Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates

The pregnant body requires additional protein for both the mother and baby. The prepregnant RDA for adults (both women and men) is 0.75g/kg, or about 42 grams of “reference protein” per day for a 125-pound woman. The RDA for pregnant women has been calculated to be an ADDITIONAL:

  • 1.3 grams/day in the first trimester
  • 6.1 grams/day in the second trimester
  • 10.7 grams/day in the third trimester

This additional protein meets the needs for the developing baby, the placenta, and the mother’s blood volume increase, breasts development and protein storage.

10 grams of protein is the amount found in:

  • one and a half eggs
  • 3-4 slices of bread
  • one and a half ounces of cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup of boiled split peas
  • a chicken leg
  • 2 baked potatoes with the skin
  • 10 ounces of whole milk
  • 3/4 cup of lima beans
  • an 8 ounce Dannon yogurt
  • half of a large hamburger
  • 2 ounces of mixed, dry roasted nuts

Generally speaking, people in developed countries consume too much fat. This has been a predisposing factor in the high rates of cardiovascular disease in these countries. However, the idea that all fat is bad fat is ridiculous. Some fat in the diet is absolutely necessary. Fats are essential for the intestinal absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. And, like proteins, there are essential fatty acids…..that is, fatty acids which the body cannot produce and thus need to be consumed in the diet. Two of these essential fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acid, are necessary for your baby’s brain growth (a third “essential” fatty acid, arachidonic acid, can be synthesized in the body, but only if the body is deficient in its precursor, linoleic acid).

The average American consumes 36% of his/her Calories intake in the form of fats. The NRC recommends a reduction to 30%. There is no specific recommendation for pregnant women. However, since the body needs the essential fatty acids, and these are crucial in the development of the fetus (especially the brain!), it seems important that women receive some minimal amount of these fatty acids. Although there are no RDAs for the essential fatty acids, some nutrition experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend minimal intakes for pregnant women, lactating women and infants. The NRC states, “for the average adult, a minimally adequate intake of linoleic acid is 3 to 6 grams/day.” The AAP recommends that infants have a daily linoleic consumption of 0.2 grams/kg (that’s about 1 gram/day for an infant just over 10 pounds). Less is known about the role of linolenic acid, and thus, sound recommendations for minimal intakes are not presently available.

The nutritional needs for fats are easily met by most diets in the U.S. Vegetable oils are particularly rich in linoleic oil. Fatty acid deficiencies are actually almost unheard of except in some medical conditions in which fat intake or absorption is a problem. Deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins have been documented in adults attempting to restrict themselves to no-fat diets. RDAs will probably be considered in the near future for linoleic and linoleic acid.

Carbohydrates (sugars and starches) are the primary sources of energy for the human body. Together, the sugars and starches, provide 40-50% of the body’s energy requirements. At the cellular level in the body, the primary source of energy is the glucose molecule. All carbohydrates can be readily converted into glucose. However, since both proteins and fats can be converted to glucose in the body there are no RDAs for carbohydrates. Many health organizations recommend decreasing the intake of simple sugars and increasing the intake of complex carbohydrates, the starchy foods.

It is becoming increasingly clear, that a diet high in natural sources of complex carbohydrates is also high in dietary fiber. Vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruits not only provide carbohydrates, but are rich sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals. It’ s a no-brainer, folks……we’re supposed to be eating a lot of this stuff…….and a lot less fat and sweets.