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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is there a pregnancy diet I can follow?

I recently learned that I am pregnant. I would like to know where I can find a reliable list of the vitamins and minerals I should be getting, and the foods I should be eating. I would rather get these vitamins from foods rather than supplements; is this possible? Which option do you think is better? Is there a "pregnancy diet" I can follow that will ensure I am getting the proper nutrition for me and my baby without gaining unnecessary weight for the next nine months?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Congratulations on your pregnancy.

It's a wonderful coincidence that you have written because we are just now preparing a section of the Dr. Gourmet website dedicated to eating healthy for pregnancy. We have asked a nurse I know who specializes in caring for pregnant women to write articles on healthy diets in pregnancy. Here's an excerpt from one of her upcoming articles:

First - Supplements. It is theoretically possible to get adequate nutrients without taking supplements. However, research shows that many of us do not eat an adequate diet. Most practitioners recommend supplements [to pregnant women] because of this and because of research that supplementation beyond levels of usual diets may be beneficial. Research indicates that women who take supplements have less incidence of babies with neural tube defects, less incidence of preeclampsia (a serious pregnancy complication), possibly less incidence of low birth weight babies, and their babies may initially grow slightly faster.

Second - Pregnancy diet. You are likely aware of the need for folate (folic acid) and its role in preventing neural tube defects (such as spina bifida). The current recommendation is 4mg/ day of supplementation as well as eating foods rich in folate (PDF document). We are not certain exactly how much folate (in food alone) is necessary to achieve this protective effect, but the recommendation is to try to get at least 400 micrograms (mcg) per day.

You will want to have adequate protein and calories (I will leave exact amounts to your practitioner based on your current weight and general health).The general rule is about 20% more protein than when you are not pregnant and enough calories to support correct weight gain based on your pre-pregnancy weight. Remember that protein isn't just meat but also includes eggs, nuts, legumes, and dairy. Eat folate rich foods daily. Eat vitamin C rich foods daily. Eat dark yellow vegetables at least four times weekly. Use whole grains (whole grain breads, oatmeal). Eat a varied diet. Include several glasses of water daily. Because your GI tract slows during pregnancy you will want to be especially careful to have adequate water and fresh fruit to avoid becoming constipated as well as for the nutrients the fruit provides.

Here's the rest of our section on A Healthy Pregnancy.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr Gourmet