A pregnant woman should consume a well-balanced diet during pregnancy for the health of both herself and her baby. In general, most pregnant women are told to increase their caloric intake by at least 300 additional calories per day. Although prenatal vitamins and supplements may help a woman consume daily recommended dosage of certain vitamins and minerals, the best way to retain these vitamins and minerals is through eating a wide variety of foods and drinks.
The diet during pregnancy is quite similar to the recommended diet for non-pregnant individuals. For example, the diet during pregnancy includes eating six to 11 servings of grains or bread, four servings of fruit, at least four servings of vegetables, three servings of meat, fish or eggs, and four servings of dairy. The goal is to eat a wide variety of foods and thereby ingest a wide arrange of vitamins and minerals.
In many cases, a woman’s diet during pregnancy entails consuming more foods and drinks with calcium. The baby needs calcium to grow her bones and muscles, and if a woman does not consume enough calcium, the baby will use the calcium from the mother’s bones, which can lead to osteoporosis or brittle bones. For example, a pregnant woman should consume approximately 1,300 mg of calcium each day. There is about 300 mg of calcium in 1 cup (236.6 ml) of whole milk, meaning that a woman would need to consume about 4 cups (946.4 ml) of milk each day to reach the daily recommended dosage of calcium. Calcium can also be found in other dairy sources, such as cheese and yogurt, green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, and certain beans and seafood.
A few other changes for a woman’s diet during pregnancy include additional iron and folic acid. Iron is used to help the muscles function and fight stress and illness. Folic acid is useful to prevent spina bifida and other birth defects. In most cases, iron should be increased in the diet during pregnancy to 30 mg and folic acid should be increased to 1,000 mcg per day. Sources of iron include meat, egg yolks, oysters, lentils, spinach, berry, grapes, watermelon, and peanuts. Although folic acid occurs naturally in green leafy vegetables, it is best to consume a folic acid supplement that will be easily absorbed by the body.
Many women are told to consume plenty of vitamin C for their diet during pregnancy as well. Vitamin C can be found in oranges, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, and grapefruit. Although vitamin A is encouraged, it should only be consumed in small doses. An excess of vitamin A may lead to birth defects and can be toxic. The diet during pregnancy also includes substances that should be avoided, such as excess sugar, alcohol, unprocessed cheeses, raw fish, saccharin, deli meats, and cooked fish with high mercury levels, such as tuna, shark, tilefish, and swordfish.