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7 Power Foods for a Healthy Pregnancy

If there's one thing we all associate with pregnancy, it is eating!

Pregnant women get the STRANGEST food cravings. They can wake up in the middle of the night and send their husbands out for chocolate and French fries, pickles and cake, or sardines and waffles. If they don't get that food NOW, someone is going to get hurt real bad.

It's not just the cravings that cause pregnant women to eat a lot. Their bodies are telling them that they need to eat more in order to feed their baby, so they can go through four or five huge meals per day. It's normal for pregnant women to feel hungrier, and as long as they're not overdoing it with the wrong foods, it's totally fine for them to eat more.

And then there are a few foods that pregnant women MUST eat more of. These foods are vital to their health and the health of their little one. They can prevent pregnancy problems by eating the right foods, and they can promote the healthy development of the fetus growing in their womb.

Not to mention that eating healthy during pregnancy means that you'll have less weight battles after the baby is born, and if you can continue to eat healthily after the baby is born, it's better for your body too! Some studies have shown that if the mother starts eating healthy while the baby is in utero, that the baby is more likely to eat healthy out of the womb as well.

What " super foods" are these? Read on to find out a few of the best power foods that all pregnant women and future mommies in training should make a point of eating on a daily basis:

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1 Whole Grains

If it's brown and tastes like grain, it's a food you want to eat A LOT more of! If you've been brought up on white bread, try getting used to whole wheat bread and you'll be doing yourself and your baby a big favour.

Whole grains--barley, quinoa, amaranth, brown rice, bran, and fortified cereals, among others-- are some of the healthiest foods you can eat while pregnant. And since most of these are the grains of the hour, you shouldn't have a hard time trying to find them in the grocery store.

They contain a whole lot of iron (needed for the production of red blood cells), fiber (for healthy digestion and a reduced risk of pregnancy-related constipation), Vitamin E (a heart-smart antioxidant that protects your skin and prevents stretch marks), selenium (an immune-boosting antioxidant that will keep disease at bay), and phytonutrients (plant compounds that help to protect the cells in your and your baby's bodies).

But, most importantly, whole grains contain B vitamins. B vitamins--particularly folic acid--are vital for the health of pregnant women and their babies, and fortified cereal is one of the best sources of these B vitamins.

Check out these Mommy and baby-friendly recipes:

Brown Rice Curry

Quinoa Chili

Eating whole grains will help you increase your fiber intake which will not only help you go to the bathroom, but it will help to scrape cholesterol off of your arteries. Keeping whole grains in your diet after your pregnancy will help you lead a healthier lifestyle and keep you iron count up without having to rely heavily on eating red meat.

You can even try to eat specialty bread from the grocery store with jam if you're having a hard time swallowing any of the bread brands you find on the shelf at your local grocery store.

2. Eggs

It doesn't get healthier for you than eggs!

Eggs are an AMAZING source of protein, which is needed for the growth of your baby's cells. Without enough protein in your diet, your child could end up malnourished. By adding eggs to your diet, you get all the protein you need to keep your baby growing healthy and strong.

Nutritionists used to warn against eating the yokes of eggs for many years, but recent studies show that the entire egg is good for you, so don't be worried about only being able to eat the egg whites, now you can enjoy the whole egg guilt free.

You get a LOT of protein but with hardly any calories. Each egg contains about 80 calories, so you can eat pretty much as many eggs as you want without worrying about packing on the fat (a problem with meats).

Eggs also contain choline, a nutrient that is needed for fetal growth. Choline helps to reduce the risk of brain defects and neural tube defects in your child, and the Omega-3 fatty acids in eggs encourage the vision and brain development. An egg or two per day will definitely be the way to go!

Check out these Mommy and baby-friendly recipes:

Feta Eggs

Veggie Omelet

The best part about eggs is that they are easy to prepare and if you want to add flavour to them, just add a dash of salt and pepper or another dried herb that you like the flavour of. If you've never been a big fan of eggs, make French Toast using a whole grain bread and try adding a dash of Vanilla to the egg mixture, it'll make your French toast taste like a gourmet meal. And if you've got authentic Maple Syrup to put on your French Toast, even better.

Maple Syrup has a naturally occurring ingredient that makes it super healthy. Maple syrup has polyphenols, a plant-based compound that works as an antioxidant. These polyphenols can boost your immune system, age-proof your skin, calm tummy troubles, and more.

3. Salmon

When it comes to lean proteins, salmon is the best of the best!

Salmon is one of the best sources of protein on the planet. It is fairly low in saturated fat, but it contains A LOT of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are vital for the healthy development of your fetus's brain, eyes, and nervous system. Omega-3s can also help you to feel better throughout the pregnancy, as it's a mood-boosting nutrient.

Salmon is going to give you a lot of the protein that you and your baby need during this pregnancy. You'll find that salmon contains very little methylmercury, a heavy metal/toxin that has been known to damage fetal nervous systems.

You can cut down on the amount of metals you find in fish by eating fish that were raised on fish farms. These fish haven't been exposed to the toxins in the oceans, and are bred for consumption purposes, so you can rest easy knowing that the oceans weren't overfished to bring you your latest meal.

By eating more salmon, you do your body--and the growing body of your baby--a huge favor!

Check out these Mommy and baby-friendly recipes:

Soy-Glazed Salmon Steak

Teriyaki Salmon

You might even want to eat sushi with salmon in it, this is a healthy way to enjoy a treat and still get the protein you need. Many sushi restaurants in North America have some sort of salmon sushi available, so if you don't want the kind with a raw piece of salmon on top, you might be able to get sushi that is deep fried in a tempura batter.

