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Cheat Sheet

Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition For Dummies

What you eat and drink throughout your pregnancy is critical to the growth and development of your baby. Healthy food choices, combined with a prenatal vitamin, provide the many critical nutrients your baby needs. (Of course, they help keep you healthy, too!) Making healthy food choices means knowing which foods and beverages to stay away from — or at least reduce your intake of — and which foods are pregnancy nutrition all-stars. It also means snacking wisely.

The Most Important Nutrients during Pregnancy

Some nutrients are more important than others during pregnancy, because they play a vital role in your baby’s development. The following table lists the most essential nutrients for pregnancy, in order of importance. It also clues you in to why each nutrient is so critical, how much of it you need to get per day, and where you can find it in your food.

Nutrient Why It’s So Important Amount Needed Foods That Have It
Folate/folic acid Needed early on to develop neural tube of brain and spinal cord 600 micrograms (mcg) Legumes (beans), leafy greens, asparagus, oranges, strawberries, avocado
Iron Helps form hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood 27 milligrams (mg) Beef, poultry, pork, seafood, enriched grains, blackstrap molasses, legumes (beans)
Calcium Necessary to build bones; also helps maintain healthy blood pressure 1,000 milligrams Milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified foods, green leafy vegetables
Zinc Good for your immunity and for cell growth in your baby 11 milligrams Beef, poultry, pork, seafood, enriched grains, nuts, seeds, peas, legumes (beans)
Choline Assists in the development of baby’s nervous system, brain, and neural tube 450 milligrams Egg yolks, beef, soy, avocado
Vitamin D Helps build bone and protect the immune system 600 international units (IU) Fortified foods, fish, supplement
Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA) Important for healthy brains (DHA) and beneficial for structural cells (EPA) 1,000 milligrams Fatty fish, algae, fortified foods, enriched eggs, supplement
Fiber Helps aid digestion and prevent constipation 28 grams Whole grains, legumes (beans), fruits, vegetables
Protein Provides the amino acids that make up the building blocks of cells 71 grams Beef, poultry, pork, seafood, eggs, dairy, legumes (beans), nuts, seeds

If you find yourself struggling to get the nutrients you and your baby need from your diet alone, consider supplements. A prenatal vitamin provides a lot of the essential nutrients you need. Read the label to see whether it also contains the omega-3 fatty acid DHA; if it doesn’t, take a DHA supplement. Also consider having your doctor check the level of vitamin D in your blood and take a supplement if your levels are low.

Foods and Beverages to Watch Out for during Pregnancy

You may have been told that pregnancy is a time to eat whatever you want, but that’s not entirely true. Not all foods and beverages are safe to consume while pregnant. Some can cause serious infections in you or your baby; others can lead to miscarriage or developmental issues in your child.

The following table shows you which foods to avoid throughout your pregnancy and why. To make your life a little easier, the third column tells you what you can eat in place of the taboo foods.

Foods to Avoid during Pregnancy
Don’t Eat/Drink This Why to Avoid Alternative Strategy
Raw or undercooked meat, fish, or eggs May contain dangerous bacteria Always cook meat to the proper internal temperature. Cook all eggs until they’re no longer runny and bake cookies without licking the spoon.
Alcohol Passes to the fetus and can cause developmental delays or brain damage; can also increase your risk of miscarriage or stillbirth Have a virgin cocktail.
Unpasteurized milk, cheese, juice, or honey May contain dangerous bacteria Always look for the word pasteurized on the label.
Raw sprouts (alfalfa, mung bean, clover) May contain dangerous bacteria because they’re difficult to wash properly Ask for sandwiches and salads without sprouts.
High-mercury fish (shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, albacore tuna) Can cause problems with your baby’s developing nervous system Choose low-mercury fish, such as salmon, shrimp, crab, clams, scallops, catfish, tilapia, pollock, cod, and light tuna, instead.

The following table lists some of the foods you need to be cautious of while pregnant. It also explains why they can be a problem and tells you what to do if you just can’t give them up.

Foods to Be Cautious of during Pregnancy
Use Caution with This Why to Use Caution Alternative Strategy
Deli meats Can contain harmful bacteria that can survive even at refrigerator temperatures Heat deli meats until steaming hot if you choose to eat them.
Liver (beef and chicken) Can contain high levels of vitamin A, which can be toxic to your baby, especially in the first trimester Limit intake and enjoy other meats in place of liver.
Homemade ice cream, custard, eggnog, mousse, meringue, and Caesar dressing May contain raw, unpasteurized eggs Avoid eating it if you don’t know whether raw eggs were used or use pasteurized eggs if you’re making it yourself.
Caffeine Can increase your baby’s heart rate or slow his or her growth Limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200 milligrams per day.

Best Foods to Eat during Pregnancy

Eleven foods win the prize for providing the most pregnancy nutrition. These foods are nutrient-dense, meaning they contain good amounts of several of the most important nutrients you and your growing baby need during pregnancy. Here they are, along with a breakdown of the critical nutrients they offer:

  • Asparagus: Folate, iron, and fiber

  • Avocado: Essential fats, folate, potassium, choline, iron, zinc, and fiber

  • Beef: Iron, zinc, choline, vitamin B12, and protein

  • Berries: Folate, vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber

  • Edamame/soy: Plant-based protein, iron, zinc, folate, choline, and potassium

  • Eggs (with yolk): Protein, choline, vitamin B12, and selenium

  • Greek yogurt: Twice the protein of traditional American-style yogurt, as well as calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12

  • Legumes (beans): Plant-based protein and lots of fiber, folate, potassium, iron, and zinc

  • Milk: Vitamins D and B12, riboflavin, calcium, and protein

  • Quinoa: Protein, folate, potassium, and iron

  • Salmon: Lots of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, along with protein and vitamin B12

Your Go-To Pregnancy Snack List

One of the tricks to good pregnancy nutrition is keeping healthy snacks around. If you do, you’ll be less likely to raid the vending machine at work or tear open that bag of potato chips in the pantry. Plus, you’ll be less likely to experience that all-too-familiar nausea that occurs when you don’t have enough food in your stomach. Following is a go-to list of pregnancy snacks to help you get your stockpile started. Try to eat just 100 to 150 calories of any of these snacks in a single sitting.

  • Cereal or oatmeal

  • Chocolate (either milk or dark)

  • Fresh, dried, canned, or jarred fruit

  • Freshly sliced veggies and hummus

  • Lowfat cheese, cottage cheese, or string cheese

  • Lowfat Greek yogurt

  • Nutrition bars (such as KIND, SOYJOY, Belly Bars, Clif, Zone, or Pria)

  • Nuts or nut butters (such as peanut, almond, or soy)

  • Salads (made with washed raw veggies, beans, and low-calorie dressing)

  • Smoothies

  • Trail mix

  • Whole-grain snacks (such as popcorn or SunChips)

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