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Maximizing calories for a healthy pregnancy diet

By Jane Harrison, R.D
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You’re probably wondering just how many calories you need to eat now that you’re pregnant. Is the old saying about a pregnant woman eating for two really true?

Well, yes and no. Remember that one of the two – your baby – is a tiny fetus who only requires an extra 300 calories per day, mostly needed during the second and third trimesters. So if you are overindulging on your favorite treats or simply allowing yourself to eat way more than your usual fare, it’s likely you are taking in many more calories than you and your baby need.

At the same time, you want to maximize your nutrition. Though keeping your calories to a reasonable level is important, it’s just as important to make sure your food choices are meeting your needs as well as your growing baby’s.

Make your calories count
Lean protein, healthy fats, adequate fiber, calcium, iron and folate are a few of the important nutrients, vitamins and minerals you will need. Getting adequate amounts will help to ensure your baby’s healthy development, and keep you healthy in the process.

In addition to a good prenatal multivitamin, follow these basic recommendations to get the most out of your meal plan:

  • Prioritize lean protein. Ideally, you need between 60 to 100 grams of protein per day. Aim for two to three servings a day of the following:

    • lean red meat, skinless chicken or turkey and low-mercury fish (avoid shark, tilefish, mackerel and swordfish)
    • low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese
    • beans, eggs and/or tofu
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Aim for a nutritious variety of raw and cooked produce that includes all colors of the rainbow. These will also help fill you up without adding excessive calories.
  • Increase fiber. Along with fruits and veggies, eat plenty of beans (black, red, pinto, white, etc.) and whole grains. Whole-grain breads, cereals, pastas, oatmeal, brown rice and barley are encouraged over white flour and processed foods.
  • Get enough calcium. You will need about 1,000mg of calcium during your pregnancy. Look for low-fat dairy such as skim or 1 percent milk and yogurt, as well as low-fat cheese. High fat cheeses, yogurts and ice cream can quickly put you over your calorie limit.
  • Avoid foods high in sugar and saturated fat. Limit sugary drinks, desserts and snack foods. Remember, that additional 300 calories will add up quickly. Instead of bingeing on junk, use your extra calories to snack wisely. Try these ideas to satisfy your sweet or salty cravings:

    • a slice of whole grain bread with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter and some sliced banana
    • a health shake made with fruit, low-fat yogurt and 100 percent fruit juice
    • a large handful of nuts and dried fruit
  • Treat yourself. At the same time, allow yourself occasional treats so you don’t get frustrated and end up overindulging.

Estimating your calorie needs
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an extra 300 calories during your first trimester. Normal-weight women need an extra 300 calories each day only during the last six months of pregnancy.

Roughly, your calorie needs during pregnancy are based on your prepregnancy weight and your level of activity, plus the 300 extra calories in the second and third trimester. Less active women will need around 1,900 to 2,000 calories a day, going up to about 2,500 calories a day for very active women.

Remember, this calculation is just an estimate. If you’re overweight, underweight, an adolescent or carrying multiple fetuses, ask your doctor to help you plan your calorie and nutrition needs. Your requirement may be slightly different if you fall into one of these categories.

Rely on your scale
Avoid complicated calorie computations by relying on a trusty scale to chart your weight gain. If you’re within the recommended weight-gain guidelines (three to four pounds the first trimester, one pound per week thereafter), you’re getting enough calories. If you’re gaining too much or not enough, talk to your doctor.


  • Weight Control Information Network. Fit for two: tips for pregnancy. Accessed: 06/08/2010 American Pregnancy Association. Pregnancy needs. Accessed: 05/03/2010


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