Living Well: Pregnant? Hungry? Nutritional dos and don’ts during pregnancy

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So, you are eating for two. Congratulations! It’s exciting but also a huge responsibility: What you put in your mouth is helping form the baby that’s growing inside you. The food you eat literally is becoming part of his or her growing and dividing cells. Whoa. Before you get too wigged out, know this: If you eat a healthy diet, your baby will grow just fine. Here are some tips to consider on eating well during pregnancy.

To start, establish some eating ground rules. Avoid so-called “empty calorie” foods. You know the ones: processed, high in sugar, packaged and designed to delight your taste buds rather than help the baby grow. Rather, choose foods that are close to their natural state — whole fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts and seeds. If it grows, it’s a good choice. When buying packaged foods, look for those with five ingredients or fewer with names you can recognize.

“One of my mottos is, ‘Eat healthy when you are pregnant, eat healthy when you’re not.’ I advise my pregnant patients to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and to get a well-rounded diet of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Anything fresh is by far better than anything processed or frozen. And as always, avoid fast food and candy,” said Dr. James Summers, D.O., M.S., FACOG.

Another important tip is to drink water — lots of water. Staying hydrated especially is important during pregnancy. Carry around a water bottle at all times and swig away. The Mayo Clinic advises pregnant women to drink about 10 cups, or 2.3 liters, per day.

“When you are pregnant, you are more susceptible to becoming dehydrated,” Summers said.

Most likely, if you are pregnant, you are taking a prenatal vitamin. It’s important to take one especially designed for pregnant women and not a multivitamin off the shelf. That’s because they have more of certain ingredients deemed important for growing babies.

“Prenatal vitamins contain both folic acid and iron. Early on, folic acid prevents neural tube defects and helps your baby’s spine and brain develop normally. Iron is important as women are more prone to developing anemia — a deficiency of red blood cells — during pregnancy,” Summers said.

You may be wondering if that rumor about not eating sushi while pregnant is true. The answer is yes, according to WebMD, which states that, “The FDA recommends pregnant women only eat fish and other seafood that has been cooked thoroughly.”

“The biggest problem with sushi or undercooked meats is the presence of bacteria that can make pregnant women sick. Also, avoid fish high in mercury, like shark or mahi mahi,” Summers added.

According to WebMD, pregnant women also are wise to avoid anything made with raw eggs, including cookie dough, mayonnaise and certain salad dressings. The website recommends forgoing unpasteurized (fresh-squeezed) juices and milk and washing fruits and vegetables before eating them.

How about that morning cup of Joe? Many experts say one cup, or 12 ounces of coffee a day, is OK for pregnant women.

“If you can stop at one cup, then you can drink coffee when you are pregnant,” Summers said.

And that evening cocktail or glass of wine? Sorry, it will have to wait.

“The problem with alcohol is that we don’t know the lowest threshold — at what amount — alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. Put that wine in the cellar for later,” Summers said.

Now that you know what to eat and what not to eat, let’s move on to weight gain. What if you gain too much, should you start dieting? What if you gain too little?

“I am not too worried about how much weight women put on during pregnancy. Yes, the average is 25 to 35 pounds according to medical guidelines, but frankly some women gain 45 to 50 pounds and some just 10. You have to look at the whole person,” Summers said.

He explained that women shouldn’t diet during pregnancy, and he’s more concerned with women not gaining enough weight than gaining too much.

“Eat when you are hungry, just be healthy with your choices,” he concluded.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.

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