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Many things change when you're pregnant -- including your body's nutritional needs. The food you eat during pregnancy doesn't just fuel your own body, it also helps your growing baby to develop.

registered dietician carolyn oneil

Your body -- and your baby's body -- requires more energy when you're pregnant, so you should be taking in between 300 to 500 calories more every day than usual by the second and third part of pregnancy.

 Make those extra calories count! Because what you eat and drink provides the majority of your baby's nourishment, you should strive for the healthiest diet possible.

Some key nutrients you need and how to get them:

  • Protein: About 1 gram per kilogram of body weight per day should be proteins, which helps with cell development and blood production. Among the healthiest sources of protein are lean meats and poultry, fish, beans (like lima, kidney, and black beans), and egg whites.
  • Folic acid or folate: This B vitamin is critical to help prevent neural tube defects, which are problems with the development of the brain and spinal cord. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and cabbage are great sources of folate. Also, look for orange juices and cereals fortified with extra folate. Women of childbearing age should take folic acid as a supplement at least one month prior to any pregnancy and for at least the first three months of pregnancy. The recommended intake is 0.6 mg per day.
  • Calcium: Your growing baby needs calcium to form strong bones -- and you may lose some of your own bone strength if you're not taking in enough. In addition to dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese, broccoli, and spinach are also good calcium sources, as are fortified cereals. It's especially important to assure adequate calcium intake during the last part of pregnancy when the baby's bones are developing and mineralizing. The recommended intake is 1,000 mg per day during pregnancy. Remember calcium is better absorbed along with vitamin D.
  • Iron: Many pregnant women develop anemia -- a deficiency in red blood cells that can leave you tired and draggy. Good sources of iron include lean meats and, again, those dark green leafy veggies. The recommended intake during pregnancy is about 30 grams per day, which is contained in most prenatal vitamins.

A balanced, healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables is the best way for you and your growing baby to get these and other important nutrients. But many pregnant women also take a supplemental prenatal vitamin to make sure they're not missing out on anything important. Consult with your doctor before starting a prenatal vitamin.