A proper diet is central to any pregnancy. Expectant women need to be very conscious about what they eat as it has a lasting effect on their unborn child. Naturally, your body’s nutritional requirements change during pregnancy. You need to consume more nutrients and calories in order to fulfill both your own dietary needs and those of your baby.
However, pregnancy is not always about consuming more food. You will also need to steer clear of some foods and other substances that can have a negative impact on your child’s development.
The sole purpose of this article is to provide comprehensive information on the topic of pregnancy nutrition in the hope that it will help you make wise diet choices throughout your pregnancy.
The Dangers of Overeating
During pregnancy, it is quite natural to put on some weight. This is because you will have to consume more calories than you normally do, especially in your second and third trimesters. During your second trimester, you will have to increase your calorie intake to 340 and up to 450 calories in your third trimester. However, this by no means implies that you should overeat. Overeating is in fact very risky during pregnancy.
For one thing, you risk gaining too much weight, which can make it really difficult to give birth to healthy babies in the future. Additionally, any excess weight gained during pregnancy due to overeating is extremely difficult to shed off. You also risk getting gestational diabetes, which is just as risky as any other kind of diabetes. The high level of blood sugar also increases the risk of getting a miscarriage. It also increases the chances of your child being born with defects or having slow brain development. The child may also develop heart disease later in life.
Considering the serious health risks that overeating poses to both you and your child, it seems to be too heavy a price to pay in order to satisfy your appetite for the moment, doesn’t it? Tempting as it may be, you have to fight the urge to overeat. And one of the best ways to ensure that craving is kept at bay is to make a habit of eating wholesome and healthy meals.
Nutritional Requirements During Pregnancy
1. Carbohydrates and Fiber
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the body. They should always form a huge part of every meal, and more so during pregnancy. You need to ensure that you get enough carbohydrates from the right sources. Ideally, your carbohydrate requirements can be fulfilled by eating a variety of whole grains, starch- filled vegetables, legumes, dairy products, and plant milk. This means that you need to avoid refined foods because they really have no nutritional value.
You should also include plenty of fiber in your meals. Fiber serves several functions in your body. For one thing, it prevents constipation, which is very uncomfortable and quite common during pregnancy. It also helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
Moreover, it helps lower cravings. This is perhaps the single most important function it performs, as cravings are synonymous with pregnancy. In order to keep your stomach feeling full and your appetite sated, be sure to include a lot of fiber in your meals. Some of the key sources of fiber include leafy vegetables and whole grains.
Proteins are indispensable during pregnancy. In fact, one should always aim at consuming plenty of proteins even if they are not pregnant. During pregnancy, however, you must increase your consumption of proteins a bit. Proteins play a significant role in the development of the placenta, and in the proper growth and development of your baby. They are the nutrients that contribute the most to the growth of your baby’s muscles and other body organs. Your own body also needs proteins so that tissues and muscles can function and grow properly.
Ideally, you should add an extra 25 grams of proteins every day for each baby. This means that should you be expecting twins, you need to consume an extra 50 grams of proteins in addition to the 425 other grams that you should consume every day.
Failure to consume the required amount of proteins can have very far reaching consequences. For one thing, proteins will be drained from your own muscles in order to satisfy your baby’s needs. This will leave you feeling fatigued and weak, which can be really dreadful. To make matters worse, insufficient amounts of protein can contribute to poor development in your baby. You should take particular care to consume enough proteins in the second trimester as it is the period during which your child grows the most.
There are many foods that you can consume in order to fulfill your protein requirements. Meats and fish top the list as they have very high protein content. Others include eggs, milk, and dairy products. There are also plant foods that are rich in proteins. These are legumes, tofu, nuts, and lentils, among others. Vegetarians and vegans should be sure to get their plant sources of proteins in order to meet the minimum protein requirements daily during pregnancy.
Although rarely associated with good health, fats are incredibly important during pregnancy. Not all fats are good, but the few that are required during pregnancy are especially important for the growth and development of your baby’s brain and eyes. These fats also help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, namely vitamin A, D, E, and K.
Omega-3 fats are of critical importance during pregnancy. They contain a substance known as Docosahexaenoic acid, which is abbreviated to DHA. DHA is extremely beneficial to the growth of your baby’s brain. It also greatly reduces the risk of premature birth and miscarriage. Additionally, it also helps prevent postpartum depression. Clearly, one must consume the right portions of the good fats in order to fulfill the body’s nutritional requirements during pregnancy.
Your body is also capable of producing small amounts of DHA from an essential fat known as Alpha-Linoleic Acid. The good news is that you can get this ALA from other sources apart from Omega- 3 Fats. You must consume at least 1.4 grams of ALA every day. Sources of ALA include walnut oil and chia seeds. You should take 1.5 tablespoons or 22 ml of walnut oil, 7 walnut halves, one tablespoon of chia seeds, 1.5 tablespoons or 22 ml of ground flax seeds, or 2/3 cup of soy nuts.
