Healthy Calories Vs. Unhealthy Calories During Pregnancy

It is important to note at this time that no two calories are created equal. There are 300 calories in a protein bar and a banana smoothie, and there are 300 calories in the average piece of cheesecake. Guess which one is going to be better for your baby?

The difficult part of counting calories when you’re pregnant is that you need to maintain a careful balance on several levels. First and foremost, you want to make sure that you’re eating enough to give your baby what it needs. Secondly, you want to make sure that the calories you are eating are “good” calories, calories coming from foods that are going to provide your baby with nutritional benefit as well.

On the flip side, you do not want to consume too many calories. If you do you will gain too much weight, potentially putting you at risk for early labor, pre-eclamsia, diabetes and heart problems. You also do not want to restrict your food intake too much. Pregnancy can lead to some pretty intense cravings, and ignoring these cravings can lead women to do some crazy things.

Unless you have one of the weight problems mentioned above you are probably better off considering your calorie intake guidelines to be just that-guidelines. It’s not going to hurt you to go over every once in a while and indulge in a piece of cheesecake or a chocolate chip cookie. Just don’t do it too often or too excessively. (Binging and eating a half a gallon of chocolate ice cream once isn’t going to hurt you, although it might make you sick, but doing it every day could be a problem.)

Try not to count your “junky” calories as part of your daily necessary intake. This will help you to continue eating the required number of “good” calories in a day, making sure that your baby is getting the nutrition that it needs. (That half gallon of ice cream is going to account for about half of your daily caloric intake, which means that half of the calories that your baby needs to grow today just went down the drain.) It is also going to help keep you from doing it too often, since consistently eating five to six hundred calories over your recommended daily intake is going to lead to excessive weight gain. The first time you step on the doctor’s scale and see you’ve gained ten pounds in a month the urge to binge flies out the window!

Junk food aside, not all “good” calories are created equal either. Here are some basic guidelines for choosing calories that are going to meet your caloric needs, your nutritional needs and your basic food desires. You have doubtlessly at some point in your life gone on a diet that has required you to limit yourself to certain types of foods. The Adkins diet, for example, severely limits your carbohydrates, while the Sonoma Diet cuts your dairy in half. What happened when you gave this diet a try? Unless you are extremely creative (or have an incredible amount of self control) you probably stuck to this diet for a short while, then tossed it to the wayside.

The trick to eating healthy when you are pregnant is the same as eating healthy when you’re not. You have to recognize what foods are best for your body and attempt to focus on them rather than their more tempting and less healthy counterparts. When you are choosing the foods you will eat when you are pregnant, consider the following:

Is it whole? Whole foods are those that are as close to their natural form as possible rather than being processed. Fresh fruits and vegetables rather than canned, whole grain breads rather than refined white and real cheese fall into this category. Whole foods are especially good for pregnant women because the fiber and water contained in them makes them easier to digest. This not only helps keep you from being even more tired than you already are because your body is struggling to digest your food, it also helps you to decrease your chances of suffering from constipation.

Is it a fruit or a vegetable? Fruits and veggies, particularly when fresh and/or leafy and green, are a valuable component of any pregnancy diet because most necessary vitamins can be found in them. Look below for a quick recap of necessary vitamins and the foods that provide them.

Is it a good carbohydrate or a bad carbohydrate? You cannot eliminate carbohydrates from your diet entirely when you are pregnant. They provide both you and your baby with the energy that you both need to grow and be healthy. What you can do is make sure that the carbohydrates you eat are good for you. There are two primary classes of carbohydrate, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are made of small sugar molecules that your body quickly absorbs. Examples of this are cakes, white breads, cookies, candies and pastas. These are the carbohydrates that you want to avoid because they will give you a quick sugar rush then leave you feeling tired and cranky-like the little toes digging into your ribs all night long weren’t enough to do that!

The second type of carbohydrate is a complex carbohydrate. Complex carbohydrates include fiber and starches, such as whole grains and potatoes. These carbohydrates take a little longer to digest, leaving you feeling fuller, longer and giving you energy that lasts more than an hour or two. Of course, even among the good carbohydrates there are some that are going to be better for you than others. If you are having trouble eating due to morning sickness and suffering from exhaustion due to hormonal swings this is important to know!

In order to get the most punch from the foods you eat you should focus on eating those that provide you with more energy, longer. That way when you can’t eat as much as you did your baby isn’t going to suffer. Sweet potatoes and real whole grain and whole wheat products are your best choices, as well as fruits such as grapes and bananas. Bear in mind that just because a package says “whole wheat”, “whole grain” or “multigrain” that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is.

Yes, this is false advertising (sort of) but it’s important to know. A food is only required to have a very small amount of whole grain in order to claim the title legitimately. It’s not that there aren’t whole grains in it, it’s that it’s not all whole grain. There are usually plenty of processed and refined ingredients included as well.

Are you eating the right kinds of protein? Like carbohydrates there are good proteins and there are so-so proteins. When you’re looking for proteins that will give you the most bang for your buck you should focus on lean meats, eggs, beef and beans. The less processed it is, the better it is for you. Does that mean you can’t eat those chicken nuggets? Certainly not. After all, when the sweet and sour sauce calls…It does mean that you shouldn’t allow processed meats to become the dominant protein source in your diet.

Is it organic? Organic foods are usually more expensive but are more healthy than their counterparts. Organic foods, as defined by the Healthy Children Project, are those that are grown without “pesticides or synthetic (or sewage-based) fertilizers for plant materials and hormones and antibiotics for animals, does not allow genetic engineering or the use of radiation, and emphasizes the utilization of renewable resources as well as the conservation of land and water.”

If your budget won’t stretch to include an all-organic diet (unfortunately, some of those products came with a pretty hefty shipping fee) attempt to focus on the foods listed by the government as the best to be bought organically. These foods are those most likely to be contaminated or high in pesticides and include apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, spinach and strawberries.

If you are concerned about the foods you are eating (and not buying organically) peas, pineapples, papayas, onions, mangos, kiwi, sweet corn, cauliflower, broccoli, bananas, avocados and asparagus have been judged the least likely to be contaminated or contain high amounts of pesticides.

What kind of fat is it? Your body needs certain types of fat, but trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil on the ingredients list) is difficult for your body to deal with and provides you with no nutritional value. Saturated fats are less healthy than unsaturated, are found in animal products such as butter and are best enjoyed in limited quantities.