If you're planning to get pregnant, already have children, or just want to stay in shape, filling your body with nutritious foods is one of the best things you can do to give yourself much-needed energy and to ensure good health for many years to come. And eating right doesn't have to cost a lot of money or time. Registered dietitians Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, and Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, suggest their top picks for quick and nutritious foods that are just right for you.
If you are pregnant, you'll want to make sure to eat foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, suggests Bissex. These nutrients are vital for your baby's brain development. According to the United States Food & Drug Administration, pregnant and nursing women as well as young children should avoid high mercury fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark. Wild salmon is considered a low mercury fish, making it a good choice for an expecting woman to consume. Grilled or broiled salmon on a bed of spinach, which has lots of iron, calcium, and folate, makes the perfect pregnancy power meal.
Recommended Serving Size: 4 ounce fillet, 140 calories
Milk -- 1% Low-Fat
Did you know that your body's bone mass peaks by age 25? Including calcium-rich foods in your diet, such as milk, is essential for your body's bone density and the time to worry about bone density is now. Most women need 1,000 to 1,200mg of calcium per day, but we often fall short of that requirement, which increases our risk for getting osteoporosis.
"Women really need to do all they can to maintain their bone mass as they age," says Bissex. She recommends consuming calcium-rich foods, such as milk, to ensure a healthy pregnancy and proper lactation. Low-fat 1% milk is an ideal source because it's low in fat and contains vitamin D, which significantly increases your body's ability to absorb calcium. Plus, research shows that women who consume three to four servings of dairy products every day are more successful at losing weight. So drink up!
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup, 300mg calcium, 110 calories
One of the fastest and easiest ways to get your daily requirement of iron is to include fortified cereals in your diet. "It is important to get an adequate iron intake to avoid iron-deficiency anemia," says Bissex. Plus, the need for iron goes up considerably when you are pregnant. Iron-deficiency anemia can cause weakness, fatigue, inability to pay attention, reduced resistance to cold temperatures, and inability to regulate body temperature adequately, according to Grieger. A bowl of cereal with 1% low-fat milk topped with antioxidant-rich blueberries is the perfect way for any mom-to-be to start her day!
Recommended Serving Size: 3/4 to 1 cup, 120 calories
Decaffeinated Green Tea
If you are looking for a healthier alternative to your morning coffee, why not try a soothing cup of decaffeinated green tea? Loaded with antioxidants, research suggests that it can lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, and may boost your metabolism as well, according to Grieger. Choose an organic brand and drink it hot or cold. Though beverage companies are now making varieties of iced green teas, make sure to choose one that does not contain a high amount of fructose or corn syrup. These processed sugars only add empty calories, and may outweigh the benefits of green tea.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup brewed, 0 calories 1 cup pre-packaged brand, 17 calories
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Spinach, kale, and mustard greens -- "these are the super-veggies that nutritionists are always raving about because they are jam-packed with antioxidants, fiber, and iron," says Grieger. Add flavor to these vegetables without losing their nutritional value by steaming them. Lightly top with garlic and olive oil, or a lemon-mustard-butter sauce.
Recommended Serving Size: 1 cup raw, 1/2 cup cooked, 20 calories
Originally published on BHG.com, March 2005.