If there's one thing you and your baby can't do without, it's protein. Protein has several jobs during pregnancy: It helps keep your energy up, and it gives your baby the amino acids she needs to grow.
How much protein do you need to keep things running smoothly? The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein in pregnancy is 60 grams, although some nutritionists recommend 100 grams; anything between those two amounts is fine. To put the idea of "grams" into perspective, a quart of milk has about 30 grams of protein.
You should pay attention not only to the amount of protein you consume but to the type of protein as well. Pregnant women need to eat what's considered "quality" protein -- that is, protein containing large amounts of all the required amino acids. Most animal protein is quality protein, while most plant protein is not. That's why experts recommend that pregnant women consume animal protein every day. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan (someone who does not eat any animal products, including dairy), you'll need to balance certain foods, such as grains and legumes, for instance, to make sure you get all the amino acids.
Red meat is probably the best-known source of protein, but you don't need to eat a steak at every meal to meet your quota. Plenty of other foods, like fish and poultry, are protein-rich. So are dairy products, nuts, and beans. Each of the following contains about 15 grams of protein:
2 large eggs
One 2- to 3-ounce serving of meat, fish, or poultry
2 ounces of hard cheese
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup cooked beans, peas, or lentils
1/2 cup cottage or ricotta cheese
2/3 cup almonds
Some pregnant women aren't used to eating a lot of meat and dairy products and wonder if they'll gain too much weight. However, if you're eating a balanced diet, including the right amount of quality protein, you don't need to worry about putting on pounds. Pregnancy is, after all, a time to gain weight. Eating right is one of the best ways to keep your growing baby healthy and to feel your best, too.