Written January, 2007
Sure, the ideal pregnancy diet would consist of organic plain yogurt, fresh fruit and stone-cut oatmeal for breakfast; tomato, mozzarella and kale sandwiches on rustic whole-wheat bread for lunch; and a chicken breast with a side of steamed broccoli and brown rice for dinner. Of course, you'd be snacking on apples with soy-nut butter and celery sticks dipped in hummus.
Unfortunately, that sort of diet is not always the most likely thing. I'm lucky if I get in one serving of fruit each day in my first trimester -- not because I don't like fruit, but because it's so hard. I don't feel much like opening a can of black bean chili, let alone walking to the market for local organic fruit, then (heavens) cutting and eating it. No, I'd much rather reach for the potato chips.
What to do? You care about your baby. You're eating vitamins and following my other 10 things to do when you're pregnant. I know you mean well, just as I did when I grabbed a chocolate bar out of my cupboard because I was just so damned hungry! Here are a few things that made eating healthy easier for me:
- Splurge on favorite healthy items like avocados. Avocados are, after all, the world's most perfect food, packed with potassium, folates, fiber and Vitamin E. I buy a four-pack at Trader Joe's and eat one a day. Really, the fat in the avocado is the last worry on my prodigious list. Other great choices (if you love 'em): mangoes (potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C, good for digestion), figs (fiber, potassium, manganese), papaya (vitamin C galore, folate, potassium, fiber, good for digestion, and more), pineapple (tons of manganese and vitamin C), olives (iron, vitamin E). I figure I spend a dollar a day on avocados -- cheaper than a bag of chips or that chocolate-orange scone from the coffee shop.
- Buy frozen spinach and put it in everything. Dishes to which I've added frozen spinach a few minutes before I'd finished cooking it, this week alone: chili, tomato soup, spaghetti sauce, Top Ramen, black bean soup, a quesadilla, pizza formaggi from Trader Joe's, baked potato with the works. You get the idea. Not only is spinach overflowing with vitamins K, A, manganese, and folate, but the vitamin C and calcium content is surprising (about 25% of your RDA in a cup of cooked spinach). Iron, potassium, fiber... the list goes on.
- Use plain yogurt in place of sour cream. In fact, use a LOT of plain yogurt! I'm a dairy nut, and I love creamy dollops of goodness during pregnancy even more than usual. But sour cream has few health benefits besides the calcium -- and it's pretty fatty. Plain nonfat yogurt is great for a pregnant person, guarding against yeast infections (to which many women, like me, are more prone during pregnancy) and generally aiding your body's healthy intestines and all that good stuff. I'll use a half-cup or more on chili, baked potatoes, enchiladas, quesadillas, Indian food, etc. There's no reason at all to skimp!
- Make sure maple syrup, honey and molasses are within easy reach. Molasses is fantastic for you -- surprisingly rich in iron, calcium and potassium. Put a couple of tablespoons in a dish where you'd normally turn to brown sugar, from corn bread to baked beans to french toast. Maple syrup is also one of the world's most perfect foods and so yummy -- try replacing sugar with maple syrup in tea, coffee, or wherever else you can't live without sweetness. Both honey and maple syrup are said to help with your immune system. No one's saying anything good about white table sugar so it's worth a try!
- Find healthy "dips" and other condiments you'll want to snack on. For many women, this means hummus. Yuck. I just don't get excited over hummus (not to mention its effects on my pregnant digestive system). Instead, I've found treats like peach salsa; India relish (with tomatoes and tamarind); cilantro pecan dip (ok, I'm saying this is healthy since it's full of nuts, green herbs, and cream cheese, but I could just be fooling myself); and tzatziki (I find all these at Trader Joe's). Mix with pita chips or other relatively good-for-you crispy snackable and you've got an instant healthy snack.
- Keep your favorite healthy foods stocked in your kitchen. For me, this means chicken breakfast sausage, ground turkey, natural nut butters, crisp tart apples, pears, copious amounts of canned pineapple, walnuts, granola, organic oatmeal, the aforementioned avocados, plain yogurt and maple syrup, eggs, lots of healthy canned chilis and other bean soups, frozen berries, whatever berries are fresh and local and cheap (if any !), and good honey whole wheat bread. If they're on hand, it will be a lot easier to turn to them when you're feeling absolutely-can't-wait-another-second-dying-of-starvation hungry!
- Stock whatever accoutrements will make you eat salad, and add fruit. I love salad. But I'm terrible at making myself eat it, unless I have company. I don't know why. If I have candied walnuts and yummy blue cheese (pasteurized of course) on hand? Well, I'll be all-the-more interested in eating it. You might adore croutons, or sunflower seeds, or Kalamata olives, or goat cheese, or deep-fried tortilla strips, or Green Goddess salad dressing. Whatever! As long as it will get you into the fridge russling up some greens. Don't forget to add fruit to your salad; pears, apples and strawberries all make interesting, delicious and nutritious additions. (And don't make the mistake, as you did when you were in college, of portioning out dressing like it's a precious commodity. If it helps you eat salad, by all means, a hundred extra calories won't ruin you.)
- Make nutritious snacking EASY. My favorite healthy snacks are apple slices with natural peanut butter; pears with gorgonzola; mascarpone-stuffed dates; and bananas with fancy nut butter (like cashew or almond) and sprinkles of coconut. Do I eat these delicious healthy snacks much? No, I'm more likely to be caught with a mouthful of Trader Joe's newest chocolatey delight. So I've been working to make it easier, leaving a giant jar of peanut butter on the dishwasher alongside a washed apple, a cutting board, a knife. When I run downstairs for emergency caloric infusions, it's way easier to snack right. Your "make it easy" strategy may mean buying a hunk of Gorgonzola from the deli next to your office and keeping it in a little cooler under your desk, next to the bag of pears, or asking your mom to send you a bucket of luxurious trail mix instead of that dozen cupcakes you really wanted...
- Eating ice cream? Go ahead, but add fruit. I love raspberries on coffee ice cream, or blueberries with vanilla, or bananas on caramel ice cream, or morello cherries on anything. It's way better for me than that butterscotch topping I've been craving. Make sure you're eating the most natural ice cream possible in your budget (and shop for sales!) -- brands like Haagen-Dazs and Breyer's may be more expensive, but they have a lot fewer preservatives, colorings and other nasty additives.