MS, RD, LDN
Janel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University. As the recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Young Dietitian of the Year award, she believes in making healthy eating simple, sustainable, and delicious.
It’s no surprise that protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. Protein-rich foods are high in B vitamins (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and B6), vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. And protein is composed of amino acids, our bodies’ building blocks. Virtually every part of us— our skin, nails, and hair on the outside and our muscles, bones, blood, and hormones on the inside—requires amino acids.
It makes sense, then, that our protein needs increase with pregnancy and while breastfeeding. We need the additional protein for ourselves to support a growing uterus, breasts, milk, and blood supply. And we need extra building blocks to grow a baby and supply the baby with energy.
How much protein do I need?
There are multiple ways to determine your protein needs. For general guidance, a good starting point is following the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein.
To determine your own unique protein needs, you can follow the below formulas:
But don’t get too caught up in the numbers. Research shows that the average American woman of childbearing age already consumes about 70 grams of protein daily. So it is very likely that you can get any extra protein you need just by eating a little bit more of the foods you already enjoy.
Sources of protein
Many foods are rich in protein, and not just foods from animals. Here’s a helpful guide of protein sources and amounts based on their recommended portion size:
Choosing the best protein sources
Not all protein sources are created equal. Paying attention to the types of foods you eat for protein is just as important as the amount of protein you consume.
When selecting your protein sources, consider these two things:
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding: aim for a minimum of 71 grams of protein per day (and see below for food examples and tips!)
If you’re neither pregnant nor breastfeeding: aim for a minimum of 46 grams of protein per day (and see below for food examples and tips!)
Increase your protein consumption by eating a little more of lean versions of protein-rich foods.
Try eating more nuts and seeds, beans and peas, whole grains, safe-to-consume seafood like salmon and cod, eggs, white meat poultry, and soy products. As with all foods, the less processed your protein choices, the better.
Limit less healthy protein sources like red meat, processed and deli meats, and full-fat dairy
If you do choose to eat red meat, stick with lean or extra-lean cuts of meats that contain 5-10 grams of fat per portion (100g or around 3.5 oz) such as eye of round roast, sirloin tip side steak, top round roast and steak, bottom round roast and steak, and top sirloin steak. Opt for grassfed if you can (you’ll be getting more omega-3 fatty acids), and either way, don’t eat more than a 3-4 ounce portion or two a week. If you like your meat grilled, so as to reduce the potentially cancer-causing compounds in meat that are released at high temperatures, marinate your meat first, partially pre-cook and grill over a lower flame.
Enjoy a variety of protein-rich foods
Especially if you are vegetarian or vegan, vary your protein sources to ensure your body has all of the building blocks it needs for you and your baby.
Include a little bit of protein with every meal rather than a big portion at one meal
This tactic will help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you feeling satisfied longer between meals.
Follow this example of one day’s worth of meals and snacks that supplies more than 70 grams of protein
Breakfast: 1/2 cup raw oats (6 grams protein) cooked with 1 cup low fat milk (8 grams protein) + 1 banana
Snack: 1 string low fat cheese (7 grams protein) + carrot sticks
Lunch: mixed vegetable salad with 1 hard-boiled egg (6 grams protein) and ½ cup chickpeas (6 grams protein)
Snack: 1 slice 100% whole grain toast (4 grams protein) + 2 tablespoons peanut or nut butter (7 grams protein) + 1 cup strawberries
Dinner: 3 oz cooked salmon (20 grams protein) + 1 cup quinoa (8 grams protein) + stir-fried green vegetables
Total protein: 72 grams protein (not accounting for the small amount provided by fruits and vegetables)
Chat with the Happy Mama Mentors if you’d like support working protein-rich foods into your diet or if you are concerned you are not getting enough protein (or other important nutrients!)
“Pregnancy Nutrition” American Pregnancy Association. date accessed 16 July 2018
“Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes” Institute of Medicine. date accessed 16 July 2018
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