Protein is incredibly important, especially during pregnancy. Not only does it help build, maintain, and repair muscle tissue for both mom and baby, but lean protein also boosts energy and even aids growth, mood, and cognitive development – all with less saturated fat than other types of protein.
How much protein do I need?
Recommended protein intake varies based on body weight – the Recommended Dietary Allowance is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or about 10 to 35% of the total calories you eat in a day. This means that as your diet changes, your protein intake should change with it, in proportion.
Choosing a protein source
When looking at protein sources, it’s best to limit foods that contain a lot of saturated fat, which means many processed foods and red meat. It’s also smart to consume a variety of different sources of protein, because eating a range of protein-rich foods helps you get a wider range of nutrients. For example, you could get all of your protein needs from red meat, but adding nuts, dairy products, seeds, soy, and even certain vegetables to your diet can help make your protein intake more well-rounded. This will also help to limit an overload of other nutrients you might not want quite as much of, like saturated fats.
Smart way to get protein #1: Swapping in protein-rich foods for those that are not
One way to get more protein is to replace certain foods with similar foods that have more protein. Here are some good examples:
- Yogurt: If you eat yogurt, try switching to Greek yogurt, which has almost twice the amount of protein that regular yogurt has.
- Flours: If you’re a baker, instead of using refined flour, try using whole wheat flour, which has a slightly higher protein content. If you really want to up your protein intake, try swapping in a partial portion of chickpea, quinoa, soy, or nut flour.
- Add tofu: Try adding tofu to a vegetable-heavy dish. Tofu provides 36% of your needed daily value of protein, as well as high amounts of manganese and calcium. And it only has 165 calories per 4 oz.
Smart way to get protein #2: Put extra protein into what you already eat
If you have very strong food preferences, you might not feel like shaking up your diet too much. Instead of replacing foods, you could always add a little protein to what you’re eating.
- Beans, nuts, and seeds: Add any of these to salads, soups, or stews for added protein. Chia seeds, in particular, have a high protein content and don’t need much preparation – they can be thrown whole into yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies, or other things you might already be eating.
- Nutritional yeast: This dried form of yeast has a cheesy flavor, and you can sprinkle this on popcorn, salad, roasted vegetables, pasta, and rice.
- Wheat germ: One serving of wheat germ has 3 grams of protein. You can use wheat germ as a topping on dessert dishes, put it in your stuffing and breadcrumbs, or even add it to smoothies, yogurt parfaits, and soup.
Smart way to get protein #3: Modify your meal
You can always make a small switch to increase the protein, or percentage of protein, you eat at any given meal.
- Skinless chicken: Chicken is an excellent protein source, but remove the skin to reduce saturated fat. This doesn’t increase the amount of protein, but it very much helps the good-to-bad ratio.
- Protein-rich side dishes: Adding hummus dip, peas, lima beans, or quinoa on the side gives any meal a healthy protein boost.
- Cheese plates: Unless you have a dairy aversion, snacking on cheese is a good way to get protein while also curbing an intense appetite.
- “Ch. 17: Nutrition During Pregnancy.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Apr 2015. Web.
- “Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy.” ChooseMyPlate. US Department of Agriculture, Feb 9 2017. Web.
- “Food Safety for Pregnant Women.” FDA. USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, HHS, Food and Drug Administration, Jan 18 2017. Web.