The Basics of Eating for a Healthy Pregnancy
Although diet is incredibly important during the entire pregnancy, the first three months are a crucial time to provide a growing fetus with proper nutrition. With cells quickly replicating and neurons rapidly forming, every day is an opportunity to nourish and enhance the well-being of both mother and child, and to reduce the risk of miscarriage, birth defects, and a troubled pregnancy. What to eat during the first trimester of pregnancy? A first trimester diet includes a balance of all the food groups, with a focus on healthy protein, calcium, folic acid, iron, and omega fatty acid sources.
Unlike the second and third trimester, for the first trimester there is not a huge requirement for extra calories. After the first three months, the standard recommendation is an additional three hundred calories per day; but towards the beginning, the focus should be on quality, not extra quantity. On the other hand, when choosing what to eat during the entire pregnancy, never restrict healthy food intake for the sake of keeping your weight down. You do need fat, even some saturated fat, as well as protein, and carbohydrates. Also, drink plenty of water, and take a pre-natal vitamin.
Healthy Foods for Pregnant Women
The diet in early pregnancy should include about seventy-five grams of protein per day. This means about three servings of protein-rich foods, such as three to four ounce servings of fish, meat, poultry, tofu, nuts, or cheese, two cups of yogurt, half a cup of quinoa, two cups of oatmeal, four eggs, one cup of beans, three tablespoons of peanut butter, or a large glass of milk or soymilk. Many of these protein sources also supply iron.
Calcium is another important nutrient. Fortunately, the protein-rich dairy foods are also all great sources of calcium, as well as soy, green leafy vegetables, almonds, and figs. In the first trimester diet, four servings of calcium should be consumed every day.
Folic acid is an essential nutrient during early pregnancy. It plays a crucial role in DNA development, cell growth, and tissue formation, and is specifically linked with the prevention of neural tube defects. Plenty of folic acid-rich foods should be eaten during the first trimester, and before conception if possible. Green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, beans, avocados, peanuts, and wheat germ are all good sources of folic acid and should be a regular part of the first trimester diet.
For healthy brain development plenty of omega fatty acids are also needed, which are found in fish, especially salmon and tuna, walnuts, beans, flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, and green leafy vegetables. These foods are more important later in the pregnancy, but it is still helpful to include them in the first trimester diet. Be sure as well to eat three servings of vitamin C rich foods (citrus, strawberries, kiwi, green vegetables), three servings of carotene-rich foods (yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, as well as the green leafy vegetables), six servings of whole grains, and plenty of vitamin D fortified milk or soymilk for a high-quality first trimester diet.
What to Avoid
Understanding what to eat is the first step; knowing what shouldn’t be eaten is the next. Everything the mother ingests, the child processes as well. Toxins such as alcohol, tobacco, and any drugs should be altogether avoided. Coffee and caffeinated teas shouldn’t be consumed, although there are healthy substitutes such as mineral-rich red raspberry leaf tea. Luncheon meats, hot dogs, and bacon, predatory fish, raw fish or meat, unpasteurized cheeses and juices, or anything prepared in a questionable setting should not be eaten. All of these foods contain, or potentially contain substances which may be harmful to a growing fetus, such as nitrates, mercury, or simply bacteria that only developed digestive systems can handle.
Sugar, fried, and processed foods should be minimized in the first trimester diet. Anything that isn’t rich in nutrients, protein, or fatty acids is taking the place of something that is beneficial. It is nearly impossible to meat daily nutrition requirements for the first trimester diet when including a side of french fries or a scoop of rocky road ice cream.
It is difficult to remember what to eat during the first trimester of pregnancy with all of the endless restrictions, and more nutrition requirements than can possibly be met, and all of this during the time when nausea is a part of every day life. The key is to keep the guidelines of a healthy first trimester diet in mind, and do your best. Form good habits, such as eating a green salad every day, snacking on almonds and figs, eating frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, and nibbling on fruit throughout the day to prevent sugar cravings. Always talk to your health care practitioner about questions you may have, and goals for your health. Before you know it, you will have reached them.
Murkoff, Heidi, Eisenberg, Arlene, and Hathaway, Sandee. "What to Expect When You’re Expecting." (Workman Publishing, 2002).
photo credit: Arwen Abendstern
photo credit: Eseering