Overwhelmed by pregnancy nutrition advice? Feeling like your diet will never measure up?
Before you give up completely and eat whatever catches your eye, learn how to figure out whether you're getting the nutrients you and your baby need during pregnancy.
How MyPlate can help you during pregnancy
You may remember the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid, which outlined how many servings of food you should eat from each category every day. That pyramid has been replaced with MyPlate, a system for choosing healthy food based on the USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The site even has a section on health and nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women, featuring a personalized tracking system that gives you meal plans based on your age, height, your pre-pregnancy weight, your activity level, and which trimester you're in.
MyPlate divides food into five main groups – grains, fruit, vegetables, protein, and dairy – plus oils. Here's a quick look at those groups and how much the USDA recommends that you eat from each during pregnancy.
The sample plan below shows the recommended amounts for a 32-year-old woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall, weighed 130 pounds before she got pregnant, is in her second trimester, and gets less than 30 minutes of daily physical activity. These results are not a general guideline. To get an individualized meal plan, enter your information at ChooseMyPlate.gov.
The MyPlate food groups
Grains: 7 ounces a day
Generally, an ounce of grains equals one slice of bread, one small corn or flour tortilla, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta. Get at least half of your daily grains from whole grains (like whole wheat bread or brown rice). Whole grains contain the most fiber, vitamins, and nutrients.
Fruits: 2 cups a day
Vary the color of the fruit you eat and choose fresh over frozen or canned whenever possible. Many prepackaged varieties are preserved in sugary liquid, so choose products without added sugar. Bonus: The fiber in fruit helps prevent two common side effects of pregnancy, hemorrhoids and constipation.
Vegetables: 3 cups a day
Fresh vegetables taste better than canned or frozen, and they're also a better choice to control sodium and avoid preservatives. But when it comes to fiber and vitamins, canned and frozen veggies are just as nutritious as fresh. For maximum nutrition, vary the color of the vegetables you choose. Broccoli, for example, is packed with folate, calcium, and B vitamins. Sweet potatoes provide vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber.
Meat and beans: 6 ounces a day
This equals about two servings that are each the size of a deck of cards. Choose lean meat and limit fish to 12 ounces per week. (More than that may expose your baby to harmful levels of mercury.)
Dairy: 3 cups a day
In the MyPlate plan, 1 cup of dairy equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese, and 2 ounces of processed cheese. In general, dairy products are a great source of calcium and protein. And low-fat varieties give you all the nutrients you need without the extra fat.
Oils: 6 teaspoons a day
The best sources include canola oil, olive oil, safflower oil, fatty fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives. Note: An avocado is a fruit but it's included in the oils category because most of its calories come from fat.
Discretionary calories: 266 a day
This MyPlate sample plan budgets 266 "extra calories" that you can spend as you choose, but you must include them in your daily calorie budget. In other words, you could use them on a scoop of ice cream or some sugar in your decaf iced tea, but these discretionary calories count toward your daily total calories (2, 200 in this case).