Maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet is crucial during pregnancy to support both your health and the development of your baby. Expectant mothers need approximately 300 calories more during pregnancy to meet the demands of the growing fetus. These calories should come from a well-balanced diet encompassing all the different food groups in adequate quantities and low in sugar, salt and saturated fats.
It is normal for the expectant mother to gain weight during pregnancy but gaining too much or too little can increase the risk of complications for you and your baby.
Some of the main points you need to adhere to are:
Adequate hydration: Ensure that you remain hydrated at all times during pregnancy. Water, unsweetened juices, coconut water and soups can be taken. Water helps in regulating body temperature and avoiding constipation and urinary tract infections.
Alcohol should be avoided completely. Caffeine, whether in coffee, tea or beverages like cola, should be taken in very limited quantities. Unpasteurized milk should be avoided.
Include a variety of food from all food groups to ensure you get a wide range of nutrients. Aim for a variety of colorful fruits and vegetable to get a range of vitamins and minerals. This includes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy or dairy alternatives. Opt for whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice and oats for fiber and essential nutrients. Healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil is a necessary part of your balanced diet. Folate and Folic Acid: This is important for the development of the neural tube in the fetus. Foods like leafy greens, fortified cereals, beans, peanuts and sunflower seeds contain folate. In addition, folic acid supplements are usually prescribed during the initial prenatal visit.
Pregnant women need more iron to support the increased blood flow needed for the fetus. Include iron rich food such as poultry, fish, beans, iron fortified cereals, fruits such as pomegranates, apples and strawberries in your diet. In addition, iron supplements are usually prescribed during your period of pregnancy.
Calcium and Vitamin D:
Calcium is vital for your baby’s rapidly developing bones and teeth. It is necessary for muscle, heart and nerve development as well. Milk and milk products such as cheese and yogurt are some of the best sources of calcium in your diet. Green leafy vegetables, oranges, strawberries and fortified plant milk are some other sources of calcium.
We get most of our Vitamin D from the sun. The Vitamin D produced in our skin when exposed to the sun our best source. Dietary contribution of Vitamin D is very small. Calcium supplements along with Vitamin D, too, are prescribed during pregnancy to ensure that there is no deficiency.
Omega 3 fatty acids:
These are crucial for brain and vision development of the fetus. Fatty fish like salmon or nuts like walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds and tofu provide omega 3 fatty acids necessary during pregnancy.
Protein is essential for cell and muscle growth of the fetus during pregnancy. The lean meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans, seeds and soy products in adequate quantities will provide sufficient protein in your diet.
Food that should be avoided:
Unpasteurized milk or milk products, cold cuts or processed meat, shellfish such as crabs and lobsters, raw or undercooked fish as seen in sashimi or sushi and raw or undercooked meat should be completely avoided. Alcohol should not be consumed at all as it is known to cause birth defects and developmental disabilities in babies. Caffeine can be consumed in moderate amounts. Junk food high in salt and sugar should be eaten minimally. Street food, which may increase your risk to multiple infections, should be avoided during pregnancy.
Eating small frequent meals can help in managing pregnancy-related nausea.
Food craving is the sudden urge to eat a certain type of food. Food cravings and aversions are normal and experienced by most women during pregnancy. Most food cravings tend to be food high in sugar like sweets and ice-cream, or high in salt and spice like chips, chats etc. It is ok to indulge in cravings once in a while as long as you stick to your balanced diet otherwise. Eating food rich is sugar and salt can cause you to develop gestational diabetes or hypertension which could lead to complications in your pregnancy. Some of the ways to avoid giving in to cravings is not to stock such junk food at home, to stock healthy snacks and to eat small amounts frequently to avoid hunger bouts.
Preparation of food:
Food poisoning is a serious issue during pregnancy if the food is not prepared hygienically. This can range from diarrhea and vomiting to more serious diseases like Hepatitis A. Freshly prepared home-made food is the best way to avoid diseases spread through contaminated food. At home, ensure that you wash hands before preparing food. Wash all vegetables and fruits thoroughly with clean water especially if you are planning on eating them raw as in a salad. Cook all meat thoroughly. If reheating food, heat it till it is steaming hot.
If you plan on eating out, chose a place which is clean. Avoid eating preprepared sandwiches and salads. Do not consume pre-cut fruits.
Remember that it is important to incorporate all the necessary nutrients in your diet rather than increasing the amount of food. Individual diet plans may vary depending on any personal medical conditions.