Knowing what to eat when pregnant can be somewhat confusing. It seems like everyone from your great aunt to the morning television announcer is offering advice on prenatal nutrition. While some myths such as "you should eat for two" can cause problems, many recommendations contain at least a grain of truth. For a healthy pregnancy for both you and your baby, concentrate on getting enough of key nutrients like folic acid and iron, avoiding substances that could harm your baby's development, like alcohol and caffeine, and otherwise eating a balanced diet of whole, unprocessed, fresh foods.

Make sure you get enough folic acid

Folic acid, a B vitamin, is important both before and after you conceive. Having an adequate supply of this substance in your body helps prevent birth defects, such as spinal malformations and neural-tube defects, by 50 to 70 percent. Plus, upping your intake of folic acid a year before conception can help prevent preterm delivery.


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Eat foods rich in iron

Iron-rich foods, such as red meat, dry beans, legumes, oatmeal, and tofu, help make red blood cells and carry oxygen throughout your body and your baby's. Your iron requirement doubles when you are pregnant, from 25 mg to around 50 mg per day.


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Be extra vigilant about food-borne bacteria

Bacteria, found in foods like raw eggs, undercooked meats, unpasteurized lunch meat and raw fish, can be a threat to both you and your baby. In extreme cases, bacteria such as E coli, listeria, and salmonella, can cause miscarriage and preterm delivery. Avoid such foods, keep your refrigerator set at 40 degrees, and be extra careful with leftovers.


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Consume enough fiber

A diet rich in fiber has multiple benefits. Among these are preventing constipation, warding off hemorrhoids, and keeping you feeling full and less likely to overeat. High-fiber foods are also packed with vitamins and minerals and include common staples such as whole grain breads, beans, legumes, and most fruits and green vegetables.


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Avoid caffeine

Caffeine, found not only in tea and coffee, but in many soda, hot chocolate, chocolate bars, energy drinks and even some breakfast cereals, has been linked to increased risk of miscarriages. While this relationship is being studied further, it's best to stay away from beverages that contain caffeine.


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Get enough calcium

Medical authorities recommend pregnant women get at least 1,000 mg of calcium daily. This is important for fetal tooth and bone development, particularly in the second and third trimesters, and keeps your baby from drawing the calcium from your bones, which can lead to problems later in life.


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Eat adequate protein

Protein is also essential to pregnancy health for baby and mother alike. Eating 80 to 100 grams of protein a day will keep your energy level high and help prevent swelling later in pregnancy. In addition to meat, good sources of protein include nuts, cheese, legumes, and eggs.


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Drink plenty of water

Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day is important for everyone, but adequate hydration is especially important for pregnant women. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases, so drinking enough water helps insure the nutrients your baby needs for cell growth are getting to him or her efficiently.


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Ban alcohol from your diet

While an occasional glass of wine is unlikely to harm your baby, behavior problems, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, and aggressive behavior in children have all been linked to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. According to the Center for Disease Control, no amount of alcohol is considered safe for pregnant women.


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Don't overeat

That old "eating for two" axiom is a myth. You don't need twice the amount of food you'd normally eat just because you're pregnant. In fact, overeating can result in hard-to-lose pounds and increase your risk of preclampsia, gestational diabetes, and delivering a larger-than-average baby.


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