoid seafood high in mercury
Seafood can be a great source of protein, and the omega-3 fatty acids in many fish can promote your baby’s brain and eye development. However, some fish and shellfish contain potentially dangerous levels of mercury. Too much mercury could harm your baby’s developing nervous system.
The bigger and older the fish, the more mercury it’s likely to contain. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourage pregnant women to avoid:
So what’s safe? Some types of seafood contain little mercury. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 8 to 12 ounces — two average meals — of seafood a week for pregnant women. Consider:
However, limit albacore tuna and tuna steak to no more than 6 ounces (170 grams) a week. Also, be aware that while canned light tuna on average appears safe, some testing has shown that mercury levels can vary from can to can.
In addition, keep in mind that not all researchers agree with these limits, citing a study that noted no negative effects for women who ate more seafood than the FDA-approved guidelines.
Avoid raw, undercooked or contaminated seafood
To avoid harmful bacteria or viruses in seafood:
Avoid raw fish and shellfish. Examples include sushi, sashimi, and raw oysters, scallops or clams.
Avoid refrigerated, uncooked seafood. Examples include seafood labeled nova style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerky. It’s OK to eat smoked seafood if it’s an ingredient in a casserole or other cooked dish. Canned and shelf-stable versions also are safe.
Understand local fish advisories. If you eat fish from local waters, pay attention to local fish advisories — especially if water pollution is a concern. If advice isn’t available, limit the amount of fish from local waters you eat to 6 ounces (170 grams) a week and don’t eat other fish that week.
Cook seafood properly. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 145 F (63 C). Fish is done when it separates into flakes and appears opaque throughout. Cook shrimp, lobster and scallops until they’re milky white. Cook clams, mussels and oysters until their shells open. Discard any that don’t open.
Avoid undercooked meat, poultry and eggs
During pregnancy, you’re at increased risk of bacterial food poisoning. Your reaction might be more severe than if you weren’t pregnant. Rarely, food poisoning affects the baby, too.
To prevent foodborne illness:
Fully cook all meats and poultry before eating. Use a meat thermometer to make sure.
Cook hot dogs and luncheon meats until they’re steaming hot — or avoid them completely. They can be sources of a rare but potentially serious foodborne illness known as listeriosis.
Avoid refrigerated pates and meat spreads. Canned and shelf-stable versions, however, are OK.
Cook eggs until the egg yolks and whites are firm. Raw eggs can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. Avoid foods made with raw or partially cooked eggs, such as eggnog, raw batter, and freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing.
Avoid unpasteurized foods
Many low-fat dairy products — such as skim milk, mozzarella cheese and cottage cheese — can be a healthy part of your diet. Anything containing unpasteurized milk, however, is a no-no. These products could lead to foodborne illness. Avoid soft cheeses, such as Brie, feta and blue cheese, unless they are clearly labeled as being pasteurized or made with pasteurized milk. Also, avoid drinking unpasteurized juice.
Avoid unwashed fruits and vegetables
To eliminate any harmful bacteria, thoroughly wash all raw fruits and vegetables. Avoid raw sprouts of any kind — including alfalfa, clover, radish and mung bean — which also might contain disease-causing bacteria. Be sure to cook sprouts thoroughly.
Avoid excess caffeine
Caffeine can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s heart rate. While further research is needed, some studies suggest that drinking too much caffeine during pregnancy might be associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.
Because of the potential effects on your developing baby, your health care provider might recommend limiting the amount of caffeine in your diet to less than 200 milligrams a day during pregnancy. For perspective, an 8-ounce (237-milliliter) cup of brewed coffee contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine, an 8-ounce (237-milliliter) cup of brewed tea contains about 47 milligrams and a 12-ounce (355-milliliter) caffeinated cola soft drink contains about 33 milligrams.
Avoid herbal tea
There’s little data on the effects of specific herbs on developing babies. As a result, avoid drinking herbal tea unless your health care provider says it’s OK — even the types of herbal tea marketed specifically to pregnant women.
One drink isn’t likely to hurt your baby, but no level of alcohol has been proved safe during pregnancy. The safest bet is to avoid alcohol entirely.
Consider the risks. Mothers who drink alcohol have a higher risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Too much alcohol during pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause facial deformities, heart defects and mental retardation. Even moderate drinking can impact your baby’s brain development…”