Pregnancy nutrition guide -- eating right for you and baby

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by Julie Snyder

Pregnancy NutritionYour pregnancy test confirms you've got a baby on the way! One of your first thoughts might be, "What should I eat? How much? When?"

There's no magic formula for the perfect pregnancy diet. The same basic "eating healthy" principles still apply.

You might already be using those MyPlate guidelines to direct your food choices. If not, don't worry. We'll help you get started out with a solid pregnancy nutrition plan.

If ever there was a time to get your eating on the right track, this is it. The right mix of nutrients helps keep you going and your baby growing.

Your pregnancy nutrition guide

There are entire books dedicated to talking about nutrition for moms-to-be, but getting that information doesn't have to be complicated or intimidating. During your pregnancy, you'll get to eat extra calories each day. It's how you decide to consume them!

Here's an easy suggestion to try. Eat two or three extra servings of food each day, increase your fluids and take a multivitamin that's designed to meet the needs of pregnant women. Zero in on the foods rich in iron, calcium, folic acid, vitamin D and healthy fats. You probably won't even need to give your diet a major makeover.

We've listed the vitamins and minerals that need your attention while you're creating a new life and suggested ways to get more in your diet.

In case you're a number person, we've also included how much of each is recommended every day.

Folate and folic acid -- prevent birth defects

Recommended each day: 800 micrograms
Good sources: Leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, dried beans or peas, fortified cereals and supplements

Folic acid helps the neural tube grow. Most neural tube defects, like spina bifida or anencephaly, as well as many developmental problems are preventable if moms-to-be take it before and during their pregnancy. Have you had yours today?

Calcium -- strengthens bones

Recommended each day: 1000 milligrams
Good sources: Dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, fortified juices and fortified cereals

Calcium grows bones for your baby and maintains yours. It also helps control blood pressure. You do need more during pregnancy, but we've got good news. Your body absorbs it more efficiently now.

Vitamin D -- builds strong bones

Recommended each day: 600 international units
Good sources: Sunshine, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, fortified milk and fortified orange juice

Vitamin D helps out forming strong bones and teeth. It protects you and your baby's immune system. Low levels have been linked with pregnancy complications. It can be hard to get enough in your diet, so your prenatal vitamin will help meet your daily need.

Protein -- promotes growth

Recommended each day: 71 grams
Good sources: Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dried beans and peas, tofu, dairy products and peanut butter

Protein builds cells and if they're damaged, helps repair them. Try to eat protein at each meal -- eggs at breakfast, yogurt for lunch and a lean meat for dinner, for example.

Iron -- makes blood cells

Recommended each day: 27 milligrams
Good sources: Lean red meat, poultry, fish, nuts, dried fruit and iron-fortified cereals

Your daily needs almost double during pregnancy. Iron helps your body form the hemoglobin in blood. It carries the oxygen your baby needs to the placenta.

Fiber -- the non-nutrient

Recommended each day: 28 grams
Good sources: Plants foods such as high fiber cereals, beans, lentils berries, fruits, popcorn, broccoli, oatmeal

Fiber offers your pregnant body several health benefits. It keeps things moving through your digestive system. Since constipation may crop up, you'll appreciate the help. Another bonus is you'll feel fuller, longer and it evens out blood sugar levels.

If you haven't been eating much fiber, ease into it. Extra fiber can leave you feeling a bit gassy. Try adding a bit more each day.

Water -- keep hydrated

While not a nutrient, now that you're pregnant, you need extra water -- a total of about three quarts a day.

If you're plagued by morning sickness or just don't like plain water, you can cool it off or dress it up a bit to make it more acceptable. Other moms have found these changes help them get plenty of fluids:

• Sucking on ice chips
• Frozen water won't offend your nose or taste buds, avoiding triggering nausea
• Squeezing a twist of lemon or lime in ice water
• Adding sliced fresh ginger root or peppermint leaves

Eating away from home

You don't have to make all your foods from scratch. Go ahead and enjoy an occasional meal out while you're pregnant. Here's how you can still stay within nutritional guidelines.

Eat more of these:
✔ Baked potato, coleslaw, salad
✔ Roast beef sandwich, lean ground beef
✔ Roast chicken, taco, chili
✔ Broiled seafood platter, clam chowder
✔ Frozen yogurt, fresh fruit
✔ Fruit juice, low-fat milk, water

Opt out of these:
✖ French fries, onion rings
✖ Specialty burgers and cheeseburgers
✖ Fried or breaded chicken, nachos
✖ Fried fish sandwich, breaded clams
✖ Sundae, cookies, pie
✖ Soda pop, chocolate milk

How's your pregnancy diet coming along? Have you discovered a food that helps you get the necessary nutrients?

Photo courtesy of istockphoto.