Benefits of a Healthy Diet During Pregnancy

There’s a lot of noise out there about what to eat while you’re growing a person, but it turns out there are a lot of ways to eat a so-called healthy diet during pregnancy. If you’re having trouble figuring out what will both sound good and be good for you and your baby, read on for a discussion of the benefits of a healthy diet and some real-life ideas about how to find what’s best for you. And just a reminder, that there’s a new, pregnancy-safe recipe published on Fridays on The Pulse.

How food can help with early pregnancy symptoms

Many people have terrible nausea and vomiting, particularly during early pregnancy. Even if you’re not feeling that bad, you’re probably not feeling yourself. The good news is that how you eat can help alleviate some symptoms. First, try to get foods from as many different food groups as you can. Carbs, eaten frequently and in small amounts so that your stomach is neither too empty nor too full, can help balance out waves of nausea. During the first half of both of my pregnancies, I ate a lot of goldfish crackers and Cheezits. Meat and vegetables sounded like too much chewing and made me sick just thinking about them, but the combination of whole-grain carbs and small amounts of protein in those particular snacks really helped me feel better. If you’re not able to eat much aside from a few food items that sound good, look into taking a prenatal vitamin to help round out your diet if you’re not already.

Diet-related benefits throughout pregnancy

The first diet-related benefit that comes to mind is fiber. Introducing more fiber into your diet can help with gastrointestinal issues you might be experiencing, especially constipation, which can lead to hemorrhoids. Constipation happens in pregnancy because hormones slow down the action of smooth muscle, including the muscles that line the gut and move food along. This is a good thing because it helps your body absorb even more nutrients from the food you eat to nourish you and your growing baby, but it can be tricky because slowing down digestion also allows more water to be absorbed and therefore makes it harder to poop. A combination of eating more fiber and drinking plenty of water can go a long way to resolving your constipation troubles.

Eating a diet that works for you, whether that’s vegetarian or not, is the best way to get through pregnancy. Choose things that sound good and pay some attention—no need to be too focused—to eating different varieties of food. Doing your best to listen to your body will help you get everything that you and your baby need in the way of nutrients. If you find yourself craving ice cream, maybe you’re in need of protein, fat, and quick energy. The next day, you might feel like having a giant grain bowl with roasted veggies. Try not to beat yourself up for any of your choices and recognize that tuning in to what your body is telling you is a great strategy. If you need help deciding what to eat, your care provider may have suggestions. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes or just need extra ideas of how to eat in a way that works for you during pregnancy, they may refer you to a registered dietitian, a professional with education focused on nutrition and food, who specializes in pregnancy nutrition.

Diet-related benefits at the end of pregnancy

You may have heard that eating spicy food or dates can help bring on natural labor. In this section, we’ll look at the truth of those rumors. Spicy food is thought to work to bring on labor because it can irritate the intestinal tract, causing movement of the gut, and, as the theory goes, contractions. Unfortunately, there aren’t any studies where eating spicy food has been proven to result in the start of labor, so eat at your own risk.

Dates are another food that’s often mentioned as a good thing to eat at the end of pregnancy. Reported benefits include shorter labors that are more likely to start on their own and less likely to need augmentation, but all the studies that have a shown a benefit have been small. Dates carry other benefits, including that they contain lots of fiber, so if dates sound good to you, feel free to eat them. These stuffed almond butter dates and these date nut bars would be good options if you want to eat dates, but don’t want to eat them plain.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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