Diet recommendations updated for mothers-to-be

WASHINGTON — With an increasing number of women in the U.S. and around the globe being overweight or obese when they conceive, medical experts have updated their recommendations for healthy diets.

And according to Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, new goals for weight gain are among these changes.

“Experts now say that underweight women should gain about 28 to 40 pounds during pregnancy,” she said. “For healthy-weight women, it’s 25 to 35 pounds. But for overweight women, it’s now about 15 to 25 pounds and about 11 to 20 pounds for obese women.”

The guidelines are based on a woman’s weight at conception, and they factor in body mass index (BMI).

The Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have been studying these changes in recent years, Squires said. The amount of weight gain is critical for the health of both the mother and the child. Gaining too much weight can mean that the baby is very large and might require a cesarean section. Gaining too little weight may mean a longer hospital stay for newborns.

The green light to gain weight does not give pregnant women a blank check to eat whatever they want. Experts say the weight gain should be gradual and include nutrient-rich foods.

“Pregnant women should turn to more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and poultry and seafood,” Squires added.

But there are some things they should avoid — especially certain fish. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration updated its advice for pregnant women, Squires said, because of concern over the amount of mercury found in some fish.

“Fish is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids, and this is vital for the brains of developing babies,” Squires said. “But fish created a bit of challenge for the medical community to find the right balance.”

According to the FDA, women should eat two to three servings per week from a list of “best” fish choices, including: anchovies, herring, lobster, sole, squid, shrimp or cod. Or they can have one serving per week from a list of “good” fish choices, such as bluefish, grouper, rockfish, snapper, yellowfin, albacore or white tuna.

To stay within limits, Squires reminded women that a serving is about the size of the palm of your hand.

The following fish should be avoided because of their high mercury content: king mackerel, orange roughy, shark swordfish, bigeye tuna and tilefish. Smoked seafood should also be avoided, unless it is in a cooked dish such as a casserole.

Other foods to skip include hot dogs and luncheon meats — unless they are reheated until steaming hot. This is done to avoid listeria, a bacterial illness that can be harmful to pregnant women and their babies.

Soft cheese such as feta, brie and queso blanco should be avoided unless the cheese is made with pasteurized milk, Squires said.

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