Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

The pregnancy craving pickle

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By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Thursday, March 18, 2010

What did you crave when you were pregnant: Chocolate? Tacos? Sardines? Or were you more driven by food aversions than by cravings?

Whichever foods your pregnancy drives you toward or makes you recoil from, the new what-to-eat-while-pregnant book "Feed the Belly," by Frances Largeman-Roth (Sourcebooks, 2009) can help you figure out how to consume enough of the nutrients you and your growing baby need even as you tiptoe through the minefield of cravings, aversions and weight gain.

Largeman-Roth got the idea for her book when she was just thinking about starting a family. As senior food and nutrition editor at Health magazine, she was nutrition-savvy and well aware of the books and other resources available to pregnant women who want to maintain healthful diets. Finding many of those guides too rigid and daunting, she aimed for a lighter, more encouraging tone.

The premise of "Feed the Belly" is that if food doesn't taste good, it doesn't matter what wealth of nutrients it delivers because nobody's going to eat it. To that end, she enlisted chefs to provide tasty, nutritious recipes, such as Mark Bittman's Smashed Edamame and Potatoes With Miso and Iron Chef Cat Cora's Cinnamon-Stewed Chicken. The book also features a tear-out menu listing a week's worth of meals and snacks.

The book offers detailed information about key nutrients and how much of them a pregnant woman should consume. But Largeman-Roth also suggests women relax and enjoy the experience of being pregnant rather than sweat over their daily choline intake.

Still, recipes are indexed according to key nutrients, so if your physician says you're low on, say, iron, you can easily find foods rich in that mineral. Recipes are also organized according to the common cravings they satisfy. (You can find some of them at; you can also download a shopping list for healthful foods there.)

Largeman-Roth says pregnancy is not the time to overindulge in food or to let your exercise routine fall by the wayside. She suggests it's a great time to take stock of your diet and physical activity and work toward becoming your healthiest self. Among other helpful exercise suggestions, the book offers a guide to modifying yoga poses to accommodate your pregnant body: downward dog with bent knees, for example.

One of the great challenges for pregnant women -- particularly those who are overweight to start with -- is to cram in all the nutrients their bodies and babies need without taking in too many calories. "Feed the Belly," in keeping with standard medical advice, points out that pregnant women really should consume just 300 extra calories per day, and only in the second and third trimesters. Overweight or obese women, Largeman-Roth suggests, should talk with their doctors about how much weight they should gain during pregnancy, as overweight moms put their infants at risk of being larger than average (which can have implications for their future health). And being overweight increases a mom's risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia and of delivering by Caesarean section. She notes that recent research suggests that some pregnant women should even consider dieting, a notion that has long been taboo.

As Largeman-Roth notes in her book, women who are overweight during pregnancy tend to stay that way afterward, many of them never returning to a normal, healthy weight. Research published in this month's issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that women who gain weight during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, when no extra calorie intake is required, are at especially high risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Largeman-Roth doesn't sugarcoat the grim news about the need to keep pregnancy weight gain in check. But for the most part, she writes in a breezy, I'm-your-pal style, which many moms-to-be will find appealing. At my age, with my childbearing days long behind me, I could do with a little less lingo -- the word "vajayjay," in particular, grates. But as it happened, Largeman-Roth became pregnant while writing and gave birth to her daughter when "Feed the Belly" was in the final stages of editing. So she clearly was in tune with what a pregnant woman needs to know -- and how she wants that information delivered.

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