Want to eat a healthy pregnancy diet — but not sure where to start? Here are a few pointers to help better nourish you and your baby when you’re expecting:
EVERY BITE COUNTS.
Chew on this: Each moment of your pregnancy is an opportunity to feed your baby well before he or she is even born. So open wide, but try to make each bite count (at least most of the time) by choosing it with your baby in mind.
ALL CALORIES ARE NOT EQUAL.
Select quality over quantity when you can. It may seem obvious — and inherently unfair — but those 200 calories in a doughnut are not equal to the 200 calories in a whole-grain raisin bran muffin. But your baby will benefit a lot more from 2,000 nutrient-rich calories than 2,000 mostly empty ones.
BABY EATS ONLY WHEN YOU DO.
A fetus needs regular nourishment at regular intervals — and only you can provide it. Even if you’re not hungry, your baby is. So try not to skip meals (unless, of course, you simply can’t stomach food because you’ve got a bad case of morning sickness), and eat frequently. Research shows that mothers who eat at least five times a day (three meals plus two snacks, or six mini-meals) are more likely to carry to term.
EFFICIENCY IS EFFECTIVE.
Get more nutritional bang for your buck by choosing foods that are lightweights when it comes to calories, heavy hitters when it comes to nutrition. Because fat has more than twice as many calories per gram as either proteins or carbs, opting often for lower-fat foods will step up your nutritional efficiency. So choose lean meats over fatty ones, grilled or broiled foods over fried. Spread butter and use salad dressings sparingly. If you’re having trouble gaining enough weight, choose foods that are dense in nutrients and calories — avocados, nuts and dried fruits.
CHOOSE COMPLEX CARBS.
If you’re tempted to drop carbs from your diet to avoid gaining too much weight during pregnancy, don’t: Unrefined carbs (like whole-grain bread and cereals, brown rice, fresh fruits and veggies, beans and peas) supply essential B vitamins, trace minerals, protein and fibre. They’re good for baby and you (helping keep nausea and constipation in check). And because they’re filling and fibre-rich, they’ll help keep your weight gain in check, too: Research suggests eating plenty of fibre may reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes. Just drop the refined carbs (white bread, crackers and pretzels; white rice; refined cereals, snacks and cookies), which are nutritional slackers.
SKIP THE SWEET NOTHINGS.
Sugar calories, sadly, are empty calories. And though they’re fine once in a while, they tend to add up a lot quicker than you think, leaving less room for nutritionally substantive calories. What’s more, studies have suggested that in addition to contributing to obesity, heavy sugar consumption may be linked to tooth decay, diabetes and heart disease, among other diseases. Refined sugar goes by many names, including corn syrup and dehydrated cane juice. For delicious and nutritious sweetness, substitute fruit, dried fruit and fruit juice concentrate for sugar when you can. Besides being sweet, they contain vitamins, trace minerals and valuable phytochemicals (plant chemicals that help the body defend itself against disease and ageing).
BUY FRESH, NOT PROCESSED.
It’s not surprising that the most nutritious foods haven’t strayed far from their natural state. Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits when they’re in season (but canned and frozen are fine too when fresh ones aren’t available — just look for those without added sugar, salt or fat). And try to avoid processed foods; not only have they usually picked up a lot of chemicals, fat, sugar and salt on the assembly line, but they’re frequently low in nutrients.
It isn’t easy to eat healthy when your partner is right next to you on the sofa diving head-first into a pint of ice cream. So enlist the whole family in making your home a healthy food zone. Make whole wheat your house bread, stock your freezer with frozen yoghurt, and fill your fridge with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies.
DITCH THE GUILT.
Willpower has its place, especially when you’re eating for two. Still, everyone needs to give in to temptation now and then without feeling guilty about it. So make an effort to eat healthy most of the time — but hold the deprivation and allow yourself a treat every once in a while. Something that doesn’t add appreciably to your bottom line but makes your taste buds jump for joy: a double scoop of cookies-and-cream, a fast food burger you’ve been craving like crazy. And serve it up without a side of remorse. Just try to pump it up: Add a slice of banana and nuts to your ice cream sundae, or order your burger with tomato and a side salad. Just remember to watch your portions, and stop before you get too carried away.