3. Chew The [Healthful] Fat
Obviously, we're not referring to the saturated and trans fats found in most snack foods (such as cookies, chips and pre-made snack cakes); those fats pack on pounds without providing any healthful nutrients. We mean the heart-healthy monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts and avocados, and especially the omega-3 fats in fish and flaxseed. By consuming these fats (which offer multiple health benefits) in moderation and eating fewer high-calorie foods that contain saturated and trans fats, you can keep your weight within a healthy range.
"Pregnant women need quality fats," says Karen Brewton, RD, LD, a dietitian who specializes in women's health and nutrition at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. "Spread some peanut butter on crackers, throw a handful of nuts into a bag of dried cranberries, and eat low-mercury fish two or three times a week."
In fact, you should aim for at least 300 milligrams a day of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (a polyunsaturated fat found in fatty fish such as salmon and in fish oil supplements); research has shown that omega-3s are critical to the health and development of the fetal nervous system, heart, eyes and brain. A recent study in the Lancet found that children whose mothers had eaten more than 340 grams (12 ounces) of seafood weekly during pregnancy did significantly better at meeting communication, social-development and fine-motor-skill milestones than those whose mothers ate less. (For more information on safe seafood sources of omega-3s during pregnancy, see "Tell Me What to Eat" )
4. Eat Smart Snacks
Pregnant women tend to feel famished—often. Snacking is the bridge that will carry you over from one meal to the next and keep your energy up. "It's extremely important to spread your calories throughout the day so you never get overwhelmingly hungry," Brewton says. "Later in pregnancy, when there's not much room in there, you'll need to eat smaller meals more frequently."
But it's easy to overdo it, so choosing healthful snacks and watching portion sizes are key to avoiding excess weight gain. Experts advise eating every three to four hours and following a schedule that looks something like this:
7-8 A.M. Breakfast 3/4 cup high-fiber cereal topped with fresh mixed berries and low-fat milk
10 A.M. Snack Example: yogurt, fruit or a Kashi GoLean bar, which packs 6 grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein [Editor's Note: We also like the Bellybar, which packs 2 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein for a mere 170 calories]
12:30-1 P.M. Lunch A turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread, raw vegetables, fresh fruit and low-fat milk
3:30-4 P.M. Snack Example: string cheese with whole-grain pretzels or a handful of dried fruit and nuts
6-7 P.M. Dinner Cheese, black bean, and vegetable pita and low-fat milk
9 P.M. Pre-Bedtime Mini-Snack Example: fruit with peanut butter or 1/2 cup low-fat vanilla ice cream with 1 tablespoon dried cherries or cranberries
For more quick, healthful pregnancy recipes, snack suggestions and five-day meal plans, check out our recipe finder at fitpregnancy.com/recipes.