The diet of a pregnant woman needs to be balanced and nutrient-rich for a healthy pregnancy. This involves the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, fruits and vegetables to keep their growing changing body in shape.
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.
Foods to eat
Fruit and vegetables
Take at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. They may be in the form of dried, canned, juice, frozen, or fresh. Fresh and frozen (if frozen soon after picking) produce usually have higher levels of vitamins and other nutrients.
According to researchers, it’s better to eat fruit in whole than drinking the juice. This is because natural sugar levels is higher in juice. Consider vegetable juices like carrot or wheatgrass for dense nutrition.
Starchy carbohydrate-rich foods
Starchy carbohydrate-rich foods include rice, potatoes, pasta, and bread. Carbohydrates are high in energy, and are an important constituent of a good pregnancy diet.
Animal-sourced proteins include chicken, lean meat, and eggs. All pregnant women and especially vegans should eat the following protein-rich foods:
- Quinoa- This includes all the essential amino acids
- Tofu and soy products
- Beans, butter, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds/nut and iron.
Fats should constitute only 30 percent of a pregnant woman’s diet. Researchers from the University of Illinois reported in the Journal of Physiology that a diet high in fat may genetically program the baby for future diabetes.
There are other risks to pregnancy with an overly high-fat diet, so a balance is required and monounsaturated fats should be the primary fat choices. Examples of foods rich in monounsaturated fats include avocados, peanut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, canola oil, many nuts, and seeds.
For women who have a higher risk of developing constipation during pregnancy, eating lots of fiber is effective in reducing that risk. Consuming lots of fiber during pregnancy reduces the risk of hemorrhoids, which become more common as the fetus grows.
Foods rich in fiber includes wholegrain foods, such as wholemeal bread, wholegrain pasta, wild rice, pulses like beans and lentils, fruit, and vegetables are rich in fiber.
It is important to have a healthy daily intake of calcium. Foods rich in fiber includes dairy foods, such as cheese, milk, and yogurt. Vegan mothers is vegan 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:
- Preterm delivery
- Low-weight baby
- Tiredness and depression during pregnancy
- Newborn death
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
- Dried beans
- Egg yolk
- Some whole grain cereals, if they are fortified with iron
- Lean meat
- Oysters (pregnant women should eat them cooked).
- Liver is rich in iron, but doctors and most dietitians advise pregnant women to avoid liver because it is very high in vitamin A, which may harm the baby during pregnancy
- 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.
- Pate– any type of pate, be it vegetable or meat-based – the risk here is also of listeria infection.
- Soft mold-ripened cheese– such as blue-veined cheese, Brie or Camembert. There is a risk of listeria infection. Listeria is a group of bacteria that can cause potentially fatal infections to pregnant women and their babies.
- 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 weight.
Should I stop drinking alcohol completely?
Public health authorities throughout the world have been reducing the maximum amount of alcohol a woman should drink each week. A fetus’ liver cannot process alcohol anywhere nearly as well as an adult’s can. Excessive intake of alcohol can seriously weaken the development of the baby. Most doctors advise pregnant mothers to avoid alcohol altogether.
Should pregnant women avoid caffeine?
There is a high risk of a low birth weight if a pregnant mother consumes too much caffeine during her pregnancy, which can later lead to health problems. There is also a higher risk of miscarriage.
Many foods and drinks contain caffeine. Examples are energy drinks, sodas, chocolate, and tea. Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine. A pregnant woman should consult her doctor before taking a remedy.
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Experts recommend that coffee does not need to be totally eliminated, but should not exceed more than 200 milligrams per day. A standard mug of instant coffee contains 100 milligrams of caffeine.
According to the Institute of Medicine, USA, a woman whose body mass index, BIM is between 18.5 and 24.9 should gain 25-35 pounds (11.4-15.9 kilograms) during the 9 months. A woman who is overweight at the start of pregnancy should gain between 15-25 pounds (6.8 to 11.4 kg). Weight gain recommendations may also vary, depending on the woman’s age, fetal development, and her current health.
Excessive or insufficient weight gain can undermine the health of both the fetus and the mother.
The information below should never supersede what a doctor tells a patient; it is important for pregnant women to consult a doctor before pursuing any supplementation.
A woman pregnant woman should be consuming 27 milligrams of iron everyday. The majority of women can get adequate amounts if they follow a healthy diet. Some, however, may need iron supplements to prevent iron deficiency. Some women may experience constipation, heartburn, or nausea when taking iron supplements. To avoid these problems, they should take their pills with meals.
The National Health Service (NHS), United Kingdom, recommends that folic acid should be 400 mcg (micrograms) per day up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Women should have been on them before becoming pregnant, the NHS says.
Zinc deficiency during pregnancy may lead to hostile pregnancy outcomes for the mother and fetus. Pregnant women on zinc supplements were 14 percent less likely to have a premature delivery, according to studies.
Avoid vitamin A supplements
Pregnant women should avoid excessive intake of vitamin A because this may harm their baby. The exception to this rule is when a doctor advises it for a specific reason. It may be determined, for example, that a mother is deficient in vitamin A during her pregnancy, in this case, a doctor may advise supplementation.
Pregnant woman should take supplements containing 10 mcg of vitamin D daily, according to guidelines in the UK. Summer sunlight is a good source of vitamin D (the light does not have the vitamin, but triggers the skin to synthesize it). Exposure should be limited because too much sunlight exposure increases risk of developing skin cancer.