Always ask where the salmon comes from in a restaurant, if the waiter and staff don't know, better to be safe than sorry and forgo the salmon.

4. Beans

So many different types, so many health benefits!

You never truly know how many varieties of beans there are in the world. You're probably familiar with navy beans and pinto beans, but what about black beans, kidney beans, chick peas, fava beans, and green peas? Just when you think you've seen them all, another one appears!

Thankfully, ALL beans are amazing for your health and the health of your baby. They are an excellent source of protein, but they contain NO saturated fat. They're also going to give you the fiber you need to have a healthy digestive system. By eating beans, you can reduce your risk of hemorrhoids and constipation--two common pregnancy-related health problems.

Beans--especially the darker-colored ones--contain flavonoids and polyphenols, antioxidants that will help to improve your overall health. The zinc, iron, folic acid, and calcium in beans will contribute to keeping your baby healthy and growing strong.

Check out these Mommy and baby-friendly recipes:

Quinoa and Black Beans

Brown Beans

You might even want to whip up a batch of chili that you can freeze and reheat after you come home from the hospital. You can pile all the healthy beans and vegetables in your chili that you can imagine. And for vegetarians, you don't even need to add beef at all if you've got enough vegetables in your chili.

If you feel like a special dish, or eating something out of the ordinary, try South American dishes that use beans either in the dish itself, or as a side. This will get you the protein you need and give you the flavour that you've been searching for.

5. Yogurt

Better and tastier than milk any day!

Greek yogurt, in particular, is excellent for the health of baby and mommy alike. Greek yogurt usually contains about twice the protein that you get from regular yogurt. The extra protein will help to fuel your muscles and promote the growth of baby's muscles and cells as well.

But what makes yogurt truly one of the best "power foods" for pregnant mothers is the calcium. Calcium is needed in order to have strong, healthy bones, and yogurt is one of the best natural sources of calcium. Thanks to the saturated fat in the yogurt, your body can more easily absorb and process the calcium--sending it straight to your bones and the bones of your little one.

Did you know that some women develop a sort of osteoporosis during pregnancy? When baby sucks up all the calcium, the mother's bones suffer. For this reason, it's vital to get more calcium, and yogurt is one of the best calcium sources around!

Check out these Mommy and baby-friendly recipes:

Yogurt Parfait

Homemade Yogurt

For those who aren't a fan of yogurt, you can make smoothies at home that use yogurt as part of their ingredients. By using honey, almond milk and a mixture of fruits you won't even taste the yogurt hiding inside the smoothie.

The best thing about smoothies is you can't really go wrong with the fruit combinations either. Almost any berry or fruit juice tastes amazing when mixed together with the yogurt and other fruit. If you don't want to invest in buying up fruit and yogurt because you're not sure you'll like it, you can try smoothies from places like Jamba Juice.

6. Berries

Bright and colorful, these little berries will make your day!

Berries are one of the best natural sources of antioxidants on the planet. The polyphenols, flavonoids, and other antioxidants in berries will go a long way toward protecting the cells of your body--and baby's--from damage by free radicals and toxins during the pregnancy.

But the benefits of berries don't stop there. Berries are also an excellent source of folic acid, the nutrient VITAL for a health pregnant mommy. They also contain Vitamin C, which helps to improve mother's immune system and protects her from infections during the pregnancy. You can get a lot of fiber from berries, which will prevent hemorrhoids and constipation--two common side effects of being pregnant.

Check out these Mommy and baby-friendly recipes:

Triple Berry Crisp

Vanilla Berry Parfait

Berries are one food that you don't need to dress up in order to eat, you can mix a bowl of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries together for a special treat. And for those who have to add a dab of sugar you can put whip cream on top of the berries for your sugar fix.

The best thing about berries is that you can add them to almost anything; cake tops, oatmeal, pies, all of these taste great with berries. These make great snacking foods too. If you feel a bit hungry, grab a handful of berries and you can munch your hunger away.

You can even find dark chocolate covered fruit and add nuts to it for a super healthy trail mix. But don't think that adding jam or jelly to your toast is healthy because there's berries in it. Jams and jellies are made with a large amount of sugar which is bad for you and your baby.

7. Leafy Greens

If it's dark and/or leafy, you want to eat it!

Leafy greens (cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and kale) are some of the healthiest foods on the planet. They are loaded with fiber, which goes a long way towards improving the digestive health of pregnant women. If you've ever experienced constipation thanks to your pregnancy, you know how important fiber can be!

But it's the darker greens that really pack a punch. Broccoli, spinach, chard, and kale are the four best options around. They're loaded with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K, not to mention a whole lot of folic acid. For pregnant mothers, these are the foods that should take top spot on your daily menu!

If you've never tried kale before, here's some preparation tips to help it go down easier. Kale has a strong taste that can seem bitter. The most bitter part of the plant is the stalk. So if you want a better tasting kale salad wash the leafs and massage them until the leaf loses its waxy look. Then you cut the leafs up to the size you want them and they're ready to be added to your salad.

Broccoli is another strong tasting--and smelling--vegetable. The best way to prepare broccoli, whether you're using it in a salad or just to eat with butter and salt is to not over boil it. First boil water in a pot, making sure the water measures about an inch and a half from the bottom of the pot.

After the water is boiling add the broccoli and only let it boil for 5 minutes. You want to be able to pierce the broccoli with a fork without too much force, but if it loses its green colour and is mushy it's been over cooked and will lose its flavour and nutritional value.

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