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How to Get Enough Protein During Pregnancy: 5 Easy Tips

Have you heard that protein is important during pregnancy but aren’t sure how to get enough? This article is for you. Learn 5 easy tips for getting enough protein during pregnancy!

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Did you know that the word protein comes from the Greek word “proteios” which means “primary” or “of first rank”? It makes sense, then, that protein is one of the top nutritional priorities for pregnant women. 

The average non-pregnant woman needs somewhere around 50 grams of protein per day. To most people’s surprise, that same woman needs twice that amount to meet her and her baby’s nutritional needs.*

That’s a lot of protein.

Before I got pregnant, I was eating very little meat and I wasn’t paying attention to how much protein I was getting. When I got pregnant and learned how important protein was, I realized I needed to be more diligent.

I struggled to hit my 80-gram goal at first (that’s the minimum amount recommended in The Brewer Diet, which is what I followed). But over time I learned how to sneak in protein in ways I enjoyed. 

Maybe you love your steak and 80 grams of protein seems like a piece of cake (well, maybe not cake…that hardly has any protein…) but maybe you’re like me and need a little shove in the right direction.

*Like most things, actual individual needs are a little more nuanced. In addition to activity level and pre-pregnancy weight, which trimester a woman is in affects the actual amount of protein needed. Read more here.

Why Pregnant Women Need Protein

Proteins – more specifically the amino acids that make up proteins – are referred to as the building blocks of human life. Every person needs proteins to create new cells and to help heal different parts of the body. But a pregnant woman is doing more than supporting her own health – she’s growing a new little human. Obviously, that’s going to take a lot more building blocks. 

In addition to helping your baby’s body develop, protein is important for another big reason: it plays a role in helping you avoid preeclampsia and other complications.

In short, eating protein protects us by helping our bodies produce a special kind of protein called albumin. Albumin keeps more fluid in your bloodstream which means your blood volume stays at healthy levels throughout pregnancy.

You can learn more about the importance of blood volume here.

5 Ways to Add More Protein to Your Diet

Now that you know why protein is so important, let’s dive in. Here are my five tips for getting enough protein while pregnant.

1. Add meat

Adding meat to your diet is the simplest way to get lots of protein fast.

For reference, an 8-ounce steak has 50 grams of protein. A 3-ounce serving of chicken (a pretty typical amount for one meal, about the size of your palm) has 30 grams of protein. A 3-ounce filet of salmon has about 20 grams.

Now, obviously this tip flies in the face of eating vegan or vegetarian.

Here’s the deal: the efficacy of plant-based diets is backed by more research than you can imagine. I am all for plates full of plants for every meal, as are a lot of nutritionists and doctors.

That said, I still eat animal products regularly. Why?

First, let me make absolutely clear that I know opinions on what I’m about to say vary greatly, and everyone seems to have research to back up their side of things. This is one of those things you really have to choose what you feel is best for you. But here’s what I think.

I believe it’s a good idea to eat animal products regularly because they contain nutrients we need in amounts or forms that our bodies need that cannot be found in plants. Many nutritionists agree.

If you want to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend the work of two professionals.

First, Lily Nichols, a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author. Her book “Real Food for Pregnancy” is a bestseller and is even used as a textbook in some nutrition courses. She also publishes in-depth articles about various topics on her blog. She is of the opinion that animal products are necessary for optimal health, especially during pregnancy.

Second, Dr. Michael Greger, a physician, author, and professional speaker. In 2015 he wrote “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.” The book is made up of hundreds of studies that Dr. Greger puts into plain english. After presenting the science, he explains ways to easily fit more of the best foods into your diet. He is of the opinion that animal products are unnecessary and do more harm than good.

If you do choose to include meat in your diet, you have lots of options for how to do it. Meat is easy to add to casseroles, soups, sandwiches, salads, and more. Have a favorite recipe? Just add some meat and, voila, protein goals achieved.

2. Include more dairy

I love milk. But I didn’t realize until I started counting my protein that milk has so much! One glass of 2% milk has 8 grams of protein. That’ll add up quick!

The nice thing about dairy is it comes in so many forms. Ice cream and milkshakes even count! 

One dairy product definitely has some fans and some haters out there: cottage cheese. Did you know that just half a cup of cottage cheese has 13 grams of protein? That’s not too shabby.

