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Liz Sanders, MPH, RDN

Don’t Fall For These 5 Pregnancy Nutrition Myths

A nutritionist weighs in on all those dos and don'ts you've been hearing.
PUBLISHED ON 03/23/2017

For many women, pregnancy is a nutrition wake-up call. Suddenly it becomes really important to eat right. After all, you’re not just eating for one anymore.

You’ve probably heard a lot of crazy nutrition “dos and don’ts.” As a nutritionist, I’ve pretty much heard them all too. With all the (often unsolicited) nutrition advice, it’s not always easy to separate myth from fact. Especially for first time moms.

March is National Nutrition Month. That means it’s the perfect time to sort through all the nutrition myths you commonly hear during pregnancy and clear out the clutter. Think of it as “spring cleaning” for your diet.

Myth No. 1: “It’s okay, I’m eating for two.”

This might be the myth I hear most often. It’s unlikely that many people who say they’re “eating for two” are literally doubling the amount of food they eat during pregnancy. Still, some people are surprised to find out that you don’t need extra calories to feed a growing baby until later on in pregnancy. For the first trimester, you don’t need any extra calories. Calorie needs increase in the second trimester, but only by about 340 calories per day. That is roughly equal to a serving of Greek yogurt and a banana. In the third trimester, aim for about 500 extra calories per day.

Not into the whole calorie counting thing? I don’t blame you; it can get pretty tedious. Intuitive eating can help you differentiate between cravings and actual hunger. Before you eat, use a hunger scale to check in with your body. Then, halfway through the meal or snack, check in again. If you are at a 6 or above, stop eating and save the leftovers. If you are below a 6 (satisfied) on a scale of 1 (starving) to 10 (uncomfortably full), continue eating slowly until you are satisfied. This is one easy way to prevent overeating without counting calories.

Myth No. 2: “Caffeine is strictly off-limits.”

For many busy women, myself included, a morning cup of coffee is basically non-negotiable. Good news: You don’t need to choose between a safe pregnancy and becoming an un-caffeinated monster at work. Moderate caffeine intake during pregnancy is up to 200 milligrams per day. That’s about two 8-ounce cups of coffee or four cups of tea per day. This amount is backed by thorough scientific research and international authorities like EFSA. So there is no need to worry about the occasional cup of coffee or two.

Remember that caffeine from all sources (yes, even chocolate has a little bit) counts toward your daily total. If you aren’t ready to go cold-turkey on coffee, make sure to keep a running total of your caffeine intake throughout the day. Also, it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your caffeine intake, especially if you have a history of high blood pressure.

Myth No. 3: “Skip the seafood.”

Many fall for this myth hook, line and sinker. Get it? All fish puns aside, nutrition experts actually recommend eating fish during pregnancy. Undercooked fish like sushi may be off the table, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid all seafood. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages pregnant and breastfeeding women to eat a two to three meals (8-12 ounces) of seafood each week.

Seafood has tons of nutrients to support your baby’s development, including healthy omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Tuna and salmon are especially good options for increasing your omega-3 intake. Original recommendations to avoid fish were based on concerns about mercury. These concerns are legitimate, but they only apply to a few species of large fish. Only four types of fish should be avoided during pregnancy due to their high mercury content: tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel.

“It’s too complicated to eat away from home.”

Eating away from home during pregnancy can sometimes be daunting, since you don’t always have total control of how the food is prepared. Simple tricks like asking your server to reheat deli meat until it’s steaming or scanning menus for pregnancy-friendly options (thank you, veggie sushi!) can help make eating out while pregnant a whole lot easier. With a little creativity and some help from friends who have been there, you can easily balance your food safety and nutrition needs when eating away from home.

Myth No. 5 “You have to eat meat to have a healthy pregnancy.”

Vegans and vegetarians can meet their protein, vitamin and mineral needs from a variety of sources during pregnancy—no animal products required. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, plant-based diets can be safe and healthy during pregnancy. You just have to get creative to make sure you and your growing baby are getting all the nutrients you need. Yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), soy products and eggs are just a few of the many great vegetarian protein sources available. Use the MyPlate graphic below to help you build meals with the right mix of different nutrients. Also, your doctor can help you find the right prenatal vitamin to round out your micronutrient intake.

Photo: USDA

Liz Sanders, MPH, RDN is a dietitian and resident nutrition expert at the International Food Information Council Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting the public with science-based food and nutrition information. Liz is passionate about helping moms (and moms-to-be) make healthy nutrition choices for their families. When she’s not writing for foodinsight.org, you can find her on stage performing or teaching improv comedy.

PHOTO: iStock