Diet During Pregnancy
A healthy diet is important for everyone but especially when you are pregnant. Your body needs the right fuel not only to function efficiently, but also to cope with the demands of your growing baby. The idea of eating for two means getting a balanced, healthy diet and increasing the nutritional quality of the food that you eat, not doubling the amount.
On average, a pregnant woman needs to increase her daily calorie intake from 2000 to 2200 calories only in the last 3 months. You can obtain these extra 200 calories from any of the following:
- A 200 ml glass of semi-skimmed milk and one slice of wholemeal bread with cottage cheese.
- A large banana and a 150 ml glass of orange or other fruit juice.
- A small jacket potato with a little cheese.
The important thing is for you to eat as healthily as possible. In order to develop, your baby needs proteins, carbohydrates and the right fats, as well as vitamins and minerals. By eating the correct sorts of food in the right proportions, you will be sure of giving him the best possible start in life.
The following are the proportions of the foods you should be eating every day. Your daily food requirements include:
- Proteins: 2-3 portions.
- Dairy products: 2-3 portions.
- Complex carbohydrates (starchy foods): at least one third of your total calorie intake (As fats are more calorie-dense than complex carbohydrates, that is, 25 g of butter has far more calories than 25 g of brown rice, you would need to eat a lot less of the former to obtain the same number of calories).
- Fruits and vegetables: at least 5 portions.
- Fats: up to one-third of your total calorie intake.
- Simple carbohydrates (sugars): minimal.
Proteins, which are found in foods such as white and oily fish, meat, poultry, game, eggs, dairy products (see also opposite), lentils, pulses, beans, soya products, nuts and seeds, are essential for the maintenance and repair of every cell in your body and for the growth of new cells in your baby.
From the very beginning of your pregnancy your daily protein requirement increases by about 13 per cent overall. Meat, fish and eggs are rich in iron and zinc, as well as vitamin B12, which works with folic acid to ensure that your baby develops a healthy nervous system. Oily fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (see box below and pages 42-43 ) and vitamins A and D. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. Because you still need to be careful about how much, and what type of, fats you eat (see page 36), trim any excess fat from meat before cooking, and remove the skin from roast chicken, turkey or duck.
Dairy products, such as milk, yoghurt and cheese, as well as containing small amounts of zinc and some B group vitamins, are rich in protein (see above) and calcium. Although your body becomes more efficient at absorbing calcium from foods when you are pregnant, you should include a variety of dairy products in your diet, especially towards the end of pregnancy.
Complex carbohydrates (starchy foods)
Starchy foods, such as breads, grains, cereals and potatoes, should be the mainstay of anyone's diet, but it is particularly important during pregnancy that you obtain most of your energy from these foods rather than from fats or sugar. These carbohydrates are broken down and released into the bloodstream slowly, providing energy steadily throughout the day. This helps you to avoid feeling tired and may relieve the nausea of the first few months. Grains and cereals also contain protein for growth and repair and B vitamins for cell development.
Choose from wholemeal or brown bread, potatoes, plantains, yams, couscous, brown rice and pasta, plus whole grains such as oats, barley and rye. Buy breakfast cereals that have been fortified with vitamins and minerals and are low in both sugar and fat. Starchy foods, especially wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread and brown rice also provide fibre.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, such as mackerel, herrings, sardines, saimon, trout and fresh tuna, and in walnuts, soya beans, and rapeseed and linseed (flax seed) oils. They play a crucial role in the development of a baby's brain, nerves and eyes and have a beneficial effect on birth weight and length of pregnancy. Studies have shown that Inuit women, who eat plenty of oily fish, rarely give birth prematurely.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables supply valuable vitamins and minerals as well as dietary fibre, which helps to ease the constipation that a large proportion of women experience during pregnancy.
Fruits that are rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwi fruits, blackcurrants, and stone fruits, such as cherries, peaches and nectarines, mangoes and papaya. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron. Bananas are a good source of potassium, which is vital for cell growth.
Frozen vegetables are processed so quickly after picking that they often have more vitamin C than fresh vegetables, which often take days to reach the shops. Canned vegetables have already been cooked and may contain high amounts of salt so it is best to avoid them.
Green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, watercress, green beans and brussels sprouts, provide folates (folic acid, see page 10), as well as vitamin K and iron. Leafy greens are also a good source of beta carotene (the safe, vegetable form of vitamin A) as are carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and red peppers. Carotene and folic acid are lost in water and on heating, so prepare vegetables just before use. Wash them thoroughly, then steam or stir-fry them in a small amount of oil or, better still, eat them raw.
Fats should provide up to one-third of the calories in your daily diet, which can be obtained from only minimal amounts of fatty foods. Beware of hidden fats in processed foods and try to replace saturated fats (for example, butter, cream and lard) with mono-unsaturated fats (for example, olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, including sunflower oil). Fats found in oily fish, rapeseed oil and soya bean oil contain fatty acids, which are vital for your baby's development.
Simple carbohydrates (sugars)
Sugars are simple carbohydrates that are easily absorbed into the bloodstream and provide'instant energy'. However, they contain few nutrients, if any, and may make you put on weight. You should avoid too many cakes, pastries, sweets and chocolate, and beware of the hidden sugars that are contained in many processed foods. Sucking on a mint occasionally may help to combat nausea, but be careful not to overdo it.
Your blood volume increases during pregnancy so it is important to keep up your fluid intake, even if you are feeling nauseous. Aim to drink eight 200 ml glasses of water a day- as well as fruit juice and other drinks, such as limited amounts tea, coffee or fruit squash. If you find that pregnancy sickness makes drinking even plain water unpleasant, try nibbling on moist fruits, such as watermelon, or sipping small amounts of fluid frequently.