I had always been led to believe that pregnancy would be a nine month long, all-you-can eat Vegas buffet. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “I’ll be able to loosen the reins of my constant vigilance over calories and portions and have some fun!” When I found out I was carrying twins, my food fantasies doubled.
Oh, how disappointingly wrong I was.
For starters, I soon realized that nutrient needs increase far more than calorie needs do in pregnancy, meaning that each bite a pregnant woman takes should actually be denser with essential nutrients than normal. Iron needs roughly double, folic acid needs double, and protein needs increased by 25g per day…per baby! In order to achieve all of these dietary feats, you get a modest 300 more calories per day per baby — or 600 more for a twin pregnancy, and 900 for triplets. (To convert that into ice cream currency, that’s only about 1 cup of Haagen Dazs per day for twin moms-to-be on top of your regular intake…no fun!)
Complicating matters is that the rules of food safety in pregnancy limit many of the food options available to expectant moms, some of which are the most convenient sources of that all-important protein. Specifically, easy choices like lean cold cuts, smoked salmon, and sushi are all off the table, and higher-mercury staples like tuna must be eaten very sparingly. As you bid adieu to turkey sandwiches, Japanese takeout, and a scoop of tuna on a bagged green salad, you may be wondering: who has the energy to cook an actual meal from scratch?!?
And let’s also not forget that many expectant moms experience some pretty strong food aversions in the first trimester — and often beyond. Common aversions include meat, fish and bitter vegetables, like folate-rich broccoli and leafy greens. On the flip side, pregnancy can cause some pretty powerful cravings, too, particularly of the carby and sweet variety.
Moms-to-be who manage to overcome these obstacles and find enough satisfying food choices to fill their plates have one more member of the food police to contend with: their obstetrician. OBs tend to keep expectant mothers of multiples on a tight leash when it comes to diet, especially since we’re at higher risk for developing gestational diabetes.
So let’s recap: expectant mothers of multiples have lots more nutrients to get with a moderate amount of extra calories to get them with; we need loads more protein, but we’re craving only carbs; the list of foods we can actually eat is shorter than ever due to food aversions and food safety considerations, but our energy to plan and execute appropriate meals is limited. Sigh. So much for that nine month long, all-you-can-eat buffet.
So what’s a hungry/nauseous, protein-seeking/carb craving, nutrition-needing/too tired to cook mom-to-be to do?
I recommend stocking the kitchen with simple, nutritious foods that can be combined to make low glycemic meals and snacks, without much cooking. Low glycemic food combos are ones that won’t spike your blood sugar quickly or dramatically, and generally include protein, fiber and/or a little bit of fat. Choosing such foods that are also good sources of important pregnancy nutrients like folate (peanut butter, avocado, beans/lentils); iron (beans/lentils, oats); calcium (yogurt, kefir, cheese) and choline (eggs) is a great exercise in multi-tasking — a skill you’ll need to master anyway as a mom to multiples.
Even if you’ve got food restrictions beyond those listed above, whether food allergies, Celiac disease or lactose intolerance, there are some easy swaps you can make. Sunflower seed butter is as nutritious as peanut butter for peanut-allergic mamas, and lactose-free yogurts from Green Valley Organics are the most digestively friendly dairy products on the market if you love dairy more than it loves you. There are also terrific gluten-free grains, breads and crunchy snacks for my fellow Celiac carbophiles from companies like Bob’s Red Mill and KIND. Here are some of the easy-assembly, low glycemic mini-meals and snacks that fueled my twin pregnancy — despite food restrictions and aversions — all the way to 36 weeks and 6 days, and then straight into lactation land:
- Egg and cheese sandwich on whole grain toast (I used gluten-free, you need not)
- Low sugar granola + plain yogurt
- Banana-chocolate-peanut butter smoothie made with a plain kefir base for protein
- Dry, crunchy snacks high in protein and featuring slow-digesting carbs, like bean chips and salted/roasted nuts
- Smashed avocado on whole grain/seed crackers
- Lentil chili topped with plain yogurt, crumbled tortilla chips and sliced avocado
As for sweet cravings, dark chocolate is……
Read more about “Eating for Three (or More!)” in the Winter 2014 issue of Multiplicity on page 10!
Tamara Duker Freuman is a registered dietitian who specializes in medical nutrition therapy for digestive disorders and is an expert in celiac disease. In addition to her clinical work, Tamara blogs for US NEWS & WORLD REPORT’s eat + run health page and hosts a popular blog devoted to healthy eating and gluten-free living.
Are you a new twin parent? Check out Natalie Diaz’s new book “What To Do When You’re Having Two: The Twin Survival Guide From Pregnancy Through the First Year”, available in stores now!