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Nutrition & Exercise

Healthy Fats During Pregnancy

You've probably heard that you should be eating healthy fats during pregnancy. But what does that mean exactly?  

It seems like everyone stresses about what to eat once they find out they’re pregnant, but the dietary recommendations aren’t so different for pregnant women than they are for everyone else—you should be eating a variety of nutritious foods including good fats, which your body needs to stay healthy, and baby needs for brain development. Here are the fats you want to eat and the ones to avoid.

Fats to avoid

When it comes to fats, follow this easy guideline from Deborah Goldman, MD: “Move away from the processed food fats, because those are not healthy fats.” Those non-healthy fats include hydrogenated fats (also called trans fats, which include palm and coconut oils) and saturated fats found in things like butter and cheese.

Fats to choose

Healthier fats to add to your plate include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in nuts, avocados, plant-based oils (including sunflower, corn, soybean and olive oil) and some types of fish like salmon, herring, tuna and trout.  

The deal with seafood

You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for the healthy development and functioning of the brain, nervous system, heart, eyes and immune system. Because omega-3s are most often found in seafood—and because most American diets don’t typically include a lot of seafood—most moms-to-be are low in this key nutrient. So you want to bump up your intake by eating about 12 ounces of seafood per week. But here’s the catch: Certain types of seafood are high in mercury, a known neurotoxin. When you're planning your meals steer clear of top-predator fish, such as swordfish, tilefish, shark and mackerel, which are all known to be high in mercury, and eat instead more shrimp, tilapia and canned or fresh salmon.

If you don’t like fish, that’s okay, too. “The reality is that prenatal vitamins now almost always come with an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, and a lot of foods, such as eggs, are fortified with omega-3,” says Goldman.

How much fat

Read labels on your favorite foods to determine the fat and calories ratio. Keep your fat intake to less than 30 percent of your total calories (so for example, that 100-calorie snack pack should have 30 fat calories or fewer). But don’t obsess too much if you go over that limit every now and then. A high-fat treat here and there—like a bowl of Chunky Monkey—is completely okay and not worth stressing about.

Expert: Deborah Goldman, MD, ob-gyn at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island

By Debra Goldman, MD