Pregnancy Diet: Highly Nutritious Foods to Eat during Pregnancy

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The nutritional decisions that you make when pregnant will either positively or negatively affect your pregnancy and even the lactation period. Adequate nutrition may not solely guarantee a favorable pregnancy outcome, but it makes a significant contribution to your health and that of the fetus. A healthy diet will promote healthy weight gain and is a source for nutritional stores to be used during the lactation period. It also supports fetal growth and is a determinant of healthy birth weight.

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On the other hand, a poor diet will contribute to restricted fetal growth and nutritional deficiencies to the mother. For instance, a diet deficient in iron and folic acid is associated with anemia. Lack of folic acid also contributes to neural tube defects. Although iron and folic acid supplements may be provided during the pregnancy period, you will still need to meet the additional nutritional requirements.

If you satisfactorily meet these dietary needs, you will realize that you will continually add weight throughout pregnancy. The gain is healthy and is contributed partly by fetal growth and partly accumulation of maternal stores. In fact, it is recommended that you should gain at least 0.4kg per month in the first trimester, and 0.4kg per week in the second and third trimesters. However, you should not get it out of control as excessive weight gain (more than 3kg per month in the last two trimesters) is a risk factor for pregnancy-induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, large for gestational age fetus, and weight retention after delivery.

Meeting these nutritional conditions is not easy for some women since pregnancy comes with its ups and downs of gastrointestinal tract disturbances. Morning sickness, constipation and heartburn may discourage you from adopting healthy eating habits, especially in the first trimester. Food may either aggravate these problems or relieve them. To meet your needs and still deal with these issues, you just have to play around with the quantity, frequency and timing of food, since nutrition cannot be compromised.

When we talk about eating in pregnancy, we do not mean that you should eat just anything. You must focus on eating quality foods and not only quantity. So, which are some of these foods that you should eat? Basically, you will need foods from the major food groups which include grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, meat, fats and oils in that order.

These are some of the foods that will help you fine-tune your diet when pregnant: 

1.Green Leafy Vegetables

We cannot stress enough the role of iron and folic acid in pregnancy. The World Health Organization reports that about 40% of pregnant women are anemic, a burden that is largely due to iron deficiency. When pregnant, you need to increase your intake of iron and folic acid. You may be wondering why all the fuss about these two nutrients. Folic acid helps prevent malformations of the brain and skull.

The most prevalent malformation is a condition referred to as spina bifida which is a result of the failure of closure of the neural tube. It is characterized by incomplete closure of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord. Spina bifida can lead to paralysis, urinary and stool incontinence, poor kidney function and cognitive problems.

Folic acid also contributes to cell division and production of red blood cells. On the other hand, iron plays a crucial role in the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells. Therefore, iron together with folic acid significantly contributes to the prevention of anemia in pregnancy. Anemia is a global concern as it increases the risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight and stillbirth.

Adding spinach, kales, collard greens, broccoli, leaf lettuce, amaranth, and mustard greens to your diet will significantly boost your daily requirements of iron and folate. These vegetables are also an excellent source of fiber, vitamins C and K, and antioxidants. The best practice is to include green vegetables in all your meals. You can also sneak them in smoothies and salads. 

2.Eggs

Eggs come second on our list because we feel that this super food has been done injustice by all the myths that surround it. In Mexico, women are told not to eat eggs as they can make babies smell bad. In the Philippines, they are told to eat raw eggs before delivery, to lubricate the birth canal and in Africa, some communities believe that eggs can make one get a big baby and even worse, they can cause sterility. In the modern society, some pregnant women avoid eggs because they think that they are high in cholesterol and can cause allergies to the baby.

However, scientific evidence shows that eggs are extremely safe during pregnancy. Both the white and yolk of the egg are a great source of high-quality proteins, the building blocks of your cells and the baby’s. Eggs have the complete range of amino acids, making them a complete source of proteins. They are also a source of vitamin B12, phosphorous, riboflavin, lutein and choline.

On the question of cholesterol, the United States Department of Agriculture reports that a large egg has 186mg of cholesterol while the American Heart Association recommends 300mg per day. This cholesterol is similar to fish oils. It is an excellent source of fatty acids that promote the development of the nervous system of the fetus. Choline and lutein in eggs also contribute to brain development.

Handle eggs with care and ensure that they are fully cooked before eating. This is because just like most protein-rich foods, they are prone to contamination if not well handled.

3.Salmon

For many years, fish had been subjected to harsh criticism, and as a result, people avoided it. This prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop fish consumption guidelines, which apply to women of childbearing age, pregnant women, breastfeeding moms, and young children. The two agencies recommend that you should eat at least 2 to 3 servings of low-mercury fish per week. If you miss out fish in pregnancy, you will deny your baby brain-friendly omega fats.

According to the FDA and American Pregnancy Association, salmon is on the list of the safest fish in pregnancy and for overall well-being. Other than omega-3-fatty acids, salmon is also loaded with B vitamins, proteins, selenium, potassium and astaxanthin, an antioxidant.

