By Petra Colindres, MA, RDN/LD, IBCLC, CPT
Last month, we stressed the importance of not only taking your prenatal vitamins, but the importance of eating a sound and nutritious diet during pregnancy. Though prenatal vitamins are a great addition to fulfilling nutritional needs during pregnancy, they are not a one-stop-shop. In fact, we discussed how prenatal vitamins may actually not be as beneficial as we all think they are -- think more of a placebo pill than a pill. You can find last month's post here. This leads us to the underlying question: “What do I eat to make sure I get the nutrition that I really need during pregnancy?”
It probably goes without saying that your body needs more nutrient-dense foods during pregnancy. Nutrient-dense foods are foods that have the most vitamins and minerals that your body can use for growing new life. Think of whole wheat bread compared to a white bread; whole wheat bread is more nutrient dense due to the fact that it has more fiber, more essential fatty acids, and more iron, calcium, and other nutrients compared to white bread. However, good news folks: If you’re part of the population that likes the taste of white bread OVER whole wheat bread, white whole wheat bread actually has just as much nutrient-density as whole wheat bread! Enter a parade of excitement here! But I digress…
Typically most pregnant people don’t need to worry about getting the nutrients they need as long as they’re eating a diet that is healthy, not overly processed, and has a variety of foods. In fact, the key to getting the most nutrient value is to eat with the acronym MAVB. But, wait, what does that stand for?
M for Moderation. Moderation is the key to any sound nutrition advice, and something that is often forgotten during pregnancy. Many use pregnancy as a time to indulge in food in excess amounts due to the fact that they’re "eating for two.” Don’t use pregnancy as an excuse to go crazy. Instead, eat what is right for your body and for your growing child. In most cases, that means an increase in non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, a moderate increase in protein and dairy, and limit desserts, added sugars, and excess fat. Note the word limit; moderation means you can still have an Oreo or a piece of chocolate! Just not the whole bag of Oreos.
A is for Adequate. Adequate means enough to meet your needs. During pregnancy, your nutrient needs do increase -- what once was enough is now not. Typically this adequacy can be met by adding one or two small snacks (at most an additional 450 calories) per day that have most of the food groups off the Healthy Eating Plate. I tell my patients that the Healthy Eating Plate is a perfect example of how every meal should look like, but also to be realistic as we don’t live in a perfect world. Therefore, a "good" Healthy Eating Plate would be if you’re eating at least 3 of the food groups at every meal, and one of those groups is at least a fruit OR a vegetable.
V is for Varied. Variety is the spice of life, and that’s no different with nutrition. Variety makes sure that you’re eating enough vitamins and minerals all over the food spectrum to make sure your needs are met. There really is something to that saying eat the rainbow; I often tell my clients that kale is great and healthy, but if all you eat is kale as your vegetable, suddenly it’s not so healthy anymore. This is due to the lack of variety. Different colors hold different nutrient properties that are important for the development of a baby such as polyphenols, lycopenes, carotenoids, and chlorophyll to name a few. And all of them play a different role in maintaining your health during pregnancy.
B is for Balanced. A balanced diet makes sure that you don’t get all of your calories from one area. This is where the Healthy Eating Plate plays a wonderful role again in helping with nutrient needs. If a mother is getting an adequate amount of calories, but they’re made of only one or two quadrants of the Healthy Eating Plate, then your diet is no longer healthy. It’s easy to see this with our typical American diet. We’re notorious for getting enough grains, proteins, and dairy in the American diet. Though grains, meat, and dairy all have nutrients that we need to survive, the lack of variety makes it less than optimal. The easiest way to start tempering this diet is by adding a base of a fruit or a vegetable at every meal, and filling in needs around there.
That’s it! When figuring out how to eat well during pregnancy, remember MAVB. Of course, like all things, what looks easy on paper is harder in practice. Take baby steps (no pun intended) during the pregnancy time period to start a healthier meal ritual for you and your expanding family. Any improvement is better than none! With some creativity and added determination, you can improve your diet and health.
What steps do you need to take to improve your diet during pregnancy?
Petra Colindres is a Family Dietitian and Lactation Consultant with a passion for infant nutrition and prenatal education, valuing the importance of the first thousand days of an infant’s life (from conception to 2 years) to be the standard for future successful health outcomes. Petra owns Nutrition by Petra, a pregnancy and early childhood nutrition consultation practice that provides at-home lactation assistance and pediatric nutrition support. Petra’s hobbies are running/working out, teaching cooking classes around the state, and playing with her first child Bodie. Follow Petra on Twitter @PetraNutrition, on Facebook or on instagram @nutritionbypetra to see some of her favorite baby meals. You can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.