Importance of Nutrition during Pregnancy
Healthy and correct diet for pregnant women plays the most important role for the unborn baby and the mother. It is important as it affects directly to the weight of baby at the time of birth. It also helps to prevent the child from developing diseases such as heart disease and obesity later in their life. Therefore it is always recommended to maintain a healthy diet, remain active and drink lots of fluids. All of this is important for the health of mother and the unborn baby.
How much calories are required during pregnancy?
Weight gain during pregnancy signifies that your body is nurturing the baby well. The blood volume increases by approximately 60% when you are ready to give birth. Therefore during pregnancy it is essential to include vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates as a part of every diet. For a healthy baby, you need approximately 300 calories extra each day (if you have normal body weight). Although for individual body requirement you should consult your doctor.
During pregnancy one should not miss breakfast, as it is very important meal of the day and helps in keeping the body fit and healthy. Inclusion of food items rich in high fiber is also recommended as that also helps in preventing constipation during pregnancy. It is a good idea to eat small meals at regular intervals throughout your day. You may also eat healthy snacks in order to get the required nutrients. Having skim milk and a small portion of sandwich is one such example.
What should you eat in pregnancy and how much?
It is essential that your daily diet comprises of all the food groups. These food groups are as listed below:
Iron: Iron is an essential mineral required for the production of blood cells, it prevents you from getting anemic during pregnancy. It also increases the blood volume if it is consumed along with water, sodium and potassium. Approximately 27 mg of iron intake daily is required during pregnancy. The best sources of iron are whole grains, fishes like tuna salmon, eggs, poultry, lean red meat, vegetables, legumes, dried fruits and beans.
Folate: Folate or folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects (NTD) and other birth defects in the baby. It also helps in prevention of anemia and low infant birth weight. Before pregnancy and during pregnancy, approximately 0.6 mg to 0.8 mg of folate is required. Few food sources that are rich in folate and folic acid include citrus fruits and juices, legumes, green leafy vegetables, poultry, meat and Brussels sprouts.
Calcium: Calcium is required for developing the baby’s bones and tooth buds. It also helps to regulate the body fluid. Dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, tofu, milk, eggs etc. are big sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium are cabbage, almonds, white beans, turnip greens, turnip greens. Vitamin D helps our body to absorb calcium. Hence it is important to choose supplements that contain vitamin D as well. Approximately 1000 mg of calcium is required daily during pregnancy.
Proteins: Proteins helps in improving fetal growth and may also reduce risk of fetal and neonatal death. Some of the foods such as dairy products, fish, meat and poultry, eggs, legumes, tofu, seeds and nuts are good source of proteins.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates in the diet regulates the fetal growth, its glucose levels and the birth weight of infant. Also it regulates plasma glucose levels and glycosylated hemoglobin in the pregnant women. Carbohydrates are present in whole grains. Research study suggests that the quality of carbohydrate consumed during pregnancy is also very important as it helps in the prevention of metabolic disruptions in the infants and diet-induced adiposity in pregnant women.
Vitamin B6: According to a research study, vitamin B6 (also known as Pyridoxine) helps in treating nausea and vomiting (or morning sickness) during pregnancy. This vitamin is found in eggs, meat, liver, beans, cereals and vegetables. It is safe to take Pyridoxine during pregnancy, but it should be taken under the guidance of your doctor. High doses are not safe and can cause seizures to the baby. Also, deficiency of vitamin B6 is bad. The deficiency could develop during pregnancy. Some of the factors leading to the deficiency of vitamin B6 are increasing fetal demand for this vitamin, increasing levels of oestrogens, lower intake of vitamin B6 or the usage of oral contraceptive before the conception. Women who are planning for a baby should consume 1.5 to 2 mg of vitamin B6 every day and the women who are pregnant should consume 2.5 mg of vitamin B6 every day.
Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is very important for the unborn baby, especially for the development of their brain and its functioning. Low intake of this vitamin by pregnant women may lead to number of deficiencies in the infants such as anemia, poor brain growth, intrauterine growth and resistance to insulin (especially in the children at the age of 6 years). Deficiency of vitamin B12 at the start of pregnancy may lead to Neural Tube Defect (NTD) in the infant or even preterm delivery.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps to keep the overall metabolism in correct order. Vitamin C is required by the mother as well as the baby and cannot be stored in the body. Therefore eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Also, vitamin C helps in the development of bones, tooth and healing the wound. Approximately 85 mg of vitamin C is required every day. It is present in fruits and vegetables. Cabbage, pepper, and potatoes are good source of vitamin C. Fruits rich in vitamin C are kiwi, orange, strawberry, melon, grapes, tomato, lemon and mango. Bean sprouts are also a good source of vitamin C. You can sprout mung beans, black eyed beans, fenugreek, alfalfa, haricot and green lentils.
