15 foods new parents should eat

Consumer Reports News: July 13, 2010 05:08 AM

When you're taking care of a new baby and juggling other challenges in your life, it's easy to let your own diet slide. Big mistake. If you don't take care of your nutrition needs, you may not be able to do as good a job of taking care of your baby. You can liken eating right to the principle of the oxygen mask demo on airplanes: Although it feels counterintuitive, parents of small children are instructed to strap on their own oxygen masks before attending to their child's. So feed yourself—as well as your baby—wisely. (Learn about baby formula.)

Here are 15 foods to boost your energy and keep you healthy.

Milk. Just one 8-ounce glass of skim or low-fat milk supplies up to one-third of the calcium you need for strong bones and teeth. A diet rich in calcium may cut your risk of hypertension, colon cancer, and breast cancer, and possibly ease PMS. Milk is a valuable source of vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B12.

Bananas. At about 100 calories each, bananas are a good source of fiber and vitamin B6. They're also loaded with potassium—a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure and is essential to muscle function. Eat one after a workout (when potassium levels may be low due to perspiration loss), mix into smoothies, or add to your cereal for an all-day energy boost. (Learn about organic baby food.)

Orange juice. A stellar source of vitamin C (just one 8-ounce glass supplies more than what you need every day), orange juice is also full of folate, a B vitamin—which may help prevent certain birth defects and colon cancer—as well as potassium. Opt for the calcium-fortified kind to benefit your bones.

Salad. Tossing together a variety of greens (romaine and spinach are rich in vitamin A and folate, and iceberg has fiber), tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers is a smart way to sneak vegetables into your diet. Studies have shown that getting at least three servings of vegetables a day can reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Peanut butter. It's chock-full of protein, fiber, zinc, and vitamin E. It contains mostly unsaturated fat, which helps lower both total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Peanut butter and jelly on whole-wheat bread with a glass of milk is a quick, nutritious meal. But don't go for the reduced-fat version. Since the fat is replaced with carbohydrates, you'll get the same number of calories anyway.

Sweet potatoes. These spuds—which are available year-round—should be a staple in your diet, not simply a holiday treat. They're an excellent source of potassium, fiber, and cancer-fighting antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamin C.

Salmon and fish. This fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your risk of heart disease. Eating salmon once or twice a week may boost your immune system. If you're pregnant or nursing, the fatty acids in salmon help aid fetal and infant brain and central nervous-system development. Government agencies recommend that pregnant or nursing women not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. Consumers Union recommends that such women hold off on eating canned tuna, as well.

Broccoli. It's low-cal and rich with vitamins A and C, beta carotene, folate, and fiber—all of which can help reduce your risk of heart disease and protect against certain kinds of cancer. Enjoy it raw or lightly steamed.

Whole-grain cereal. One bowl of whole-grain cereal typically supplies 10 or more vitamins and minerals, as well as complex carbohydrates (for energy), disease-fighting fiber, and phytochemicals—non-nutrient plant ingredients that help prevent disease. Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

Lean red meat. Women, especially those who have given birth within the last two years, are at risk for low iron levels, which can lead to a type of anemia. Red meat is an excellent source of iron that's more easily absorbed by the body. Stick with trimmed lean cuts—anything with loin or round in the name—for their low saturated-fat content, and eat no more than one 2- to 3-ounce serving (about the size of your palm) each day.

Vegetable soup. There is a slew of vitamins and minerals in soup loaded with veggies such as carrots, potatoes, and onions. Even better, because it's mostly liquid (and contains fiber), vegetable soup will fill you up on relatively few calories.

Yogurt. A good source of bone-strengthening calcium (an 8-ounce carton contains about a third of your daily needs), low-fat or nonfat yogurt also supplies protein and potassium with less saturated fats. Choose plain yogurt, since the flavored kinds are often high in sugar, and make sure the label says the brand contains "live and active cultures," since these bacteria have been shown to benefit the gastrointestinal tract.

Eggs. They're packed with the protein moms (and dads) need to help build and repair weary muscles. Eggs are also a good source of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Still, because egg yolks are high in cholesterol, moderation is key.

Tomato sauce. Tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to help keep arteries clear and reduce the risk of heart disease. Most jarred sauces also contain fiber and vitamins A and C.

Beans. Canned or dried varieties, such as kidney, black, garbanzo, and navy beans, are a low-fat source of protein, iron, and soluble fiber, which can help lower your cholesterol level. You can make any meal healthier—from soups and stews to salads and pasta dishes—by adding a can of beans to it. However, since canned beans can be high in sodium, rinse them well under cold water or buy the no-salt kind.

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