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Pregnancy Snacks: Smart Eating for 2

Healthier ways to satisfy those powerful pregnancy munchies.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You're expecting a baby, so you're avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, and any other substance considered harmful to your developing child's health. But what about all those chips, cookies, and candy bars you're craving? Although they don't come with a warning on the side of the box, you may want to limit them, too.

Pregnancy Snacks: Think Small

When you're pregnant, eating too much of any snack food, healthy or otherwise, may lead to excessive weight gain that boosts the risk for complications, including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

To make matters worse, women often forget to figure in the calories from mid-meal indulgences. 

"Snacks aren't free, and even if you don't count the calories they provide, your body does," says Miriam Erick, MS, RD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Erick is also the author of Managing Morning Sickness: A Survival Guide for Pregnant Women.

A steady diet of high-fat, low-nutrient snacks adds insult to injury. Chips, french fries, and soft drinks often crowd out foods that offer more nutrition for you and your baby.

That doesn't mean you have to give up snacking, but you may need to rethink what you munch on between meals, and how much you eat.

"Small amounts of healthy foods throughout the day provide a steadier flow of nutrients and energy to the developing fetus," Erick tells WebMD. "Snacking may reduce the effects of morning sickness and heartburn, too."

Treat snacks as mini-meals, considering them opportunities to work in the nutrients you and your baby need. Include foods you'd feature at any meal. Chances are you wouldn't wash down a bag of chips with a sugary soft drink and call it a meal, so don't think about these foods as worthy snacks, either. 

Still, experts say, it's OK to indulge once in a while. The overall balance of the diet is what matters most.

"While we think it might be possible that a preference for junk food could be programmed in individuals whose mothers eat a lot of these foods when they're  pregnant, it's unlikely that the occasional junk food will have any substantial impact on the child," says Beverly Muhlhausler, PhD, a researcher at the University of South Australia's Early Origins of Adult Health Laboratory.

Your Pregnancy Diet: Programming Your Children's Health?

Consume too many high-fat, high-sugar foods during pregnancy, however, and you may be putting your child's health at risk, Muhlhausler cautions.

A recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition illustrates just that, suggesting pregnant moms who feast on junk food have children with a propensity for packing on pounds.

In the study, pregnant and nursing laboratory rats ate either regular lab chow or a steady diet of biscuits, marshmallows, jam, doughnuts, potato chips, and candy bars. The rats whose moms ate the junk-food diet when pregnant and nursing put on more weight at 10 weeks old than the rats born to moms fed rat chow.

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