You may have heard mixed messages about carbohydrates. Athletes tout "carbs" for their high-energy benefits, but some sources say they are empty calories and recommend limiting them to help with weight control. What's the real story on carbs, and what role do they play in pregnancy? The answers depend upon the type of carbohydrate foods you eat.
Separating the Good From the Bad
Not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbohydrates provide a lot of calories and energy, but they don't offer much nutritional value. Examples of simple carbohydrates include white bread, white rice or pasta, refined cereals, cookies, cake, junk food, and sugars.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are packed with minerals, protein, and fiber — all necessary for you and your baby. Vegetables; fruits; whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta; brown rice, dried beans and peas; and potatoes steamed or baked in their skins are all complex carbohydrates.
Benefits of Complex Carbs
There's no recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for complex carbohydrates in pregnancy. However, most nutritionists believe that they should make up about 60 percent of your total daily calories.
Sixty percent may sound like a lot, but consider these bonus health benefits for moms-to-be: The fiber in complex carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, helps ease any constipation you might experience while pregnant. Some women find that carbs also help decrease nausea in the first trimester.
Getting the best out of complex carbs
You can squeeze the most nutrition out of carbohydrate foods by following these tips:
- Eat vegetables and fruits that are fresh or frozen. They have a higher nutritional value than the canned variety. Try munching on raw veggies and fruits every day as a snack.
- When cooking vegetables, stir-fry, microwave, or steam them lightly so they'll retain their vitamins and minerals.
- Whenever possible, skip the rich sauces and butter on your vegetables. These high-fat toppings are filling and leave less room for more nutritious foods.
- Switch to whole grain whenever possible: bread, pasta, cereals…
Eating healthy complex carbohydrates instead of refined simple ones will help you keep your blood sugar levels down and maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.