All your life, you’ve been eating for energy or weight loss or (let’s be honest) for fun. Then one day, you’re pregnant, and now everything you eat influences your health and safety as well as your baby’s development. The responsibility of eating well can seem like a lot. Don’t worry. We’re going to give you clear and essential guidelines for a healthy pregnancy diet plan.
But before we dive into the details, let’s discuss the three main principles that should guide your wellness choices all pregnancy long.
First, always make sure you’re getting the calories you need to maintain healthy body weight. If you don’t get enough calories, you won’t have enough energy to sustain your lifestyle and promote proper development for your baby. You’ll learn how many calories you need as you read on.
Second, listen to your body. Those pregnancy cravings may be strange, but they’re not crazy. If you’re craving sugar, you probably have a caloric deficit. If you’re craving something salty, you likely have a mineral deficiency. Pay attention when your body tells you what it wants.
Finally, do your best to minimize stress. Your stress levels are more powerfully related to a healthy pregnancy diet than you may realize. Your body wants to preserve itself as well as protect the baby, and it won’t get pregnant if it is stressed. You may be under stress because you bit off more than you could chew at work, but your body thinks you’re fleeing a predator. Most people actually undereat or eat very irregularly (starve all day and then binge at night), which can make your body feel like it is not getting a steady energy supply of food and that you are experiencing a famine. Cortisol levels increase, progesterone decreases, and your developing baby doesn’t get the support it needs.
Beyond these three essential principles, here are your guidelines for a healthy diet throughout pregnancy.
Preconception: Increase Zinc and Saturated Fats, Eliminate Sugars and Gluten
When it comes to pregnancy nutrition, preconception almost never gets the attention it deserves. Unless there are fertility challenges, women and their physicians tend to focus on what an expecting mother should consume to support an existing zygote.
Here’s the problem with that. Most women don’t even realize they’re pregnant until about eight weeks in. As a result, the mother-to-be misses out on the opportunity to fully support her baby in the very first stage of development.
Now, if your pregnancy is unexpected, don’t stress. Just start a healthy pregnancy diet as soon as you can. But if you are planning to conceive, start making nutritional changes today.
In preconception, these foods and nutrients should be your top priorities:
- Zinc and trace minerals. As you prepare for conception, you want to build up stores of minerals in your marrow.
- Saturated fats. Find the fats you need in butter, ghee, cream, eggs, coconut oil, and palm oil.
- Animal proteins. When choosing cuts of meat, remember to go for those saturated fats. Select chicken thighs, ribeye, and other fatty cuts.
- Remove refined sugars and gluten from your diet. Refined sugars show up frequently in processed foods. Gluten is present in wheat, barley, and rye.
It is also important that you maintain the right number of calories to maintain a healthy body fat percentage in preconception. To find the best caloric intake for your individual metabolism, talk with your nutritional counselor. But to give you a guideline, the average non-pregnant person can calculate their ideal daily caloric intake with this formula:
Current Body Weight / 2.2 x 24 = Basal Metabolic Rate
Basal Metabolic Rate x 1.2 = Active Basal Metabolic Rate or Daily Calories
Your Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of calories you burn while doing absolutely nothing in a day. The Active Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of calories you burn in your regular day (without exercise) and should be your daily caloric intake.
Healthy Pregnancy Diet for the First Trimester
First things first: once you become pregnant, you need more calories. For the rest of your pregnancy, the formula for ideal caloric intake turns into this:
Daily Calories x 1.3 = Pregnancy Calories
Again, that’s just on average. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist.
As for what specific foods you should eat, the first trimester kicks off a new diet plan that more or less remains the same for the remainder of your pregnancy. You’ll have a few new nutritional guidelines in the second and third trimesters. But plan on sticking to this dietary plan for your entire pregnancy:
- Load up on fruits and vegetables.
- Limit Vitamin A intake. Vitamin A has been linked to birth defects.
- Maintain essential nutrients and minerals through diet and supplements. In pregnancy, iron, B12, B9, folic acid, and zinc are especially important. Pink Himalayan salt is a stellar source for minerals.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a nutrient blocker, and its greatest threat to a healthy pregnancy is that it prevents your body from absorbing zinc. Your developing zygote is made primarily of zinc. You need to keep those stores up.
- Choose fatty fish high in DHA. Fish such as Atlantic fresh wild-caught salmon supply healthy protein, essential fats, and DHA for brain development.
- Avoid fish that are high in mercury. Deep-sea fish such as tuna tend to have exceptionally high mercury content.
- For starchy carbs, select single-ingredient dishes like quinoa, beans, yams, lentils, and rice.
- Eat fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and non-dairy kefir to maintain healthy gut flora.
Now that you know what to eat in your first trimester, let’s cover how and when to eat.
Balance is Everything
Now and through the end of your pregnancy, balance is everything. Make sure you’re consuming a diversity of foods covering all food groups. For every meal, your plate should be an equal balance of proteins, veggies, and starches. And be sure you switch out which proteins, veggies, and starches you eat for each meal.
Balance and variety are so important for a healthy pregnancy because your body needs a wide range of vitamins and antioxidants. It’s also critical that you maintain a healthy blood sugar balance as your baby develops. To do this, eat consistently throughout the day. Shoot for three main meals and three snacks. If you eat three big meals with several hours between each one, you increase the risk of yo-yo-ing blood sugar, which places your body in a stressed state.
Healthy Pregnancy Diet for the Second Trimester: Add Raw Dairy
All the rules of a healthy diet in your first trimester still apply in your second trimester. So keep doing what you’re doing . . . just add raw dairy.
This is, admittedly, a controversial suggestion. But the benefits of raw dairy for you and your baby are exceptional.
Raw dairy helps produce prolactin, which stimulates milk production and enzymes for the baby. This is also the time when your child’s skeleton is forming. By consuming more dairy, you provide your developing baby with the calcium needed for skeletal growth. But to get the full benefits of milk’s many proteins, vitamins, and minerals, you have to go raw.
Third Trimester: Emphasize Iron-Rich Foods
Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor will check to ensure your iron levels are high. But iron is especially important during your third trimester. This is the time to really load up on those iron-rich foods. These include:
- Dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Brussels sprouts
- Beans and lentils
- Fish (remember to stick with fatty fish and avoid high levels of mercury)
Cycle through a variety of foods like these, and you’ll be safe from iron deficiency or iron depletion.
A healthy pregnancy diet plan is all well and good when you’re game for a good meal. But what about those waves of nausea that make the very thought of eating intolerable?
First, here are foods that can help you combat morning sickness:
- Citrus fruits
- Apple cider vinegar
- Peppermint essential oil (Yes, you can ingest it! They are highly concentrated, so just a few drops in water will do.)
Many women also find relief by rubbing a drop of citrus essential oils into their palms and holding their hands over their nose. (Do not ingest citrus essential oils.)
And keep hydrochloric acid supplements on hand. Nausea occurs due to low stomach acid. Hydrochloric acid helps you increase your stomach acid, which should reduce nausea.
Now, how do you maintain a healthy pregnancy diet when you can’t stomach the thought of eating? Your best bet is juicing. To get the nutrition you need and soothe your stomach, try a blend of these ingredients:
- Fresh greens
- One fruit
- Cayenne pepper
- Protein powder—Stick to bovine based collagen peptides or plant-based proteins like pea or hemp.
Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is one of the most important things you will ever do for your child. If you could use any assistance finding the perfect diet for your unique metabolism and needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Ph2 Nutrition.