Medical News Today: What to eat in your second trimester

A balanced, nutritious diet during pregnancy is vital for a healthy mother and baby. A healthful diet ensures the fetus gets the nutrients it needs to develop correctly.

Eating well also prevents pregnancy complications, including preterm birth, high blood pressure, and preeclampsia.

During pregnancy, women should ensure they are getting enough vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to encourage healthy growth. However, the body needs slightly more calories during the second trimester.

In this article, we list the most important foods to eat during the second trimester and discuss how much weight a woman might gain.

What to eat during the second trimester

During the second trimester, people should continue eating a balanced diet. The following nutrients are the most important for someone who is pregnant:

Iron

Pregnant woman in her second trimester eating salad.
Certain nutrients become more important later in pregnancy.

Iron helps to carry oxygen around the body. During pregnancy, iron supplies oxygen to the developing baby.

If a diet is lacking in iron, it could cause anemia, which increases the risk of complications, such as premature birth and postpartum depression.

The recommended daily iron intake during pregnancy is 27 milligrams (mg).

Sources of iron include:

  • lean meat
  • cooked seafood
  • leafy green vegetables
  • nuts
  • beans and lentils
  • whole grains, including bread and oatmeal
  • fortified breakfast cereals

The body absorbs iron from animal products more efficiently than iron from plant-based sources.

So, people who do not eat meat can boost absorption rates by eating foods that contain vitamin C at the same time.

Sources of vitamin C include oranges, orange juice, strawberries, and tomatoes.

People should try to avoid eating iron-containing foods and calcium-rich foods or supplements at the same time. Calcium reduces iron absorption.

Protein

When pregnant, people should aim to eat 75 to 100 grams (g) of protein each day to help the baby’s brain, and other tissue, grow. Protein is also necessary for the growth of the mother’s uterus and breasts.

Good sources of protein include:

  • lean meats
  • nuts
  • tofu and tempeh
  • eggs
  • fish (cooked, not raw)
  • peas, beans, and lentils

Calcium

The recommended dietary allowance for calcium during pregnancy is 1,000 mg. Anyone who is less than 18 years old, who is pregnant, should aim to consume 1,300 mg of calcium daily.

Calcium helps the baby’s bones and teeth form, and it plays a role in the smooth running of the muscles, nerves, and circulatory system.

Calcium-rich foods include:

  • dairy (milk, yogurt, pasteurized cheese)
  • eggs
  • tofu
  • white beans
  • almonds
  • sardines and salmon (with bones)
  • greens, such as kale, broccoli, and turnip greens
  • calcium-fortified fruit juices and breakfast cereals

Folate

Foods rich in folate or folic acid, such as broccoli, beans, nuts, lentils
Oranges, whole grains, and dark green leafy vegetables contain folate.

Folate is a B vitamin. The synthetic form of folate is called folic acid.

Folate is essential during pregnancy as it helps prevent neural tube defects, including spina bifida, and reduces the risk of premature labor.

An analysis of 18 studies also suggests that folic acid significantly decreases the risk of congenital heart defects. However, more research is still needed.

During and before pregnancy, women should consume 400 to 800 micrograms (mcg) of folate or folic acid daily. The best sources include:

  • black-eyed peas and other legumes
  • fortified cereals
  • dark green leafy vegetables, including spinach, cabbage, and collard greens
  • oranges
  • whole grains, such as rice

It is a good idea to take a folic acid supplement or prenatal vitamin before and throughout pregnancy, as there is no guarantee that a person can get enough folate from food sources to meet the daily requirements.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps build a developing baby’s bones and teeth. The recommended intake during pregnancy is 15 mcg a day.

The body can make vitamin D from the sun, which allows many people to meet some of their needs. However, estimates suggest that more than 40 percent of the adult population in the United States have vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sun exposure and other factors.

Vitamin D is not present in lots of natural foods, but fortified foods, such as cereal and milk, contain vitamin D.

Food sources of vitamin D include:

  • fatty fish, such as salmon, fresh tuna, and mackerel
  • fish liver oils
  • beef liver
  • cheese
  • egg yolks
  • UV-exposed mushrooms
  • fortified juices and other drinks

Vitamin D supplements are also available and can be important for people who do not live in a sunny climate.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Both mother and baby can benefit from omega-3 fats in the diet. These essential fatty acids support the heart, brain, eyes, immune system, and central nervous system. Omega-3 may prevent early delivery, lower the risk of developing preeclampsia, and decrease the likelihood of postpartum depression.

An adequate daily intake of omega-3 fats during pregnancy is 1.4 g. Omega-3 fatty acids are present in:

  • oily fish, including salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, herring, and sardines
  • fish oil
  • flaxseeds
  • chia seeds

Seeds contain a form of omega-3 that the body needs to convert before it can use it. How well the body can do this varies from person to person.

Vegans and vegetarians may need to take an algae-based supplement to meet their omega-3 requirements during pregnancy.

Fluids

Pregnant people need more water than those who are not pregnant to stay hydrated. Water helps form the placenta and the amniotic sac. Dehydration during pregnancy can contribute to complications, such as neural tube defects and reduced breast milk production.

Anyone who is pregnant should drink at least 8 to 12 glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration and its complications.


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Foods to avoid

Soft creamy cheese amongst biscuits, crackers.
Avoid soft cheeses during pregnancy.

A person should avoid the following foods throughout their pregnancy:

  • raw meat
  • raw eggs
  • raw fish
  • fish with high levels of mercury, including swordfish, shark, tilefish, and king mackerel
  • unpasteurized dairy products
  • soft cheeses, such as Brie, blue cheese, and feta
  • ready-to-eat meats and seafood

A person should avoid alcohol throughout pregnancy, as there is no known safe level. All types of alcohol can be harmful and may cause:

  • miscarriage
  • stillbirth
  • fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)

FASDs are conditions that cause physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities.

Pregnant women can consume caffeine in limited amounts. Experts state that it is safe to consume 150 to 300 mg per day, although the American Pregnancy Association suggest that pregnant people avoid caffeine as much as possible.

An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains between 95 to 165 mg of caffeine, and a 6-oz serving of black tea contains approximately 45 mg. Cola drinks, chocolate, green tea, and some medications also contain caffeine.

How much weight to gain

It is perfectly natural and healthy to gain weight during pregnancy. A person’s weight increases due to a higher blood volume in the body, the presence of amniotic fluid, and the baby’s weight.

The body needs 300 extra calories each day during the second and third trimesters to manage this weight gain.

The Institute of Medicine recommend the following weight gain:

  • 25 to 35 pounds if average weight (BMI of 18.5 to 24.9)
  • 28 to 40 pounds if underweight (BMI of 18.5 or less)
  • 15 to 25 pounds if overweight (BMI of 25.0 to 29.9)
  • 11 to 20 pounds if obese (BMI of 30.0 or more)

Those who were an average weight at the beginning of their pregnancy will typically gain 1 to 2 pounds per week in the second trimester. Gaining more weight than recommended increases the risk of complications, such as high blood pressure, a larger baby, and cesarean delivery.


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Takeaway

The basic principles of healthful eating are similar whether a person is pregnant or not. But during pregnancy, it is vital to focus on some essential nutrients, including iron, protein, calcium, folate, and omega-3 fats.

Weight gain during pregnancy, especially the second and third trimesters, is typical and healthy. To avoid gaining more weight than recommended, people should not eat more than 300 extra calories per day.

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