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Health Hotline: Healthy eating during pregnancy

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Even though you haven't had any of the regular symptoms yet, you're pretty sure you are. Still you take a test, waiting on pins and needles for the outcome. It isn't long before the result is in. You dial your husband's number at work and spill out the sentence even before saying hello, "Honey, we're pregnant."

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Pregnancy is an exciting time. It's also a time to pay special attention to healthy lifestyle habits. One key area is diet. A healthy diet is a key factor in maintaining your overall health throughout your life, but during pregnancy, good nutrition becomes even more important for both you and your baby.

People used to say that when you were pregnant, you were eating for two. It is true that your food intake nourishes both you and your baby, but women who are pregnant do not have to double their caloric intake.

During pregnancy, a woman's nutrient requirements increase by between 10 and 50 percent, depending on the specific nutrient, but her energy (caloric) intake only increases in the range of 10 to 20 percent. In general, most women should consume about 300 more calories each day than they did before they were pregnant. This equates to about two pieces of fruit and an extra glass of skim milk, ¬not a 300-calorie chocolate bar.

Eating more means you will gain weight during pregnancy. This is healthy for you and your baby. Women who are of normal weight before pregnancy should expect a weight gain of about 25-35 pounds. Overweight women should gain less, underweight women more.

Because nutrient needs increase during pregnancy, it is important to pay attention to the nutritional value of the foods you eat. Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. Recommended daily servings include six to 11 servings of breads and grains (choose whole grains whenever possible), two to four servings of fruit, four or more servings of vegetables, four servings of dairy (choose low fat) and three servings of protein (choose lean).

Eat sweets and fats in limited amounts. Fats consumed during pregnancy help build fetal organs and the placenta, so they are important to include in your diet. Make sure most of the fats and oils in your diet come from plant sources, not animal sources.

In addition, choose foods with a high fiber content and drink plenty of water -- at least eight glasses a day.

Certain nutrients are especially important during pregnancy. Some of these include folic acid, iron, calcium and vitamins C and D.

Folic acid helps prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida. It is found in dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli and legumes.

Iron plays an important role in carrying oxygen throughout the body. It also helps increase resistance to stress and disease. Good sources of iron include enriched foods (such as breakfast cereals), liver, lean red meat and mollusks.

Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth and your developing baby needs a considerable amount. Pregnant woman should eat and drink at least four servings of calcium rich foods, such as skim milk, each day.

Vitamin C helps the body use iron. Eating a food rich in vitamin C with every meal will help you get the most iron absorption from the foods you eat. Food rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi, red bell pepper, broccoli and strawberries.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and can be found in fortified foods and exposure to the sun.

In addition to paying attention to all the foods you should eat, there are a few things to avoid. Stay away from foods high in empty calories -- ones that provide most of their calories from solid fats and added sugars. Examples include: ice cream, fried foods, regular soda, butter, alcohol, donuts, cakes and other sweets.

Limit caffeine intake to no more than 300 milligrams per day (the equivalent of two cups of coffee). Caffeine can inhibit the absorption of iron.

Avoid saccharin. It can cross the placenta and may remain in fetal tissues. Other FDA-approved sweeteners containing aspartame and sucralose are considered acceptable in moderation. Talk to your health care provider if you are considering using a non-nutritive sweetener during pregnancy.

Limit cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams or less each day. Do not eat certain types of fish (for example swordfish or white snapper) that contain high levels of mercury. Avoid raw fish.

Stay away from soft cheeses -- feta, Brie, and Mexican-style cheese, unpasteurized milk, hot dogs, lunch meats, refrigerated pate and meat spreads, refrigerated smoked seafood and raw or undercooked seafood, eggs and meat because they may cause Listeria infection, which can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or premature delivery.

Because nutrition requirements are so important during pregnancy, your physician may prescribe a prenatal vitamin supplement. It is best to get your nutrients from the food you eat, so even if you take a supplement, you should pay close attention to your diet and the foods you are consuming.

Following a healthy diet during pregnancy can seem daunting and complicated. But it is important for both you and your baby. And, at the end of nine months, when you hold your healthy newborn in your arms, you will be rest assured that all your efforts were most definitely worth it.

Dr. Palmquist is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.

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