Pregnancy Diet: What to Eat and What to Avoid
Pregnancy is one of the most delicate periods a woman can go through and the right diet during this period can contribute to how easy this journey could be.
The importance of a healthy pregnancy diet cannot be overemphasized. The mother is the source of the baby’s nutrition, it is important to select carefully what will be included in her pregnancy diet.
As a pregnant woman, you are no longer eating for one but also eating to provide the nutritional needs of the baby as well, appetite can be greatly increased and may be accompanied by cravings of all sorts as the case may be. Therefore, your pregnancy diet needs to be rich and contain all the nutrients essential for the smooth growth and development of the baby. When it comes to pregnancy diet, the baby’s needs come first, followed by the mothers.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an average of 300-450 extra calories are required daily to maintain a healthy pregnancy. A healthy pregnancy diet is a great source of energy for the mother and sustenance for the baby.
This guide will help you understand the dos and don'ts of a pregnancy diet.
Importance of pregnancy diet
A nutritious pregnancy diet can reduce the risk of birth defects in the baby by supplying it with the necessary nutrients for growth. It also aids the brain development of the baby and leads to healthy birth weight. In the mother, a healthy pregnancy diet reduces the prevalence of nausea and fatigue, It also reduces the risk of anemia.
What to include in your pregnancy diet
Due to lots of hormonal changes during pregnancy, the body requires more macronutrients and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are nutrients required in large amounts. They include carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, water, and fluids. They provide energy for both mother and baby. You want to get more calories from your diet and not just increase the quantity of food.
Micronutrients are nutrients required in small amounts but still very essential in the pregnancy diet. Examples of micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. One very important micronutrient that’s necessary for a pregnancy diet is folic acid.
Protein is responsible for the proper growth of a baby’s tissue and organs. It increases blood supply from the mother to the baby and promotes uterine tissue growth. A daily amount of 70-100g of diet is needed per day. It is important to note that protein needs in a pregnancy diet are also dependent on the trimester as the quantity required increases with each trimester.
Foods rich in protein include; lean meat, chicken, cheese, salmon, legumes, nuts, eggs, etc.
Carbohydrates provide energy for the mother and are an excellent source of fiber. Carbohydrates include whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, wheat, and fibers. Processed carbohydrates such as pasta and bread are usually fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables make available vitamins and minerals required for the growth of the baby. Fruits to eat in a pregnancy diet include carrots, grapes, oranges, and vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, and leafy greens like spinach, pumpkin, etc. Citrus fruits and bell peppers are especially rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C helps the body to absorb iron.
Not every form of fat is healthy, especially for a pregnant woman. It is important to know what type of fat to include in a pregnancy diet for the best results. Consumption of saturated fats should be reduced or replaced with unsaturated fats and foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids should be consumed. Fatty fish and walnuts are a source of omega-3.
Dairy and Probiotics
Dairy products like cheese, yogurt especially Greek yogurt contains probiotic bacteria that support digestive health.
Water and fluids
Staying hydrated during pregnancy is very important, the mother's body supplies the baby with water. Proper hydration reduces the risks of UTIs, which are common in Consult and helps relieve constipation. It also helps to prevent preterm labor. Tea, juices, smoothies, and soups are all sources of hydration in a pregnancy diet. Pregnant women are required to drink at least 2.3litres of water daily.
Foods to limit in your pregnancy diet
Dietary needs in pregnancy vary from person to person, therefore, you must consult with your doctor when planning your pregnancy diet.
There are a couple of foods though that should be avoided if possible or consumed in limited quantities for the safety of the baby. These foods include:
Caffeine is found in many other foods and drinks and not just coffee. Health bodies say that coffee consumption can lead to low birth weight and slow growth of the baby. Although this relationship has not been established it is advised to completely cut out coffee if you can do so or limit your daily caffeine intake to about 200mg of coffee a day which is equivalent to the amount of caffeine found in a cup(340g) of coffee.
Processed carbs and fizzy drinks
Processed carbs and carbonated drinks like French fries, crackers, chips, and soda should be significantly limited in a pregnancy diet. They contain empty calories, unsaturated fats and have no nutritional benefits, excessive consumption of these could lead to obesity in the unborn baby. Understandably, one might crave junks during pregnancy but the intake should be minimized.
What to avoid in your pregnancy diet
You might have heard people say pregnant women should not take alcohol and wonder why.
Alcohol can be passed through the umbilical cord to the baby from the mother’s blood. A baby’s liver is not developed enough to process alcohol, consumption of alcohol during pregnancy puts the baby at risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome. This can interfere with the baby’s health in the womb and even after delivery.
Nicotine is the addictive substance found in tobacco used in making cigarettes. Nicotine can damage the brain and lungs of the baby, increases the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is increased with smoking during pregnancy.
Smoking can also during pregnancy leads to the weakening of the uterine walls and can cause miscarriage. Inhalation of secondhand smoke is also dangerous to the baby and can cause Cancer.
