Super Foods + Smart Advice = The Best Prenatal Diet

Learn these food "equations" and apply them to your prenatal diet to keep you and your baby healthy.

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With all there is to learn about being pregnant, it can sometimes feel like an enormous puzzle with a lot of missing pieces. Along the way, your doctor, friends, books and articles help fill in the gaps.

Nutrition during pregnancy is an important part of the puzzle, and thinking about the nutrients you need and the benefits they provide in pictures rather than in words may help you remember them better (and it's a lot more fun than trying to memorize a bunch of nutrition rules).

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Strong Baby Bones

Dairy Foods + Canned Sardines/Salmon = Strong Baby Bones

You need 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day to build your baby's teeth and bones. Not getting enough could harm you, too. "Inadequate calcium intake may cause bone loss and tooth damage in mothers," warns OB-GYN Sharon Sutherland, M.D., an assistant professor at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

That's because your body drains calcium from your bones to strengthen the baby's, which could lead to osteoporosis as you get older (see "Osteoporosis Prevention").

MORE CALCIUM SOURCES: Fortified cereals, breads, oatmeal and orange juice; collard greens.

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Morning Sickness Relief

Dry Toast + Apple + Ginger Tea = Morning Sickness Relief

Morning sickness affects every woman differently, and no one food or treatment will help universally, says Heather Blazier, R.D., L.D., a clinical dietitian at Tuomey Healthcare System in Sumter, S.C.

Keep some soda crackers by your bedside and take a few bites before you get up. Eating bland foods at regular intervals—every three hours—will keep your blood-sugar levels stable, which in turn helps prevent queasiness. Plain rice, mashed potatoes, dry cereal or yogurt are all good options.

MORE MORNING SICKNESS RELIEVERS:Mint; watermelon or other non-citrus fruit.

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Cell Growth and Repair

Chicken + Yogurt + Nuts = Cell Growth and Repair

Protein-rich foods are vital for your tissue growth as well as your baby's. "Protein intake during pregnancy needs to meet the requirement for growth of the placenta, breasts, uterus and the mother's expanded blood volume," says Mark Dykowski, M.D., an OB- GYN at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. And protein helps repair the cells that are stressed by the changes brought on by pregnancy.

MORE PROTEIN SOURCES: Beans; eggs; low-mercury fish; lean cuts of beef, pork and lamb; seafood; dairy foods; peanut butter.

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Baby Brain Boost

Fish + Olive Oil + Avocados = Baby Brain Boost

Your daily calorie intake should consist of 25 percent to 30 percent healthy fats, which are important for your baby's brain and vision. "Dietary fat is one of the basic building blocks in the formation of fetal cells," says Blazier. "The fat in fish has been found to aid the development of your baby's brain tissue and central nervous system."

This brain-building fat is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found mainly in cold-water fish. To avoid mercury and other contaminants, choose wild Pacific salmon, mussels and other safe varieties. For more information, click here.

MORE DHA SOURCES: Canola or flax oil, nuts and seeds, tofu.

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Prevent Birth Defects

Lentils + Fortified Grain Foods = Birth Defect Prevention

Folate, a B vitamin found in certain foods, and folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) help reduce the risk of neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida. Getting at least 400 micrograms daily of folate or folic acid (found in supplements and enriched grain products, such as cereals, pasta and white rice) before and during pregnancy can reduce neural-tube defects by up to 70 percent.

Because birth defects of the brain and spine occur in the first few weeks of pregnancy, usually before a woman even knows she is pregnant, it's important to start getting the recommended daily amount as early as possible, ideally before conceiving. If you are already expecting, the recommended amount increases to 600 micrograms daily. You'll likely need a folic acid supplement if your diet and prenatal vitamin do not supply all you need, but consult with your doctor before taking one.

MORE FOLATE SOURCES: Dark-green leafy vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, green peas, oranges, melons, chickpeas, spinach.

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Preterm Delivery Prevention

Strawberries + Red Peppers + Cantaloupe = Preterm Delivery Prevention

Adequate vitamin C intake (at least 80 milligrams a day) may help you avoid preterm delivery. That's because vitamin C aids in strengthening your body's membranes, including the amniotic membranes—if these rupture, preterm delivery can result.

Foods rich in vitamin C also enhance absorption of iron; this mineral is essential for the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. "Eating vitamin C foods with vegetable sources of iron will help the iron get absorbed into your body," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., L.D., a Chicago-based American Dietetic Association spokeswoman.

MORE VITAMIN C SOURCES: Broccoli, citrus fruits and juices, mangoes, tomatoes.

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Red Blood Cell Production

Lean Red Meats + Spinach = Red Blood Cell Production

During pregnancy, the recommended amount of iron almost doubles, to 27 milligrams a day, and a deficiency could lead to anemia. The primary job of iron is to produce hemoglobin in red blood cells; it's what carries the oxygen to your tissues and to the fetus.

You also need vitamins B 6 and B12 (both found in many protein foods) to aid this blood-volume increase, as well as to maintain healthy brain and nerve function. "These vitamins help the baby and mother use protein, carbohydrates and fats for energy and for building baby's tissues," adds Sutherland.

MORE IRON SOURCES: Green leafy vegetables (such as kale and turnip greens), liver, molasses, canned oysters.

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Regularity

Whole Grains + H2O = Regularity

The iron in your prenatal vitamin—as well as pregnancy itself—can lead to constipation.

You'll need about 25 to 35 grams of fiber in your diet every day. Try to get about 10 grams each at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and remember to drink water throughout the day, too; consuming fiber without fluids won't get things moving as quickly as they should.

MORE FIBER SOURCES: Beans, fruits, vegetables.

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Muscle and Organ Development

Eggs + Beans + Lean Beef = Muscle and Organ Development

Protein is the building block of human tissue, and you need 60 to 70 grams of it daily when you're pregnant. "Protein provides amino acids that join to form the baby's muscles and organs," Sutherland says. Protein-rich foods are especially important in the last trimester to help maximize fetal growth. Bonus: Most protein sources also are high in iron and zinc.

MORE PROTEIN SOURCES: Lean cuts of pork and lamb; dairy foods; legumes; low-mercury fish; poultry; peanut butter.

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Osteoporosis Prevention

Fortified milk + sunshine = Osteoporosis Prevention

"If you don't consume enough calcium, your baby is going to leach it from your bones," says Blatner. This can lead to reduced bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue, which increases your susceptibility to fractures as you age.

In addition to 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, you also need an adequate intake of vitamin D, about 200 international units (IU). "You can't absorb calcium without vitamin D," explains Blatner. To get enough, make sure the milk you buy is vitamin D-enriched, and try to get 15 minutes or so of sun exposure every day.

MORE VITAMIN D SOURCES: Cod liver oil, egg yolks, fatty cold-water fish such as wild Pacific salmon, sardines and herring.

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