Vitamin D: Research study suggests that higher intake of vitamin D during pregnancy protects that child against eczema and wheezing. Vitamin D not only helps in the development of bones but also helps in prevention from diseases. Vitamin D is made in the skin through exposure to ultraviolet-B light. Therefore, vitamin D is not present in the food we eat. Vitamin D can also be taken in the form of vitamin D supplements or vitamin D-fortified milk. Deficiency of this vitamin or milk restriction in pregnant women may lead to smaller babies (that is babies with lower birth weight). Lack of vitamin d in pregnant women may lead to rickets; type 1 diabetes and schizophrenia in children. Vitamin D is present in eggs, liver, oily fish, breakfast cereals, powdered milk and margarine. Pregnant women should avoid raw or uncooked eggs and liver and its products. Also, fish intake should be restricted to few varieties - e.g. tuna. Pregnant women should start taking vitamin D from 12 to 16 weeks and should consume approximately 4000IU per day.
Vitamin K: Sources of vitamin K are lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, dark leafy vegetables, liver, eggs and other dairy products. Vitamin K is good for preventing weak bones and blood clotting problems. However, higher amounts without the guidance of your healthcare professional should be avoided during pregnancy.
Fatty Acids: Omega 3 fatty acids are good for the overall development of baby’s nervous system. Omega 3 fatty acids can avoid premature births. These fatty acids are particularly found in the brain.
Therefore, pregnant woman requires two to three portions of fish per week. Fishes that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, mackerel, herring, snoek, butterfish, anchovies, pilchards, and snchovies.
Portions to eat for different varieties of food
During pregnancy, various foods should be included in the diet for optimal maternal health, reduced risk of birth defects etc.
Whole grains: They are good source of energy and provide carbohydrates and fibres (that helps to prevent constipation which you might suffer quite often during pregnancy). Eat lots of bread and cereals including rice, pasta and other grains during pregnancy. Other varieties include spaghetti, oatmeal, macaroni, cornmeal and buckwheat. Pregnant women should eat upto nine servings or portions every day. One serving or portion includes: Cooked pasta (spaghetti or macaroni, etc.) – ½ cup; cooked cereal (Rice, oatmeal or buckwheat) – ½ cup; One large slice of bread (30 to 40 g); one cup ready to eat cereals. Food in this group contains important nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins.
Green leafy vegetables: Green leafy vegetables contain many such protective components that help to keep us healthy especially during the time of pregnancy. It is said that no tablets of vitamins and minerals can replace vegetables that you eat. Therefore, pregnant woman should consume upto four servings of these vegetables. One serving means approximately one cup of green leafy vegetables (cabbage, turnip, lettuce, collard, spinach, broccoli, etc.); half cup other vegetables – raw or cooked; fruit juice – ¾ cup. It is advised to cook vegetables in minimum amount of water, boiling for approximately five to ten minutes. As vitamin C might get lost during the preparation, it is preferred to steam or microwave or bake the vegetable instead of boiling it. Try to eat fresh (raw) or lightly cooked vegetables.
Meat: During pregnancy you can consume approximately two servings of meat varieties such as beef, poultry and seafood. One serving comprises of approximately two to three ounces. One serving i.e. approximately three ounces of salmon can also be consumed as it is rich in calcium, one serving of egg i.e. one large egg, 2 T. of peanut butter. Other varieties include seafood, fish which is properly cooked, chicken, pork, lamb, lean beef and liver. Nuts are rich in calcium and proteins especially almonds should be consumed during pregnancy. One serving of nuts is approximately one third of a cup.
Fruits: Fruits are rich source of vitamins and minerals. Therefore pregnant woman should consume two to three servings of fruits daily. One serving is approximately half a cup chopped fruits; one medium banana or apple; fruit juice – ¾ cup. Citrus fruit varieties such as grapes, guava, strawberry, orange, kiwi, tomato, melon, mango, lemon, potato, pepper etc. should be consumed during pregnancy.
Legumes: Two servings of legumes should be consumed daily. One serving is approximately half a cup. Black beans, kidney beans (red and white), navy beans, chick peas, split peas; black eyed peas are some of the examples which can form part of your daily diet. White beans are quite rich in calcium.
Dairy: Pregnant women can consume between two to three servings of dairy products every day. One serving of milk (which is approximately one cup), one serving of yogurt which is approximately one cup, one serving of tofu which is approximately half a cup, one serving of pasteurized cheese which is approximately one and a half ounces.
Fluids: During pregnancy it is recommended to intake approximately 2.4 litres of fluids daily, i.e. 10 glasses of 250ml.
Nutritional facts and concerns
Pregnant woman usually gains the weight between 10 to 15 kilograms during pregnancy. Those who do not gain enough weight may have to face some complications like lung and heart problems and even premature birth. Some of the discomforts are common during pregnancy. It may be heartburn, nausea or constipation. But with eating healthy food regularly, drinking lots of water, cutting down on excess sugar and fat and exercising may reduce those discomforts. You can walk or swim during pregnancy, but consult your doctor before you start. Avoid consuming alcohol, smoking and using drugs. Avoid caffeine present in soda or coffee. If you eat meat, make sure that it is properly cooked as it might contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella etc. Also, there are some fishes that contain high levels of mercury. It can harm the nervous system of unborn baby. Therefore, check before you eat.