The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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You just found out you’re pregnant. What is it you’re supposed to do again ... eat more meat? Stop drinking coffee? Good nutrition is critical during pregnancy, but myths abound concerning what is safe and what isn’t. Here are some common misconceptions and the facts about what you should and shouldn’t eat during the next nine months.
I need more calcium during pregnancy.
Not true. In 1997, the Institute of Medicine published new dietary recommendations for calcium, which were the same for pregnant and nonpregnant women: 1,000 milligrams for ages 19 through 50 (1,300 milligrams through age 18). Based on an extensive review of calcium research, the institute determined that because calcium absorption actually improves during pregnancy, there was no need to recommend additional calcium.
“You may still have to up your calcium intake since so many women fall short of that 1,000-milligram recommendation,” points out Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., author of Pregnancy Nutrition: Good Health for You and Your Baby (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1998) and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. And don’t rely on your prenatal multivitamin, which usually has very little calcium. The best sources of calcium are yogurt, milk, cheese (avoid soft and unpasteurized types, such as brie, feta, camembert and Mexican varieties), calcium-fortified orange juice and tofu made with calcium salts.
Pregnant women need to eat meat.
Not necessarily. Meat is rich in iron and zinc, two minerals that you need more of when you’re pregnant. In fact, your iron requirement doubles in pregnancy. But you’re likely to be getting extra iron and zinc in your prenatal vitamin, so eating meat is not essential. A carefully planned vegetarian diet with foods like legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas), soy foods, dairy products and eggs can supply more than enough protein and other essential nutrients. Prenatal vitamins are especially important for vegetarians, whose diets may be lacking in key pregnancy nutrients.
Pregnancy, however, is not the best time to switch to a vegetarian diet, advises Roberta Duyff, R.D., author of the ADA’s Complete Food & Nutrition Guide (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1998). “There’s a lot to learn about putting together a nutritionally balanced vegetarian diet,” she says. “Pregnancy can be a busy time, without having to learn an entirely new way of eating.”