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What Are the Best Foods to Eat During Pregnancy?

written by: TheresaHalvorsen • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 10/5/2010

Every pregnant women knows that she can't diet during her pregnancy. But how many calories during pregnancy is right? And what are the best foods to eat during pregnancy? And are there foods like feta cheese and fish high in mercury that she's supposed to avoid?

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    Calories During Pregnancy

    Pregnancy is not the time to diet, but it's also not the time to "eat for two". Weight gain during pregnancy needs to be slow and steady and most women only need an extra 300 calories during pregnancy a day. Of course if you're over or underweight, your care provider may have a different recommendation--but in general, you can expect to need an extra 300 calories a day.

    These extra calories will help you gain about 25-35 pounds over the course of your pregnancy. That sounds like a lot of weight, but when you take in consideration that the baby will weigh 7-8 pounds, you can see how important it is to eat the proper amount of food and not diet.

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    Increase your Bread and Grains

    Pregnant women should aim to have about 6 to 8 eight ounces (one ounce equals one piece of bread) of grain sources a day. Grains provide fiber and are high in iron and B vitamins. Ideally pregnant women should aim to eat whole grains over other types of grains.

    Rather than snacking on ice cream, try a high fiber cereal in milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon for a healthy alternative.

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    Dairy & Calcium

    It's important that pregnant women get about 3 cups of dairy a day. Not only does dairy contain calcium, which pregnant women do need, but it also contains protein and Vitamins A, B-12 and D. Good sources of dairy include milk and milk substitutes, pasteurized cheeses and yogurt. If you can't drink milk or don't like it, try soy milk or speak to your care provider about an additional source of calcium. They may suggest calcium fortified orange juice, for example.

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    Increase Fruit and Vegetable Intake

    It's very important pregnant women increase their fruits and vegetables to four and a half cups a day. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, Vitamins A and C and folic acid. Ideally, you should be getting about 2 cups of fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin A and 2 cups high in Vitamin C. The other half cup should be your favorite fruit and vegetable.

    Fruits and vegetables high in vitamin A include tomatoes, peaches, oranges, kiwi, peas, broccoli, spinach and carrots.

    Fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, bananas, apples, peas, potatoes, spinach, squash and carrots.

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    Protein Sources Safe to Eat During Pregnancy

    Pregnant women need not only carbohydrates, but also protein. Meat and meat substitutes give pregnant women protein, iron, B Vitamins and folic acid. Almost any lean protein (including most sources of fish) is safe to eat during pregnancy. If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, speak to your care provider for a diet tailored to your needs.

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    Foods to Stay Away From in Pregnancy

    While most foods are very safe to eat during pregnancy, not all of them all and other foods need precautions to be taken. Pregnant women need to avoid unpasteurized foods including soft cheeses (such as feta cheese), queso fresco, refrigerated meat spreads, refrigerated smoked fish and other raw foods including sushi.

    Pregnant women should also stay away from shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel, as these fish contain high amounts of methyl mercury. For more information about eating fish during pregnancy see Fish and Pregnancy: What is Safe?