Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Know Your Portion Sizes

Portion size and calories are important issues to consider during your pregnancy. Especially if you get lots of junk food cravings. It’s okay to give into cravings, but to stay healthy you’ll want to eat the correct portion sizes of your treat and other meals too. After all, it’s a myth that you need to eat for two. You actually only need to eat enough food for you and for one very tiny person (your growing baby), or roughly 300 extra calories, 600 if you’re carrying twins. To learn more about proper portion sizes visit the USDA’s Daily Food Plan for Moms. You can build a personalized plan that will show you the foods and amounts that are right for your body during pregnancy. To learn about the amount of calories you should be eating during your pregnancy, talk to your midwife or doctor. You can also check out this personalized pregnancy weight gain calculator or the prenatal weight gain calculator that comes with a weight gain grid worksheet.

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Breakfast is King

I’m sure you’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but it’s worth repeating. If you wait too long after waking to eat it can affect your glycogen levels. Low levels of glycogen can make you feel hungrier all day, making you more likely to give into those unhealthy pregnancy cravings. Endless amounts of research show that people who eat breakfast regularly eat less, and make smarter food choices all day long compared to folks who skip their morning meal. Your best bet is to eat within an hour after you wake up. Choose whole grains like whole wheat toast or organic steel cut oatmeal with some fresh fruit.

If you’re feeling hungry too soon after breakfast on a regular basis, try adding a little protein to your meal as it’ll keep you feeling full longer. For a healthy amount of protein try a tablespoon or two of peanut butter on your toast or a hard-boiled egg. If you’re dealing with morning sickness, you may not feel like eating breakfast, but you should aim to get something in your belly sooner, rather than later. If nothing else, try munching on a few whole grain crackers.

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Get on the Scale

Stepping on the scale isn’t the most fun activity in the world, but it can help you be more aware of your body and that can help you stay more aware of what you’re eating all day long. Conversely, you may want to keep a food journal or keep track of your body measurements. The scale isn’t about punishing yourself – you should be gaining weight during pregnancy – but it really can help you stay focused on optimal pregnancy nutrition and healthy pregnancy weight gain. If you’re at a normal weight when you start your pregnancy, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women gain 25 to 25 lbs during pregnancy. Of course, talk to your doctor to determine your personal weight gain goals for pregnancy.

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Eat More Small Meals & Snacks

The Institute of Medicine says that an optimum meal schedule is not three large meals, but three smaller meals and two or more snacks per day. This is actually a very smart eating plan for pregnant women, because you’ll always have a little something in your tummy which can help quell queasy feelings and you won’t be as likely to gorge on one large meal, which can encourage both heartburn and overeating. Keep in mind that eating on a regular schedule is also smart through. Research shows that eating erratically can mess with hormone production. Hormone irregularity, in turn, may increase your appetite. With this in mind you should plan all those small meals and healthy snacks in advance, at times that will really work with your everyday schedule. As a snacking bonus, researchers recently learned that pregnant women who eat regular snacks have a lower risk of pre-term labor than women who don’t.

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Hit the Hay

Research shows that getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep per day may cause spikes in ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates your appetite. By the same token, too little sleep causes dips in leptin, the hunger suppressing hormone. As you can probably guess you want balanced ghrelin and leptin or your appetite will go all wonky. Additionally, the more well rested you are the more energy you’ll have. During pregnancy your body is working harder than it ever has in the past. You need every extra bit of energy you can muster in order to not only manage the day-to-day stuff, but also to help you make smart nutrition choices. Admit it – when you’re overly tired, you’re far more likely to hit the drive-through or reach for less healthy pre-packaged foods. Getting enough sleep is key if you want to eat healthily.

Break Your Soda Habit

No one, pregnant or not, should drink soda regularly. Soda is serious junk food, and neither you nor your baby needs that. Most soda is full of caffeine, which isn’t healthy when you’re pregnant. Research shows that both regular and diet soda increase stomach fat at appalling rates plus increase your risk of high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Soda is full of 100% totally useless calories, artificial flavors and colors; and don’t think that diet soda is any better. When you reach for diet soda, you’re also reaching for fake icky chemicals – in fact, artificial sweeteners found in diet soda have been linked to preterm birth and other health problems.

If you just like the fizz of soda, try mixing plain old carbonated water with a little organic fruit juice or a splash of lime or lemon. If you want a special fizzy drink that’s healthier than conventional soda or need a carbonated drink, like ginger ale, to squash morning sickness symptoms, try Santa Cruz Organic Sparkling Beverages. These are organic and chemical-free plus available at most grocers. Remember, these are better than fake, chemically charged sodas, but still contain 120-140 empty calories per serving, so drink as a treat, not as a daily deal.

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Don’t Ban Specific Foods & Drinks Entirely

Sure, soda and coffee aren’t the healthiest choices during pregnancy. No, you shouldn’t be downing artificially colored candy, fast food fries or bowls of ice cream on a daily basis. However, banning any one food item is a bad idea and can backfire. Research shows that artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes may confuse your body into eating more than you would if you’d simply had the real sugar and real fat. Other research shows that people who buy low-fat foods, say, low-calorie cookies, are likely to eat more cookies than people who buy real, full-fat cookies. If you want sugar, eat a tasty square or two of awesome organic chocolate. If you need a little fat, go ahead and add a wee pat of real butter to your peas. Have a small cup of coffee or a child-sized helping of fast food fries. In the long run, learning to eat all types of food in moderation is healthier and more realistic than trying to ban specific foods entirely.

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