4.Whole Grains

Whole grains like wheat, oats, rice, corn, barley, sorghum, rye and millet are essential nutritional sources in your pregnancy diet. They are critical in supplying energy for the fetus development and help in the growth of the placenta. Whole grains are also excellent sources of vitamins B1, B2, folic acid, and niacin, iron and minerals like magnesium and selenium. Most whole grains will help you meet the daily recommendation of 28 grams of fiber per day, which will help you prevent constipation and hemorrhoids.

When shopping for grains be sure to carefully go through the ingredients list and check out for words like “whole grains.” For products labeled “refined,” you may not get much of these benefits.

5.Milk and Dairy Products

One cup of milk is a complete protein source. In addition, it has carbohydrates, vitamins D and B12, fats and 30% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium. This makes milk and dairy products significant sources of calcium.

If you have already started your antenatal care visits, most probably your obstetrician has already prescribed calcium supplements for you. Calcium dietary requirements increase from 1000mg to 1400mg per day, during pregnancy. The demands grow as the baby needs calcium for building strong bones and teeth. If you do not take enough calcium in your diet, the baby will draw it from your bones, leaving your bones weak and easy to fracture. Calcium also helps in reducing the risk of hypertension and preeclampsia.

To make healthier choices, we recommend that you go for low-fat and unsweetened dairy products. If you have lactose intolerance, you can opt for calcium-fortified products like soy milk, soy yogurt, almond milk, multigrain milk or rice milk.

6.Cherries and Berries

Sweet cherries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are super foods loaded with vitamins that build your immune system, giving you protection against bacteria, viruses, and environmental damage. They also have a good fiber content which plays a role in promoting a healthy digestive system. They help to normalize bowel movements and promote a healthy tract environment. The sweet taste is a result of healthy sugars which also help in boosting your energy levels to defeat pregnancy fatigue.

You can take them as a snack, make a smoothie, add in yogurt or cereals and also, as a fruit salad.

7.Crackers

This list would not be complete without including crackers. They are healthy snacks as they are mainly made with grain flour. Since they are starchy, dry and bland, they reduce stomach acid and help in alleviating morning sickness, making them a great startup food in the morning. Keep them at your bedside and take them as the first thing in the morning to keep nausea at bay. Combine them with an avocado, peanut butter or even cheese to make them more filling.

8.Nuts

If you are not allergic to nuts, then a handful of nuts a day will give you a boost of proteins, healthy unsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals. You may have heard that you should not eat nuts when pregnant if there is a history of nut allergy in your family. These claims are misleading, and actually, research has shown that eating nuts when pregnant lowers the risk of nut sensitivity to the baby. To even make the argument more valid, scientific evidence shows that most allergies occur after birth.

Moreover, nuts are among the foods that relive nausea, a common problem in pregnancy. They help to prevent nausea caused by low blood sugar by replenishing energy. The best thing about nuts is that you only need less than 100 grams per day. They are also perfect for snacks in between main meals.

9.Beans

Beans are a magical food that you will find in most regional cuisines. They are the “vegetarian meat” as they are considered to have almost similar qualities of meat. Beans supply a considerable amount of proteins, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Beans are a bit complex to digest, and for this reason, they can cause bloating. To avoid gas, soak them for at least 8 hours and pour the water before cooking. Then season with fresh vegetables like carrots, rosemary and celery.

10.Organ and Lean Meat

Most traditional cultures highly regard organ meat, especially the liver, for its nutritional benefits. In some cultures, the liver is preserved for women and young children. Liver provides a large amount of quality proteins, an easy-to-absorb form of iron, vitamin B12, folic acid, and many trace elements.

If you are not up to organ meat, then lean meat is the next option as it is a good protein source with low fat. Sirloin steak, shoulder cuts, tenderloin, and skinless poultry are some of the examples of lean cuts. When shopping, look out cuts labeled with words like round, loin, or chuck.

As with most other meats, there is a significant danger of insufficient cooking. So, ensure that your meat is fully cooked before eating. Other safe practices include washing hands and utensils that have touched raw meat, buy from licensed meat handlers and choosing fresh cuts.

11. Water

Water is not classified as food, but its consumption is vital not just in pregnancy but also during the lactation period. You will need more water for nutrients to reach the body tissues, to help in digestion, to regulate your basal body temperature and aid in flushing out body toxins.

Your body will also need water to maintain healthy levels of amniotic fluid, to prevent urinary tract infections and to keep the body cells hydrated. During lactation, water is a key component of breastmilk.

It is recommended that you should take 8 to 12 glasses of water per day. You do not have to take all this as plain water. You can make it better by taking smoothies, soups, milk shakes, home-made fruit juices with no added sugar, or naturally infuse your water with ginger or mint. 

In Conclusion

a healthy diet is a critical component of a healthy mother and baby. You will need more than you were taking before conception, to meet the continually changing body demands. Your body will need nutrients from all the food groups, and our list has some of the most nutritious choices that you should make. Once you adopt eating these foods, you should carry on the habit to the lactation period. You will thank us as it will positively impact on the growth and development of your little one.

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