Why you need protein during pregnancy

By Missy Jaramillo

Why you need protein during pregnancy

New moms-to-be often find they'll need to adjust their diets to ensure that their babies are getting all of the essential nutrients that facilitate healthy baby development. One of the most important items you'll need in abundance is protein.

While protein is an important part of any diet, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending the average woman consume approximately 46 grams of protein per day, it's doubly so for women who are expecting. Protein contains the amino acids that help your baby's cells develop, and are a critical part of your baby's brain development. Nutritionists recommend that women consume at least 75 grams of protein per day during pregnancy - almost double the normal amount!

Many moms-to-be may find it difficult to work this much protein into their daily diets. That's why it's important for women to know where they can find the foods with the highest concentrations of protein.

Fish is a great source of protein! Fatty fish such as anchovies, sardines and wild salmon have the most amount of brain-boosting amino acids. Other types of fish also contain these miracle nutrients. Unfortunately, many expecting mothers are scared away from eating fish due to reports about their mercury levels and PCB contamination. While there's a kernel of truth to these tales, the whole truth is that there are plenty of fish that are safe to eat, especially if they've been harvested using sustainable, health-oriented practices. In general, smaller sea fish such as cod, flounder, halibut, haddock, ocean perch, pollack, sole, trout and wild salmon are safe to eat - but avoid consuming larger, predatory fish such as amberjack, grouper, king mackerel, mahi-mahi, sea bass, shark, swordfish, tilefish and fresh tuna. Also, make sure to avoid any fish from waters that are known to be contaminated - the FDA and EPA can provide current information on this.

Lean meats
Lean meats, especially when grass-fed, are wonderful and safe sources of protein for women in pregnancy. Skinless poultry meats such as chicken, turkey and Cornish hen are generally very lean and provide a good amount of protein. Other meats such as beef, lamb and pork can also be "lean" if you know which cuts to choose. Look for cuts of meat with words like "round" or "loin" in their names, rather than "chuck." Ground round, sirloin, tenderloin and top loin are all great lean choices. The way you cook meats can also contribute to their leanness. Methods such as baking, broiling, grilling, poaching and steaming will help keep meals low-fat, whereas frying or sauteing them creates higher fat meals.

Eggs and dairy products
Eggs are notorious for their high protein content, but you may be surprised to learn that other dairy products such as milk and cheese are also high in protein. Incorporate them into other meals or build meals around them in order to ensure the necessary amount of protein. Choose eggs fortified with DHA for the best boost in amino acids.

Foods that are high in protein are also often high in fat, but that doesn't mean that new moms should skimp! In fact, the increased protein intake should account for a good part of the weight gain during pregnancy. Pregnant women should make every effort to get the protein they need, while recognizing that other areas of their diet should be made up of healthy foods, such as leafy green vegetables and other nutrient-rich veggies and fruits. Making the effort to eat a properly balanced diet will help ensure proper baby development, and will leave you feeling healthy and strong.

What are your favorite protein-filled foods for pregnancy? Let us know in the comments section!