Fishes having a high level of mercury
Seafood is recommended for pregnant women but not those with high levels of mercury in them. Mercury is heavily present in some fishes as a result of water pollution. Consuming high mercury fish can accumulate mercury in the bloodstream of a pregnant woman and can damage the fetus’s brain and nervous system. Fishes like sharks, swordfish, mackerel, etc should be avoided in a pregnancy diet.
Pasteurization is the use of heat to kill harmful bacteria. Unpasteurized milk and its products should be avoided in the pregnancy diet. Unpasteurized dairy products include cottage cheese and blue cheese. Consuming unpasteurized dairy can cause food poisoning, especially in a pregnant woman.
Processed and red meat
Processed meat such as sausages and salami should be avoided in a pregnancy diet.
Raw fish and shellfish
Raw fish like sushi and sashimi should be avoided during pregnancy. If you would have sushi then you can eat the cooked sushi. Consumption of shellfish like oysters and scallops should also not be included in a pregnancy diet.
Raw and undercooked meats
Raw and undercooked meats, poultry, and eggs put you and your baby at risk of infection such as listeriosis and E Coli Infection. These infections can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, or stillbirth. E Coli infection might not cause a miscarriage but causes diarrhea which makes the pregnant woman loses bodily fluids and get dehydrated.
Foods especially like fruits and vegetables consumed in a pregnancy diet should be grown organically without fertilizers. Food items to be consumed raw should not be sprayed with pesticides and insecticides. Residues from chemicals used are harmful to the baby.
Weight gain during pregnancy
Weight gain during pregnancy is dependent on the mother’s age, weight before pregnancy, fetal development, type of pregnancy, and mother’s health. Weight gain is an unavoidable part of pregnancy. Weight gain however should be proportional to the woman’s weight before pregnancy (pre-pregnancy weight), whether she’s carrying one or more babies and pregnancy diet.
For a normal BMI before pregnancy, a weight gain of 25-35 pounds during pregnancy is considered normal. Consumption of junk foods during pregnancy can lead to more serious weight gain than normal. It is important to speak with your doctor to know whether you need to shed weight or you have the appropriate weight for your pregnancy.
Supplements needed during pregnancy
A pregnant woman requires certain supplements in her diet. Some of these supplements can not be easily gotten from natural food sources and have to be derived from other sources. The need for these trace nutrients is increased during pregnancy. These supplements include:
This is probably the most important of all supplements needed during pregnancy. Folic acid is advised to be taken by women even before conception as it is most helpful in the first four weeks after conception because this is when most Neural Tube Defects,(NTDs) like anencephaly and spina bifida occur. Foods rich in folate are eggs, legumes, beef liver, fruits, and leafy green vegetables. A pregnant woman requires 600mcg of folic acid daily in her pregnancy diet. Folic acid tablets can also be taken.
Calcium primarily helps in the formation of your baby’s bones. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends 1000mg of daily calcium intake. Sources of calcium include low-fat milk, tofu, yogurt, cheese, etc.
Iron in a pregnancy diet increases blood flow by producing red blood cells which help in the circulation of oxygen in both the mother and baby. Vitamin C is required for better absorption of Iron. Foods rich in iron are; eggs, legumes, and nuts. ACOG recommends a daily intake of 27mg of Iron. Iron should be prescribed if the pregnant woman is anemic or has a history of anemia.
It is important to speak with your doctor about which supplements you should take.
Pregnancy diet FAQs
Is it ok to crave non-food items during pregnancy?
Craving non-food items or substances with no nutritional value during pregnancy is a form of the disorder called pica. It usually indicates a lack of certain vitamins or minerals.
Speak with your doctor if you crave strange items like clay or dust as consuming such substances is harmful to you and the baby.
I only crave junk food during pregnancy, how do I not gain too much weight and still satisfy my cravings?
Junk food cravings can be substituted with healthy versions of junk foods. French fries can be substituted with oven-roasted sweet potatoes. Triple deck beef burgers can be replaced with crab/chicken patties and whole wheat bread. Carbonated drinks can be replaced with fresh fruit juice and ice cream with yogurt. It is important to not load your diet with too much-refined sugar and saturated fats.
How do I achieve a healthy and balanced pregnancy diet?
Your pregnancy diet should contain all five classes of macronutrients in one meal. Ensure your plate is loaded with at least an item from the classes of food required for your pregnancy diet.
Consult with your doctor and dietitian about your nutritional needs and also required supplements for your pregnancy diet.
It is important to maintain strict hygiene in a pregnancy diet. The following are hygiene practices to follow during pregnancy:
- Wash all fruits and vegetables properly before consumption
- Ensuring the proper handling of food and use of proper cooking methods
- Use of clean utensils and work surfaces
- Wash hands properly with soap and water before and after handling food.
When creating a pregnancy diet, the special nutritional needs of the mother, age, BMI, health condition, and allergies should be taken into consideration. For example, the pregnancy diet of a diabetic obese woman would be different from that of a normal non-diabetic woman. Although a healthy pregnancy diet is recommended for the growth and development of the baby, a pregnant mother should always discuss the components of her diet with her doctor.