You need to ensure that your body gets at least 200 mg of DHA every day, and more so during your third trimester. You can also source these important fats from fish. If you opt to get your fat from fish, then you must consume at least 150 g or 0.5 oz. of fatty fish every single day. Vegetarians and vegans can get their DHA from supplements such as those made from algae oil.
Folate is a little- known vitamin that is very important during pregnancy. It is more widely known as folic acid, which is its synthetic form that is often found in supplements. It might not be very well known, but one cannot overemphasize just how essential it is to both you and your baby.
Folic acid contributes greatly to the development of the nervous system, growth of cells, and DNA production. It is also used in the formation of red blood cells. Insufficient amounts of Folate can cause anemia while increasing the risk of an early birth or several birth defects. Normally, one needs to consume at least 0.4 mg of Folate. During pregnancy, however, you need to consume at least 0.6 mg of Folate in order to cater to the baby’s needs as well.
Some of the best sources of Folate include wheat germ, legumes, and dark leafy vegetables. In the United States and some European countries, wheat flour is usually enriched with folic acid. However, if you cannot get enough Folate from your diet, you should consider using supplements. You simply can’t afford to risk your own health and the child’s health by not consuming the required amounts of Folate.
5. Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and Vitamin D are synonymous with strong bones and teeth. This is still the case during pregnancy. These two nutrients are essential in the development of strong bones and teeth for your baby. Vitamin D is also known to prevent diabetes and cancer and to help fight depression. Calcium, on the other hand, is vital during blood clotting. It also helps the muscles and nerves to function correctly. During pregnancy, there is no need to increase the consumption of both these nutrients.
Nonetheless, you must ensure that you consume enough of them, especially during your third trimester. This is because it is during your third trimester that your baby’s bones and teeth grow and develop the most. The RDI of calcium is 100 mg, while that of Vitamin D is 600 IU or 15 mcg.
Choline is yet another important nutrient that you must consume during pregnancy. It is important for many bodily processes and especially for the growth of your baby’s brain. During pregnancy, you must aim at consuming 450 mg of choline, up from the 425 mg that you should ordinarily consume.
Low consumption of choline can lead to low brain development and result in decreased brain function. It can also result in various birth defects. You cannot afford to gamble on your baby’s brain health by failing to consume the required amount of choline. Some of the best sources of this nutrient include dairy, peanuts, and eggs.
7. Iron and Vitamin B 12
Iron and Vitamin B 12 are some of the fundamental nutrients that must be consumed in the right proportions during pregnancy. Iron plays a central role in the transfer of oxygen in the cells – both in your own body and that of your baby. Vitamin B 12, on the other hand, produces red blood cells, which are extremely important in the transfer of oxygen in the body as well. This vitamin also ensures that the nervous system grows and functions correctly.
Naturally, the volume of blood increases during pregnancy, which is why you need to consume more iron and Vitamin B 12. The recommended RDI of iron during pregnancy is 27 mg, up from the usual 18 mg. The RDI of Vitamin B 12 during pregnancy also rises from 2.4mg to 2.6mg.
Failure to consume the correct amounts of these nutrients will make you get tired easily and frequently, while at the same time making you susceptible to all kinds of infections. To make matters worse, your baby could be born prematurely or with a number of defects. You might also give birth to a low-weight baby, which is really dangerous.
There are very many sources of these nutrients. Some of the best sources of iron and Vitamin B 12 include eggs, seafood, meat, and fish. You can also source iron from whole grains, seeds, nuts, and dried fruits. Additionally, there are some vegetables that are rich sources of iron. These include spinach, snow peas, asparagus, kale, and beet greens. You should, however, take note of the fact that iron sourced from plants is not easily absorbed in the body.
You should avoid taking your meals with tea and coffee as it also affects the intake of iron negatively. In order to help your body absorb iron with ease, ensure that you take foods that are rich in vitamin C, as well. Vitamin C is known to help the body better absorb Iron.
Few plants contain vitamin B 12, and even those that do have it in a form that is inactive in the human body. This calls for vegans and vegetarians to take supplements in order to get enough of this essential nutrient. Alternative sources of this nutrient include nutritional yeast, some breakfast cereals, and even plant-based milk.
Remember, you need to consume the correct amount of Vitamin B-12 and Iron in order to boost your immunity, sustain your energy levels, and ensure that your baby grows and develops correctly.
What to Eat
In order to ensure that your diet is wholesome and healthy, you should eat the following foods:
- Meats, fish, beans, nuts, and eggs which are rich in proteins and iron
- Meats and fish are also rich in Vitamin B 12
- Peanuts and eggs that are rich in choline
- Fruits and vegetables that are great sources of fiber and Vitamin C
- Spinach, beans, and wheat germ that are rich in Folate
- Flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, chia seeds, and soy nuts that are rich in Omega- 3
- Dairy, Calcium-set Tofu, and alternative milks that are rich in Calcium
The basic rule to follow when preparing meals is to use wholesome ingredients. Avoid processed foods as much as you possibly can, as they are often devoid of any nutritional value.
