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Understanding a pregnancy diet and proper weight gain

Women's Care, Nutrition
Mar 28, 2017

Pregnancy should not be used as an excuse to fill up on fried, greasy food and downing a pint of ice cream every day. In fact, it’s wrong to have the mindset that you are eating for two, says Bentley Danello, RD, LD, education specialist in disease management and registered dietitian with St. Joseph’s/Candler. Danello also recently had her first child.

“Every woman probably goes through the mentality of being scared to gain weight, but then you also start to think, ‘OK, I’m pregnant. I can eat more,’” Danello says. “It’s all about healthy choices. It’s really important to focus on making sure you are eating a balanced meal – having fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein in your diet.”

During pregnancy, your balanced diet should include calcium (dairy, leafy greens vegetables and beans), iron (red meat, nuts and beans), folic acid (whole grains, fruits and vegetables), omega-3 (fish, eggs, flaxseeds and walnuts) and choline (eggs, dairy and soy).

Limit high-carbohydrate foods, Danello adds. It’s easier said than done, especially during pregnancy. You may find yourself feeling tired and rundown and craving fried foods, breads, sweets and other carbs. Try more frequent, small meals with lots of protein, fiber and other healthy nutrients and vitamins.

“Because we digest carbohydrates differently when we are pregnant, it’s really important throughout your whole pregnancy that you focus on still eating a healthy diet and not consuming large amounts of carbs,” Danello said.

Just as important to watch what you eat is how much you eat. Did you know that during your first trimester you shouldn’t increase your calorie intake?

Here’s a breakdown:

  • If your BMI is normal (18.5 to 24.9), you are only supposed to gain 25-35 pounds throughout your pregnancy.
  • If your BMI is considered overweight (25 to 29.9) you are only supposed to gain 15-25 pounds.
  • If your BMI is greater than 30, you should only gain 11 to 20 pounds.

So depending on your current Body Mass Index, you should gain half a pound to a pound per week in the second and third trimesters, Danello says. That’s an additional 340 calories a day in the second trimester and 450 in the third.

“That’s a small meal,” Danello says. “It’s really not as much as people think. (Pregnancy) doesn’t mean you get to eat double the amount.”

What’s not a myth: the cravings. Ice cream. Chocolate. Pickles. Fried food. The cravings are there, Danello says. The key is to have healthy options to combat those cravings.

During her pregnancy, Danello admits she had a sweet tooth. She wanted chocolate or ice cream every night. To combat your sweet tooth, Danello suggests making a trail mix and adding chocolate chips, or grabbing a bite-sized piece of dark chocolate instead of the king-sized candy bar.

To help with her cravings, Danello discovered a dessert called Halo Top. It’s an organic ice cream with whey protein and fiber. A pint is only about 240 calories.

“When you have those cravings it’s better to dig into that Halo Top or something like that as opposed to say Ben and Jerry’s, which if you ate the whole pint of that you are well over 1,000 calories,” Danello says.

If you start to crave anything like dirt or clay, Danello says you need to get your blood checked because that can be a sign of iron deficiency called pica that is common when you are pregnant. Talk to your doctor if you experience cravings for non-nutritional items.

Worried you still aren’t getting enough nutrients during your pregnancy? Click here to learn about prenatal vitamins.


Watch what you drink

In addition to watching your calorie intake, Danello reminds pregnant women to stay hydrated. During the first trimester, you may experience nausea which Danello says may make you forget or avoid consuming anything. However, drinking plenty of water will help keep you hydrated which is important for both you and the baby. Also to help with nausea Danello recommends ginger but not Ginger Ale. Try ginger tea, adding real ginger to foods or ginger candies or gums. If you continue to practice good water drinking habits, it may help with delivery also. 

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