March is National Nutrition Month, and throughout the month on the blog, we will be sharing tips, ideas, and resources for making nutrition during pregnancy a priority. Many who are pregnant focus extra energy on what they eat during pregnancy for two reasons -- appetite often grows in pregnancy, and the nutrition from the food you eat during pregnancy impacts your baby's growth and development. That said, it can feel overwhelming to take it all in -- literally and figuratively -- when we have an abundance of information (some of it conflicting) on what to eat, what not to eat, how much to eat, and the kinds of foods that are best to eat (organic vs. standard, GMO, standard meat vs. farm raised, etc.). This month, we we will be helping to answer some of the most pressing questions on nutrition during pregnancy. Today, we start with protein! What it is and does, where it comes from, and how much of it to eat.
Eating Protein During Pregnancy - Why?
Protein that is in the food we eat is made up of "building blocks" called amino acids (there are 20 in total, showing up in differing quantities in different sources of protein). Amino acids play a part in your body by controlling insulin; maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails; regulating energy, metabolism, digestion, sleeping, stress, weight, and overall health. Amino acids from the protein you eat is responsible for building your body's cells -- and those of your baby. You could say that by eating protein, you are literally growing your baby (not to mention the fact that you are, in fact, literally growing your baby)! Protein also helps grow your breast and uterine tissue, which as we know, expands rapidly during pregnancy!
How Much Protein to Eat in Pregnancy
While recommendations from different sources vary slightly, the average minimum daily recommendation is to consume 75 grams of protein, or 3-4 servings per day. It may be easier (and less stressful) to think of your protein intake over the course of a week instead of daily. Let's take a look at what kinds of foods you can eat to get the protein you need.
Protein Rich Foods for Pregnancy - Animal and Plant Sources
So what does 75 grams really mean? It will help in the beginning to take a look at how many grams are in different serving sizes of foods, as most of us are not generally familiar. A quick Google or Pinterest search on "protein foods grams" will yield lots of great lists and resources. An example of a day's worth of protein might look like this:
1 egg for breakfast - 6 grams
6 oz Greek yogurt and 1/4 cup almonds for mid-morning snack - 23 grams
Black beans and brown rice for lunch - 20 grams
Mid-afternoon snack of toast with almond butter - 6 grams
Fish filet for dinner - 22 grams
= 77 grams
Below is a list of basic protein sources and their respective grams of protein. For a more in-depth list of high protein foods, check out this list of 40 protein rich foods by BodyBuilding.com.
- 1 cup 2% milk - 8 grams
- 6 oz yogurt - 5 grams (Greek yogurt is 15 grams!)
- 1 large egg - 6 grams
- 1 cup beans - 12-18 grams, depending on type
- 1 oz cheese - 6-10 grams, depending on type
- 1/4 cup nuts or seeds - 5-8 grams, depending on type
- 3.5 oz fish - 22 grams
- 1 oz beef - 7 grams
- 3.5 oz chicken breast - 30 grams
- 4 oz pork - 29 grams
There is a common misconception that vegetarians or vegans are not able to maintain a safe and healthy protein-rich diet during pregnancy. This is false. There are several plant-based protein-rich foods available, which safely and healthfully fulfill protein needs in pregnancy.