Planning for a Healthy Baby : Healthy Eating for Your Baby, Principles of Healthy Eating

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1 .Healthy Eating for Your Baby

Eating healthily will ensure that both you and your fetus receive the nutrients that are essential for you both from the very start of pregnancy. But don’t wait until you are pregnant. Researchers believe that eating a healthy diet once you become pregnant may not make up for earlier nutritional deficiencies.

Supplying Nutrients for Your Baby

In the very first weeks of pregnancy, often before you even realize you are pregnant, your baby will rely on your stores of vitamins and minerals for normal development. During pregnancy, optimal nutrition will be in high demand. Your body needs enough nutrients to support itself, as well as the baby, through all stages of development. All the nourishment your baby needs will come from the foods you eat, the reserves in your body, and the supplements that you take. The key to a healthy birth is to start eating a healthy diet and boosting your intake of certain essential nutrients before you become pregnant. It’s all about planning ahead! You plan for the baby’s room and for the supplies and clothes you need, and so on. Don’t forget the most important plan—a healthy you!

To begin, you need to ask yourself whether your eating habits measure up and whether you are getting the nutrients you need to support a healthy pregnancy. If the answer is “no,” you have some work to do. Start by assessing your present eating habits. A good assessment tool is the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid. Keep in mind that it is important to get your partner started on a healthier lifestyle, too.

Assessing Your Diet with the Food Guide Pyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid can be used as a tool to assess your current food intake. The pyramid contains all the food groups essential to a healthy diet. It is meant as a guideline to aid people in recognizing what and how much to eat of each of the five major food groups daily. Following the Food Guide Pyramid will help keep your fat intake at healthy levels and ensure that you are consuming all the essential nutrients that make up a healthy diet for the average person. It will help you increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods or foods that contain more nutrients than calories. By following the Food Guide Pyramid, you can rest assured that you are getting all of the nourishment that your body needs to plan for a healthy pregnancy.

FIGURE 1. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid


Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

On average, women who are not pregnant should consume the following servings daily from the Food Guide Pyramid (depending on activity level):

• 6 to 9 servings from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group—Include whole-grain and whole-wheat foods as much as possible.

• 3 to 4 servings from the vegetable group—Choose from a variety of vegetables, and stick to fresh or frozen for higher nutritional content.

• 2 to 3 servings from the fruit group—Choose from a variety of fruits.

• 2 to 3 servings from the milk group—Choose from low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

• 5 to 6 ounces (or 2 servings) from the meat group—Choose from lean meats and include nonmeat protein foods such as beans, lentils, and fish regularly.

• Fats, oils, and sweets—Use sparingly.

Keep in mind that the stated number of servings is for women who are not yet pregnant.

Food in one group should not replace foods from another group. Because each group supplies different essential nutrients, no food group is any more important than any other. It is important to eat from all of the food groups each day and to eat a variety for optimal nutritional intake. In addition to your food intake, don’t forget your fluids, too!

Water is an important nutrient and one that is often overlooked when planning a healthy diet. For optimal intake, you should shoot for at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day. Water is present in just about every part of the body and has a vital role in almost every major function in the body, including pregnancy. The body has no provision to store water, so make sure you drink water every day.

2 .Principles of Healthy Eating

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are made up of ten basic principles for healthy eating. The guidelines are meant to provide sound advice to help people make food choices for a healthy, active life. Following the guidelines will ensure that your eating habits measure up. Therefore, understanding the dietary guidelines should be your first step to making sure you are consuming a diet that is optimal to a healthy pregnancy.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The dietary guidelines follow an easy-to-remember “ABC” organization. Each of the three main topics (Aim for Fitness, Build a Healthy Base, and Choose Sensibly) includes several important points.

The first topic, Aim for Fitness, points out the important of good physical health:

• Aim for a healthy weight.

• Be physically active each day.

The second topic, Build a Healthy Base, gives basic pointers on healthy eating:

• Let the pyramid guide your food choices.

• Choose a variety of grains daily, especially whole grains.

• Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.

• Keep food safe to eat.

The third topic, Choose Sensibly, provides advice on eating for general health:

• Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat.

• Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars.

• Choose and prepare foods with less salt.

• If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines are updated every five years. To be on the cutting edge of good health, look for updated versions as they become available.

Changing Your Eating Habits

Let’s say that after a review of the Food Guide Pyramid and the USDA’s dietary guidelines, you have determined that your nutritional intake in not up to par. Don’t worry—there is time to make some changes. The key is to make only a few changes at a time. Trying to change your entire diet at one time can be frustrating and discouraging. Start with simple goals—such as eating at least three meals a day, eating two servings of fruit per day, drinking eight glasses of water each day, or walking thirty minutes three times per week—and work your way up from there. Once you have mastered one set of habits, move on to the next. Be sure your goals are realistic, specific, and attainable. “Eat more fruit” is a noble goal, but it might help to make one that’s more specific, like goal is “Eat two servings of fruit each day.”

To aid in your endeavors, find a way to monitor yourself, such as a food journal. Self-monitoring has been shown to help change a behavior in the desired direction. Keep in mind that it takes at least twenty-one days to actually change a habit—be patient. Use your food journal to write down everything you eat and drink throughout the day; this can help you stay committed to your goals of eating a healthier diet. Write each item down as soon as you have eaten it. That way you won’t conveniently forget to take note of certain foods at the end of the day. Keep track of your exercise habits and how much water you drink, too.

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