Pregnancy involves a lot and pregnant women need to ensure that their diet provides enough nutrients and energy for the baby to develop and grow properly. They also need to make sure that her body is healthy enough to deal with the changes that are occurring.
For a healthy pregnancy, the mother’s diet needs to be balanced and nutritious – this involves the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and consuming a wide variety of plants like vegetables, and fruits.
Some women’s diets may be impacted by ethical beliefs, religious requirements, or health conditions, so checking with a doctor is an important part of planning a pregnancy diet.
Fast facts on eating during pregnancy:
A pregnant woman’s calorie intake grows during pregnancy. She does not eat for two; her calorie consumption just goes up a few hundred calories a day for most pregnant women.
Typical weight gain, if the mother is carrying just one baby, varies considerably based on pre-pregnancy weight and other factors. An underweight pregnant women is recommended to gain the most, whereas an overweight woman is recommended to gain the least.
A woman’s body absorbs iron more efficiently and blood volume increases when she is pregnant, so she has to consume more iron to make sure that both she and her baby have an adequate oxygen supply.
A selection of leafy green vegetables and fruits.
Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of any nutritious diet, and they are especially important during pregnancy.
As mentioned above, the mother should follow a varied, balanced, and nutritious diet, and it must include:
Fruit and vegetables
Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. They may be in the form of juice, dried, canned, frozen, or fresh. Fresh and frozen (if frozen soon after picking) produce usually have higher levels of vitamins and other nutrients.
Experts stress that eating fruit is usually better for you than just drinking the juice, as natural sugar levels in juice are very high. Consider vegetable juices like carrot or wheatgrass for dense nutrition.
Starchy carbohydrate-rich foods
Starchy carbohydrate-rich foods include potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread. Carbohydrates are high in energy, and are therefore an important component of a good pregnancy diet.
Healthful, animal-sourced proteins include fish, lean meat, and chicken, as well as eggs. All pregnant women and especially vegans should consider the following foods as good sources of protein:
Quinoa – known as a “complete protein,” it includes all the essential amino acids.
Tofu and soy products.
Beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, and nut butters are a good source of protein and iron.
British and Brazilian researchers reported in the journal PLoS ONE that pregnant women who ate seafood had lower levels of anxiety compared with those who did not. Pregnant mothers who never consumed seafood had a 53 percent greater risk of suffering from high levels of anxiety-Research
Fats should not make up more than 30 percent of a pregnant woman’s diet.Exposure to a high-fat diet before birth modifies gene expression in the livers of offspring so they are more likely to overproduce glucose, which can cause early insulin resistance and diabetes.”
There are other risks to pregnancy with an overly high-fat diet, so a balance is needed and monounsaturated and omega-3’s or “healthy fats” should be the primary fat choices.
Examples of foods high in monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, canola oil, avocados, many nuts, and seeds.
Wholegrain foods, such as wholemeal bread, wild rice, wholegrain pasta, pulses like beans and lentils, fruit, and vegetables are rich in fiber.
Women have a higher risk of developing constipation during pregnancy; eating plenty of fiber is effective in minimizing that risk. Studies have shown that eating plenty of fiber during pregnancy reduces the risk or severity of hemorrhoids, which also become more common as the fetus grows.
It is important to have a healthy daily intake of calcium. Dairy foods, such as cheese, milk, and yogurt are rich in calcium. If the mother is vegan, she should consider the following calcium-rich foods; calcium-fortified soymilk and other plant milks and juices, calcium-set tofu, soybeans, bok choy, broccoli, collards, Chinese cabbage, okra, mustard greens, beans, kale, and soynuts.
Zinc is a vital trace element. It plays a major role in normal growth and development, cellular integrity, and several biological functions including nucleic acid metabolism and protein synthesis.
Since all these functions are involved in growth and cell division, zinc is important for the development of the fetus. The best sources of zinc are chicken, turkey, ham, shrimp, crab, oysters, meat, fish, dairy products, beans, peanut butter, nuts, sunflower seeds, ginger, onions, bran, wheat germ, rice, pasta, cereals, eggs, lentils, and tofu.
Iron and pregnancy
Iron makes up a major part of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying pigment and main protein in the red blood cells; it carries oxygen throughout the body. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the mother’s body increases by almost 50 percent – she needs more iron to make more hemoglobin for all that extra blood. Most women start their pregnancy without adequate stores of iron to meet the increasing demands of their bodies, particularly after the 3rd or 4th month. If iron stores are inadequate, the mother may become anemic, and there is a higher risk of:
Tiredness, irritability, depression (in the mother) during the pregnancy.
If the mother is anemic later in the pregnancy, there is a higher risk of losing a lot of blood when she gives birth. The following foods are rich sources of iron:
Dried fruits, such as apricots.
Some whole grain cereals, if they are fortified with iron.
Liver is rich in iron, but doctors and most dietitians advise pregnant women to avoid liver. Liver is very high in vitamin A, which may harm the baby during pregnancy.
Oysters (pregnant women should eat them cooked).
Lamb, pork, and shellfish also contain iron, but less than the items listed above.
Legumes – lima beans, soybeans, kidney beans, dried beans, and peas.
Seeds – Brazil nuts and almonds.
Vegetables, especially dark green ones – broccoli, spinach, dandelion leaves, asparagus, collards, and kale.
Wholegrains – brown rice, oats, millet, and wheat.
Non-animal sources of iron are less easily absorbed by the body. Mixing some lean meat, fish, or poultry with them can improve their absorption rates.
Foods to avoid
The following foods are best avoided during pregnancy:
Mercury in some types of fish – shark, swordfish, and marlin should be avoided, or kept to an absolute minimum.
Uncooked or partially cooked meat – this should be avoided, it should be cooked right through. Uncooked shellfish – there is a risk of bacterial or viral contamination which can cause food poisoning. Some bacteria and viruses can also cross the placenta and harm the baby.
Raw eggs – including any foods with raw or partially cooked eggs in them. Eggs must be well cooked through to avoid salmonella infection.
Uncooked or undercooked ready-prepared meals – it is crucial that ready-prepared meals are cooked through until they are piping hot. The risk of listeriosis exists, as well as infection from other pathogens.
Empty calorie foods – cakes, biscuits, cookies, chips and candy should be kept to a minimum. Many of these options are high in sugar and fat, have little nutritional content, and may undermine a pregnant woman’s efforts at maintaining a healthy body weight.