Whether or not you like cottage cheese, here’s some yummy ways to snack on dairy:

  • Pop open some greek yogurt (not that Yoplait-like stuff; that’s high in sugar and low in protein)
  • Mix up cottage cheese with granola and fresh fruit
  • Cut sharp cheddar cheese into little cubes and eat with cashews and cranberries (the nuts have protein too!)
  • My favorite: bake some chocolate chip cookies and eat them with a big glass of milk on the side 😉
  • My other favorite: Homemade “Nice Cream” (just throw some frozen sliced bananas in the blender with some milk and a bit of vanilla…delish!)

A Note on Protein Powder

While we’re on the topic of dairy, let’s talk about protein powders. Some people say protein powder isn’t a good idea while you’re pregnant, but people say a lot of things… While it’s true that natural sources (i.e. real, whole foods) are always better than supplements, if you’re struggling (like I was) don’t hesitate to grab some whey protein powder!

I found a whey protein powder that saved me. (It was at Winco, the best store, so it was fairly cheap too.) It blended in wonderfully with a glass of cold milk and didn’t taste funny at all. When looking for protein powders just be sure to check the ingredient list and the source before buying.

Lily Nichols, who I mentioned earlier, explains that, “assuming clean ingredients and [that] the brand is responsible about testing for contaminants (like heavy metals), a serving of protein powder a day should be no problem.” Just don’t let it take the place of too much real food, she warns, since whole food sources of protein provide vitamins and minerals that protein powder won’t.

If you want a non-dairy protein powder option, I like this plant-based one.

3. Eat eggs

One egg has 6 grams of protein (as well as healthy fat and other important nutrients like choline) so they’re an easy way to boost your count for the day.

Eggs are traditionally a breakfast food but can be great in other meals as well. Here are some of my favorite ways to eat eggs.

  • English Muffin Breakfast Sandwich with ham, egg, and cheese
  • Egg-in-the-Hole Toast (don’t be afraid to cook it in butter – fats are important!)
  • Cheese Quiche, if you’re feeling fancy
  • Chef Salad with scrambled eggs, black beans, and cheese (two birds with one stone – greens and protein!)
  • Egg Quesadilla (basically the same as the salad but everything inside a tortilla)
  • Egg Ramen (try brown rice ramen and nix the little flavor packet)

4. Snack on nuts

Nuts are an easy on-the-go snack and they can boost your protein count nicely. Most nuts have about 6 grams of protein per one ¼ cup serving and some kinds have more. Peanuts and almonds take the cake for the highest protein count, followed by pistachios, cashews, and walnuts. 

You can eat nuts raw, salted, in a granola bar, or as nut butter. They even make good dairy-free sauces and veggie dips.

Eaten plain, I like to pair nuts with cheese and cranberries, as I mentioned above. I also love nut butters (peanut, almond, you name it), which are good on toast, as a dip for fruit, or mixed into smoothies.

If you’re a Costco-goer, try out my favorite Mixed Nut Butter.

5. Don’t forget about about grains, seeds, and beans

While we often think of meats and dairy when we talk about protein, other food groups have protein too. 

Beans are an easy one to add to recipes. Pinto, black, and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) have about 8 grams of protein per half cup. Quinoa has about 8 grams of protein in one cup, but it’s one of the few sources of plant protein that is complete.

Lentils, a relative of beans, have a whopping 18 grams of protein in one cup. 

Oats, whole wheats, and brown and wild rices also add a bit of protein to recipes.

You can add beans to nearly any meal if you get creative, and they make yummy veggie dip too (especially chickpeas). Grains are in nearly everything (just try to get whole grains!), and seeds can top of salads or smoothies or be added to sauces.

You can find oodles of yummy plant-based protein meals online. Here are some of my faves:

Final Thoughts

So there you have it – five tips for getting your protein in during pregnancy. Chances are some days you’ll feel like an overachiever and some days, even with these tips, you’ll have to chug some protein powder before bed to hit your goal. That’s okay. 

Remember when it’s hard that you’re doing it for your baby. Getting enough protein every day will help him or her have the best chance for a safe delivery and a healthy life, and that is worth every effort you can make.

Until next time,

Allison

How do you like your protein?

Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite protein-packed recipe or snack you love to eat when you’re pregnant!

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