These pregnancy-friendly foods offer big nutritional bang for each bite — 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.
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 to forming 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.
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.
4. Wild Salmon
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). Opt for wild salmon, sardines, herring and farmed oysters, which are all high in omega 3s and safe for pregnancy.
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.
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.
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).
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