Healthy Eating During Pregnancy

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    Written by Pat MacIntosh

    Pregnancy is a very exciting time but it can also be time of uncertainty. How do you have the healthiest baby possible? In addition to regular prenatal care with your doctor, healthy eating plays a very important role in a healthy pregnancy.

    During your first trimester, you do not need to eat extra food. During your second and third trimesters you need about 350 – 450 extra calories each day. This is about two to three extra Canada’s Food Guide servings each day. A daily snack such as a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and a glass of milk or a bowl of cereal and a piece of fruit will help you get the extra calories and you need.

    Your body also needs extra nutrients for you and your growing baby. Try to choose healthy foods from all four food groups most of the time. Here are some important vitamins and minerals during pregnancy:  

    1. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in your baby. Folic acid is found in whole grains, leafy green vegetables, legumes, citrus fruit, and most cereals.
    2. Iron is needed to make blood and muscles, for brain development and for building up baby’s iron stores before birth.  A woman’s iron needs are very high in pregnancy. Foods such as meat and meat alternatives (beans, lentils) and whole grain and enriched cereals contain iron.
    3. Vitamin C helps you absorb iron. Most vegetables and fruit are high in vitamin C so be sure to include a serving at each meal. Great options are strawberries, cantaloupe or oranges with your toast or cereal; or red peppers and tomato based meat sauce with your pasta.
    4. Calcium keeps your bones strong and helps your baby build strong bones and teeth. Best sources of calcium are milk or soy beverage, yogurt, cheese, and salmon or sardines with the bones.
    5. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium.  Drink at least two cups of milk or soy beverage each day which is fortified with vitamin D. Try using milk or soy beverage in smoothies, soups, or lattes.
    6. Omega 3 fatty acids help with baby’s brain and eye development. Eat at least two food guide servings of fish such as salmon, canned light tuna, mackerel, or Pollock each week.  One serving is 75 grams or 3 ounces.

    In addition to healthy eating, pregnant women need to take a daily prenatal supplement containing folic acid (0.4 mg or 400 mcg), vitamin B12, iron (16-20 mg), and vitamin D (400 IU) to help meet their vitamin and mineral needs. All women of child bearing age should be taking a folic acid and vitamin D supplements, even when not pregnant.

    Pregnant women and their unborn baby are at higher risk of food-borne illness. To decrease risk of food-borne illness:

    • Avoid raw meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
    • Heat ready-to-eat meats such as hot dogs and sandwich meat until steaming before eating
    • Avoid soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and feta.
    • Wash all raw fruit and vegetables well.  Avoid raw sprouts.

    To learn more about healthy eating during pregnancy register for a free prenatal nutrition class at 403-502-8215. Classes are held monthly at Community Health Services. Other topics covered in the prenatal nutrition class include caffeine, herbal teas, fibre, healthy pregnancy weight gain and dealing with nausea, vomiting, heartburn or constipation. If you have specific nutrition concerns, you can also call the outpatient dietitian at 403-528-5628.

    Pat MacIntosh is a Registered Dietitian with Alberta Health Services, Nutrition Services. She can be reached by e-mail, [email protected]

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