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10 Tips for a Healthy and Affordable Diet When You're Pregnant

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Congratulations, you just found out you're expecting. Now you have free reign to eat for two, right? Wrong. Although it's easy to let nutrition fly out the window when you're pregnant and hungry, experts say you need to add only about 300 calories a day during the second and third trimesters. Fortunately, these extra calories won't stress your grocery budget. Moreover, sticking with a balanced, healthy diet can mitigate unfortunate pregnancy side effects, such as heartburn and morning sickness.

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Protein is absolutely vital during pregnancy because it promotes fetal brain development and tissue growth and helps your body accommodate the growing baby. The American Pregnancy Association recommends two to three servings a day of lean meats (ground beef, pork, chicken, fish/seafood) and/or legumes (split peas, beans, chickpeas); nuts and seeds also count. Cooking in bulk keeps costs down and saves time. Make a big pot of meat or vegetarian chili, for example, and use half for one or two dinners, then freeze the other half and enjoy leftovers for lunch.

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Three to four servings of vegetables a day is the standard recommendation. In particular, choose green leafy vegetables for the necessary hit of iron and folate (sometimes referred to as folic acid). Iron helps stave off anemia and make more hemoglobin for the increasing volume of blood in your body; folate helps prevent neural tube defects in the fetus. The best sources for iron and folate are leafy lettuce, spinach, cabbage, and turnip and collard greens. Meet the requirements with a large salad at lunch and a side salad at dinner. For variety, make a spinach smoothie for breakfast or afternoon snack. (Savings tip: Buy spinach in bulk-size bags; wash and dry thoroughly, then freeze in single-serving portions to dole out as needed.) For dinner, dig into hearty stuffed cabbage, a filling meal that is likely to leave you with leftovers. The Internet is loaded with recipes using these nutritious vegetables.

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Experts recommend two to four servings of fruit every day. Fruit is fiber rich, low in calories, and packed with vitamins. Vitamin C, for example, helps promote bone and tooth development, aids the metabolic process, and partially fulfills the folate requirement; citrus (especially oranges), melon, blueberries, apples, strawberries, mango, and kiwi are sweet choices. Vitamins A (apricot, papaya, peach), E (nectarine, raspberry, pomegranate), and B6 (banana, dates, grapes) likewise have important beneficial effects on developing bodies. Enjoy fresh as a snack, incorporate fruit into a meal, or blend up as a drink. Frozen fruit conveys the same nutritional value as fresh, but is less expensive and is a solid base for smoothies. Start with a banana for creamy texture, then add half a serving of fruit (e.g., strawberries), 1 cup of raw spinach, one-half to 1 cup of milk or yogurt; mix in some ice and a spot of honey for extra sweetness.

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Calcium, like vitamin C, promotes the development of strong bones and teeth. Be sure to get three to four servings of dairy or calcium-rich foods each day. One cup of milk or yogurt counts as one serving, as do one egg or 1.5 ounces of pasteurized cheese. Other sources of calcium include cabbage, green turnips, salmon, white beans, tofu, and almonds. Although nuts aren't cheap, buying them in bulk cuts the unit price; pack a small baggie with roasted (unsalted) almonds for an easy and filling on-the-go snack.

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Like fruit and green leafy vegetables, whole grains are essential for fulfilling the folate requirement while pregnant, and also contribute iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. Aim for three servings of whole grains every day: one slice of whole-grain bread or one-half cup of cooked grains (e.g., cornmeal, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, barley, brown rice); even one serving (three cups) of air-popped popcorn is acceptable. Money-saving coupons on these pantry staples are easy to find.

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Caffeinated beverages, including coffee, tea, and sodas, fall into a grey zone for pregnant women. Caffeine doesn't offer any nutritional benefits but is OK in limited amounts -- up to 300 mg a day, according to WebMD. For coffee drinkers, that's the equivalent of two 8-ounce cups; tea drinkers can sip a bit less than four 8-ounce cups. A tall glass of caffeinated soda contains 30 mg to 60 mg of the stimulant -- that's a lot of soda, not to mention all the sugar. Maybe pregnancy is a good time to kick the caffeine habit and save some money in the process.

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On occasion, certain artificial sweeteners are acceptable during pregnancy. These include aspartame, acesulfame K, and sucralose. WebMD says to steer clear of saccharin during pregnancy because it can make its way to fetal tissue. When in doubt, discuss any dietary needs, including the use of artificial sweeteners, with your health care provider.

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Some foods just aren't safe for a pregnant woman to ingest. These include soft, unpasteurized cheese; unpasteurized dairy or juice; fish that are high in mercury, including swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel (tuna should be consumed in limited quantities); raw fish; pate and meat spreads; and undercooked meat and eggs. Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly.

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It's no secret that alcohol, tobacco, and drugs are big no-no's during pregnancy. Use of these substances can cause low birth weights, preterm labor, mental retardation, and birth defects. Even some over-the-counter medications may not be safe while you're pregnant; Always consult a health care provider taking any medicine.

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Common ailments in pregnancy include morning sickness, heartburn, and constipation. While these come with the territory, the foods you eat and when you eat them may heighten or diminish the severity of these conditions. For example, many women struggle with morning sickness or all-day sickness in the first trimester. Six small meals a day instead of three large meals may ease the symptoms; the same advice holds for heartburn. Spicy foods can aggravate both heartburn and morning sickness, so lay off the hot sauce. A glass of milk can help alleviate heartburn while caffeine may make it worse. To relieve constipation, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet and drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day. Changing your habits can make you feel better and perhaps eliminate the need for pricey medications.