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Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

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Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

May 23, 2024

When you are pregnant and eating for two, a healthy diet becomes much more critical. Unpasteurized milk and cheese? Nope. Fish? OK. Sugars? Do not overdo it. Women's health specialist Kirtly Parker Jones, MD, helps you learn the dos and don'ts for keeping a healthy diet during pregnancy.

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    Interviewer: Eating healthy can be hard enough on its own, let alone trying to eat for two. We'll be talking about eating during pregnancy next on "The Scope."

    There are countless pieces of advice for what an expectant mother should or shouldn't eat. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones is going to help us separate the facts from the fiction. First of all, there are so many things we hear are unsafe for pregnant mothers from fish to sugar to deli meats. What are some of the foods that moms should actually try to stay away from?

    Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

    Dr. Jones: Well, the deli meats and unpasteurized milk and cheese are probably way up on the list, particularly unpasteurized milk and cheese because it carries potential Listeria, which may go through to the placenta and actually kill the baby. So that's a number one. Now, fish are actually good in moderation. You want fish that actually would be the least exposed to heavy metals, so supposedly, you're not supposed to eat sharks. But otherwise, you can eat tuna, and in fact, they used to say one serving of tuna a week and they've upped that a little bit to two or three. So fish is okay.

    Sugar? None of us are supposed to eat refined sugars, so I would say the most important thing is not to pack on unnecessary calories that don't have any nutrition. You are not really eating for two, and women who start thinking they're eating for two are going to gain too much weight. You only need to add a couple hundred extra calories, so you need to add about 300 extra calories a day and that's not much. That's three glasses of milk if you're a milk drinker. That gives you all the calories and the nutrition and the calcium and the protein that you need.

    Balanced Pregnancy Diet: Nutritional Guidelines and Recommendations

    So think about your diet plate. You want your veggies to cover about half of it. One-quarter of your plate should be proteins, and proteins should be as natural proteins as you can get. So you'd like to eat organic if you can, and that would be organic chicken, and organic beef. But remember, around the world, there are lots of vegetarians, so it's okay to build a vegetarian diet, as long as you're getting adequate B12. And you can get that in eggs, or you can get that in your supplements, which you're probably getting a multivitamin, anyway.

    Prenatal Vitamins in Supporting Maternal and Fetal Health

    Interviewer: So is it important to take a prenatal vitamin or supplement?

    Dr. Jones: Well, it is and it isn't. We know that folic acid is important for the development of the baby's brain, important because you should actually have folic acid in your diet, anyway. And you should be taking your supplements before you get pregnant because if you wait until you see your doctor at 10 weeks, the baby's brain has already been started. So I would say you don't need the supplements if you have a healthy diet, but a lot of people don't eat that much red meat. So iron is inadequate in their diet, and around the world, many women are already anemic from having given their iron to so many babies. So ideally, the multi-nutrition diet, which is a good, balanced diet, doesn't need supplements, but we don't always eat that way. So we should be thinking about folic acid even before we get pregnant.

    Interviewer: How do things get to the baby? Like, how do the nutrients that the mom eats affect the baby?

    Dr. Jones: Okay. Well, remember, the placenta actually deliberately pumps sugar from the mom to the baby. So the placenta likes certain things, and it really likes sugar. So if you eat a lot of sugar, then you might end up having kind of a fat baby, so be careful about that. Small molecules like amino acids and essential fats can get through the placenta. Some are actively pumped into the baby, and some are passively pumped. But remember that certain bacteria can get through the placenta, and viruses can get through the placenta and some larger molecules, which might include pesticides and herbicides and things that are on your food that you don't want your baby exposed to.

    Minimizing Exposure to Harmful Substances

    We're trying, nationally, to decrease the use of pesticides and herbicides that we think are dangerous for fetuses, but moms should try to choose organic when they can and avoid things that have been sprayed or added to foods, which you don't need to have. Take a look and see what's added. If you don't understand the word in the product that you're planning on putting in your mouth, try to eat as close to natural as you can.

    Interviewer: So is washing vegetables important, too? Can that remove some of the pesticides, or not really?

    Dr. Jones: Well, it can, but not really. So if you take the example of apples, you know, there is something that's used as a pesticide in apples that actually impregnates itself into the apple skin. If you're eating it when you're pregnant and you're not eating organic, then you might peel the apple. But I wouldn't buy organic oranges because we don't eat the orange peel, and I wouldn't necessarily buy organic bananas. Things where you eat the peel, those you might want to buy organic or peel them.

    Interviewer: So if you could give one final piece of advice to expectant mothers about eating right, what would it be?

    Dr. Jones: I think it would be don't overestimate what calories you need for eating for two and try to eat as naturally as you can, as close to the real product as you can, and not too many combined foods that you might buy packaged.

    Interviewer: So really, just eating real foods.

    Dr. Jones: It's just eating real foods, exactly.


    updated: May 23, 2024
    originally published: August 17, 2017