Foods and Practices to Avoid
During pregnancy, you are particularly susceptible to food poisoning and some specific bacteria, such as salmonella, listeria, and toxoplasma. This calls for you to steer clear of some foods while also avoiding some practices that increase your risk of getting infected with these bacteria.
Deli Meat, Soft Cheese, and Unpasteurized Food
Some foods that you must avoid include deli meat, soft cheese, and unpasteurized foods. This is because these foods are known to contain several types of bacteria, and especially the listeria bacteria. Take care to always buy food that has been pasteurized, because such food is completely free of any kind of bacteria.
Raw Meat and Fish
You also must avoid eating raw meat or that which has not been properly cooked. The same goes for raw fish and other seafood. This is because these foods are also known to contain Listeria. This harmful bacterium can be easily passed from the mother to the baby without it affecting the mother in any way. Once the bacteria reach the baby, they can cause mental retardation, blindness, and a host of other horrible health defects. The bacteria are also known to cause premature delivery, stillbirths, and miscarriages. Needless to say, this is one deadly bacterium that pregnant women must take care to avoid.
Raw Eggs and Sprouts
You also must avoid eating raw eggs and sprouts, which might have salmonella. This bacterium causes flu- like symptoms to the mother and can cause cramps in the uterus that can lead to a stillbirth or even a pre- mature birth.
Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables
You should always clean the surface of fruits and vegetables before consuming them. This is because such surfaces are known to harbor several types of bacteria, prominent among them the toxoplasma bacterium. The effects of this lethal bacterium include serious brain or eye damage and may cause intellectual disabilities and blindness later on in your child. To avoid all of this trouble, just ensure that you clean fruits and vegetables thoroughly and peel those that require being peeled.
You also need to be wary of eating organ meat during your pregnancy. Meat from the liver, for instance, is not the best when you are pregnant. This is because it contains too much retinol, which is the animal form of Vitamin A. Too much retinol is exceedingly harmful to your baby. It is for this reason that you also shouldn’t consume a lot of cod liver oil. Meat from other body organs also often contains exceedingly high amounts of copper, which are also harmful to your unborn baby.
High Mercury Fish
High mercury fish is also not the best during pregnancy. Mercury is one of the most toxic substances, and its accumulation in the body can cause your kidneys, immune system, and nervous systems to stop functioning properly. Some of the fish that are known to contain too much mercury include predatory fish fished from oceans that are polluted with mercury. During pregnancy, it is advisable to avoid meats from such fish as mackerel, sharks, tuna, and swordfish.
Caffeine is yet another substance that you should consume in small amounts during pregnancy. This is because while your body may be able to perfectly metabolize caffeine, the same is not true for your little baby’s body. This means that the caffeine you consume will simply continue accumulating in your baby’s body, and this can have long-lasting effects on their growth and development. They could even develop chronic diseases when they are adults, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. To prevent this, limit your caffeine intake to 2 or 3 cups of 200 mg per day.
Alcohol consumption is very dangerous during pregnancy. It greatly increases the risk of a miscarriage as well as a host of birth defects. Other effects include giving birth to a child with facial deformities, fetal alcohol syndrome, mental retardation, or even heart defects. By all means, avoid alcohol consumption during pregnancy for the good health of your baby.
You also should really avoid junk, as it holds no nutritional value. It also increases the risk of heart disease, not to mention the fact that you will gain plenty of weight in a short period of time.
While herbal teas are generally considered to be healthy, there are some that are positively risky during pregnancy. Some of them can induce uterine contractions, which can result in bleeding and miscarriage. Some of the herbal teas that are considered safe during pregnancy include ginger, linden flower, lemon balm, citrus peel, and orange peel. Limit your intake of these teas to 2-3 cups a day to be on the safe side.
Remember to Hydrate
During pregnancy, it is critical that you consume enough water and beverages. Keeping hydrated will prevent constipation as well dissolve waste, thus making it easy for your system to get rid of it. Drinking enough water and other beverages will also prevent headaches, swelling, premature contractions, and also decrease fatigue. You should aim to consume at least 2.3 L or ten cups of fluids each day.
What about Supplements?
Generally, there is no harm in using prenatal multivitamins to supplement for the nutrients that you cannot get from your meals. However, it becomes a problem if you source all your nutrients from supplements. Remember that these are simply supplementary and that they must never replace wholesome meals.
The bottom line is that you must always remember that what you eat during pregnancy will have a lasting impact on your child’s health. Take care of your diet during pregnancy, and your child will be eternally grateful that you took care to eat the right foods when they needed it the most.