Maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy is very important because your body needs additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals to allow proper development of your baby.
In fact, you may need 350–500 extra calories each day during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters depending on your pre-pregnancy weight. (You eat less if you’re overweight and eat more if you’re under-weight before getting pregnant).
Poor eating habits and excess weight gain may also increase the risk of diabetes in pregnancy and birth complications. It will also make it a lot more difficult to lose the pregnancy weight after you’ve given birth.
Here are 11 highly nutritious foods to eat when you’re pregnant…
1. DAIRY PRODUCTS
During pregnancy, you need to consume extra protein and calcium to meet the needs of the growing fetus. Dairy products contain two types of high quality protein: casein and whey. Dairy is the best dietary source of calcium, and provides high amounts of phosphorus, various B-vitamins, magnesium and zinc.
Yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, is particularly beneficial for pregnant women. Opt for the plain, unsweetened variety, to avoid consumption of excess calories. Yogurt contains more calcium than any other dairy product. Most varieties also contain probiotic bacteria, which help in the process of digestion.
People who are lactose intolerant (ie. unable to digest milk properly due to enzyme deficiency) may also be able to tolerate yogurt, especially probiotic yogurt. Probiotic supplements may also reduce the risk of complications such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, vaginal infections and allergies.
This group of food includes lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans and peanuts. Legumes are excellent plant-based sources of fiber, protein, iron, folate (B9) and calcium, all of which the body needs more of during pregnancy.
Folate is one of the “B-vitamins”. It is very important for the health of the mother and development of the fetus, especially during the first trimester. Deficiency of folate is associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects (abnormalities in the brain and spinal cord) and low birth weight. Insufficient folate intake may also cause the child to be more prone to infections and disease later in life.
Legumes contain high amounts of folate. One cup of lentils, chickpeas or black beans may provide from 65–90% of the daily requirement of folate. Legumes are generally very high in fiber. Some varieties are also high in iron, magnesium and potassium.
3. SWEET POTATOES
Sweet potatoes are very rich in beta-carotene, a plant compound that is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is essential for growth, as well as for the production of most cells and tissues. Therefore, it is very important for healthy fetal development.
Pregnant women are generally advised to increase their vitamin A intake by 10–40%. However, they are also advised to avoid very high amounts of animal-based sources of vitamin A, which may cause toxicity when eaten in excess. Sweet potatoes also contain fiber, which may increase fullness, reduce blood sugar spikes and improve the functioning of the digestive system.
Salmon is very rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids. Pregnant women who are not getting enough omega-3 from their diet are sometimes advised to take supplements containing omega-3.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in high amounts in seafood, and help build the brain and eyes of the fetus. However, pregnant women are generally advised to limit their seafood intake to twice a week, due to the mercury and other contaminants found in fatty fish.
Salmon is also one of very few natural sources of vitamin D, which is often lacking in the diet. It is very important for many processes in the body, including bone health and immune function.
Eggs are the ultimate health food, because they contain a little bit of almost every nutrient you need. A large egg contains 77 calories, as well as high-quality protein and fat. It also contains many vitamins and minerals.
Eggs are a great source of choline which is essential for many processes in the body, including brain development. A single whole egg contains roughly 113mg of choline, which is about 25% of the recommended daily intake for pregnant women (450 mg).
6. GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES AND BROCCOLI
Green vegetables, such as kale and spinach, contain many of the nutrients that pregnant women need. These include fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, folate and potassium.
Leafy greens and broccoli are rich in antioxidants. They also contain plant compounds that benefit the immune system and digestion. Due to their high fiber content, these vegetables may also help prevent constipation which is a very common problem among pregnant women.
7. LEAN MEAT
Lean meat refers to any plain meat without the fat or skin. Lean beef, turkey and chicken are excellent sources of high-quality protein. They are also rich in iron, choline and other B-vitamins — all of which are needed in higher amounts during pregnancy.
Iron is an essential mineral that is used by red blood cells as a part of hemoglobin. It is important for delivering oxygen to all cells in the body. Pregnant women need more iron, since their blood volume is increasing. This is particularly important during the third trimester.
Low levels of iron during early and mid-pregnancy may cause iron deficiency anemia, which increases the risk of premature delivery, low birth weight and post-partum bleeding.
It may be hard to cover iron needs with diet alone, especially since many pregnant women develop nausea, or aversion to meat. Therefore, additional iron tablets or multivitamins containing adequate amount of iron, should be taken as supplements.
However, for those who can, eating red meat regularly may help increase the amount of iron acquired from the diet. Eating foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as oranges or bell peppers, also helps to increase absorption of iron from meals.
Berries are packed with water, healthy carbs, vitamin C, fiber and plant compounds. They generally contain high amounts of vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron. Vitamin C is also important for skin health and immune function. Berries are also a great snack because they contain both water and fiber. They provide a lot of flavor and nutrition, but with relatively few calories.
9. WHOLE GRAINS
Eating whole grains may help meet the increased calorie requirements that come with pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters. As opposed to refined grains, whole grains are packed with fiber, vitamins and plant compounds. Oats and quinoa are typical examples of whole grains. Apart from carbs and fibres, they also contain a good amount of protein.
Additionally, whole grains are generally rich in B-vitamins and magnesium. All of these are frequently lacking in the diets of pregnant women.
Avocados are an unusual fruit because they contain a lot of monounsaturated fatty acids. They are also high in fiber, B-vitamins (especially folate), vitamin K, potassium, copper, vitamin E and vitamin C.
Because of their high content of healthy fats, folate and potassium, avocados are a great choice for pregnant women. These healthy fats help build the skin, brain and tissues of the fetus.
Potassium helps to relieve leg cramps, a side effect of pregnancy for some women. Avocados actually contain more potassium than bananas!
11. DRIED FRUITS
Dried fruit is generally high in calories, fiber and various vitamins and minerals. One piece of dried fruit contains the same amount of nutrients as fresh fruit, just without all the water and in a much smaller form that can be easily snacked on.
For example, prunes are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin K and sorbitol. They are natural laxatives, and can be very helpful in relieving constipation.
Dates are high in fiber, potassium, iron and plant compounds. Regular date consumption in the third trimester may help facilitate the process of labour.
However, dried fruit also contains high amounts of natural sugar. Make sure to avoid the candied varieties, which contain even more sugar. It is generally not recommended to consume more than one serving at a time.
During pregnancy, blood volume increases by up to 1.5 liters. Therefore, it is important to stay properly hydrated. The fetus usually gets everything it needs, but if you don’t watch your water intake, you may become dehydrated.
Symptoms of severe dehydration include headaches, anxiety, tiredness, bad mood and reduced memory. Also, increasing water intake helps to relieve constipation and reduce the risk of urinary tract infections, which are common during pregnancy.
General guidelines recommend drinking about 2-3 liters of water per day, but the amount you really need varies by individual and environment. At least, you should be drinking about 1–2 liters each day, keeping in mind that you also get water from other foods and beverages, such as fruit, vegetables, coffee and tea.
As a rule of thumb, you should always drink water as soon as you feel thirsty, and drink until you’ve quenched your thirst.
In conclusion, what you eat during pregnancy affects your energy and well-being. It also directly affects the health and development of your baby. Since calorie and nutrient needs are increased, it is very important that you choose nutrient-rich, healthy foods.
Gaining weight during pregnancy is normal, but it is important to gain it the healthy way. This benefits you, your baby and your health after the pregnancy. Avoid junks, sweets, carbonated drinks and pastries. These only fill up your stomach but are less likely to give you the adequate amount of nutrients that you really need.