The Preconception Diet

The time to start eating for two begins before pregnancy. That is, if you want a strong, healthy baby. Of course, eating a healthy diet also promotes conception. Here are some tips on getting the nutrients you need:

Most experts agree that a good place to start with preconception nutrition is folic acid, which is found in dark green vegetables, citrus fruits, pistachios, fortified breads and cereals, peanuts, avocados, and strawberries. You can also take it as a tablet.

Folic Acid

The reason folic acid is so important is that it prevents neural tube defects in a developing fetus, reducing the risk by somewhere between 50%-70%. But these defects occur in the earliest stages of a pregnancy. You want to be well-stocked with this nutrient in advance of pregnancy.

Physicians suggest you begin taking folic acid supplements or increase dietary sources of this nutrient at least one month before you plan to conceive and continue with this regimen throughout your first trimester of pregnancy. The March of Dimes recommends taking a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.

The next idea is to include foods that are dense in nutrients. In other words, always choose foods that contribute to good health. Choose whole grains over refined "white" carbohydrates; choose fresh-squeezed juice over reconstituted, sugar-added juice drinks; and avoid empty calories. Go for organic, hormone and additive-free foods packed with fiber, vitamins, protein, and minerals.

No Sushi

Stay away from uncooked fish, eggs, meat, and poultry. That means avoiding sushi and carpaccio, not to mention raw cookie dough. Avoid king mackerel, tilefish, shark, tuna and swordfish, due to the high levels of mercury, but other fish are fine in moderation.

Don't eat anything containing unpasteurized milk or dairy products. Don't eat soft cheeses like Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, and Quesa Blanca.

Scrub raw fruits and vegetables well to remove pesticides and germs. Heat leftovers or ready-to-eat products like hot dogs, until they are steaming hot.

Fluid Levels

Drink lots of water—at least 8 glasses a day, every day. Stay away from soft drinks, both the sugary and the diet types. Caffeine, a major ingredient in coffee, tea, and colas, is a diuretic and so it serves to reduce the fluid levels in your body. There is some evidence to support caffeine as the cause of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) or even miscarriage if you drink the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee every day.

Don't drink alcohol—period. The birth defects caused by exposure to alcohol occur during the first 3-8 weeks of pregnancy says the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. But damage from alcohol can occur at any point during pregnancy while organ systems are growing to maturity. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also believes that women who drink have a hard time becoming pregnant.

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