Now that you are eating for two, baby and you, learning to make the right choices for a healthy pregnancy may seem confusing. There is no hidden secret to prenatal nutrition as the basic rules of healthy eating still apply -- consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources and whole-grain foods. However, careful attention should be given to several nutrients whose requirements significantly increase in order to support appropriate fetal growth and development. Here are five strategies for maximizing your intake of essential nutrients during pregnancy:
1) Eat a variety of lean poultry, fish, eggs and nuts. These foods provide protein, which is essential for building new tissue and repairing cells in both you and baby. Additional high-protein sources include low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes such as dried beans and peas. Pregnancy requirement: minimum of 71 grams a day.
2) On a daily basis, try to consume 100 percent fortified whole-grain cereals, dark green vegetables and beans. These foods are rich in B vitamins such as folate (folic acid). Folate is important for the prevention of birth defects (brain and spinal cord), premature birth, low birth weight and poor intrauterine growth. Pregnancy requirement: 600 micrograms a day.
3) Make low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese or milk, salmon and dark leafy greens part of your nutrition routine. These foods are excellent calcium sources in addition to calcium-fortified products, including orange juice and breakfast cereals. Calcium builds strong bones and teeth in your baby, preserves your own bone mass during pregnancy and keeps the circulatory, nervous and muscular systems functioning properly for you both. Pregnancy requirement: at least 1,000 milligrams a day.
4) Include iron-rich foods such as lean beef, poultry, prunes, blackstrap-molasses, spinach and kidney beans in your daily intake. Iron is used to make the carrier protein hemoglobin, which transports oxygen throughout the body. Your blood volume doubles in pregnancy; therefore, iron is critical for the delivery of oxygen to your tissues. Pregnancy requirement: 27 milligrams a day.
5) Do your baby and your body good: water yourself. Water is the body's transportation highway and provides a pathway for nutrient delivery across the placenta to the fetus. So don't forget to drink up! Pregnancy requirement: 3 liters a day.
There are many important things you can do to nurture your unborn child and ensure your own well-being throughout the nine months of pregnancy, in addition to eating a well-balanced diet. Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active not only improves your baby's health but also help lowers your risk of complications during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Sowing the seeds for the lifelong health of your child begins well before birth, so get a head start and eat wisely.