It's Important To Eat A Balanced Diet When You're Pregnant, To Support Your Own Health And That Of Your Developing Baby. Here's Our Guide To What You Should Be Filling Your Plate With...
Few times of life are more exciting than pregnancy. However, it’s also a time when you need to get a good balance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals for you and your baby.
Hopefully, you’ll be getting lots of fruit and vegetables already! But if you aren’t, it’s even more important to do so when you’re pregnant as they provide vitamins, mineral and fibre. Fibre can help digestion and can help prevent constipation.
It is recommended to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, with a greater emphasis on veg than fruit. Frozen, tinned and dried fruit and vegetables could all help you towards this target, but the varieties with no added fruit or sugar are most ideal. That means it’s best to limit the juices and smoothies you consume, given their high sugar content.
Leafy green vegetables are also a potential dietary source of Folate, which is very important for the development of a healthy foetus. However, as it can be difficult to get the amount of Folate recommended for a healthy pregnancy from food alone. The UK Department of Health recommends women planning a baby should take a supplement containing 400µg of folic acid from the start of trying to conceive until the 12th week of pregnancy. This is the exact amount of folic acid contained in Pregnacare.
Carbs and starchy food like bread, potatoes and rice are an important source of energy, vitamins and fibre. Opt for wholemeal versions of pasta, rice and bread for extra fibre, and don't fry the potatoes too often – boiling and steaming are a healthier way to cook them!
Food like eggs, fish, nuts, pulses, beans and meat all provide protein. Try to eat one portion of these every day, and aim to eat two portions of fish a week, including oily fish like salmon, sardines or mackerel. Be careful that eggs and meats are cooked all the way through, to avoid salmonella and toxoplasmosis respectively.
Dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt aren’t merely excellent sources of the calcium that is essential for your baby, but also contain high amounts of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and various B vitamins. That’s why pregnant women should aim for two to three portions of dairy products a day.
Be sure to avoid any soft, mould-ripened cheeses such as camembert or brie, however, as well as blue-veined cheeses like Roquefort or gorgonzola. These types of cheese are made with mould and can harbour the listeria bacteria responsible for causing listeriosis.
Fish is a good source of lean protein and other vitamins and minerals, and in particular, oily fish is an important source of essential omega-3 fatty acids e.g. salmon, mackrel, trout. There are some fish to be avoided when you are expecting. These include fish with high mercury levels, such as swordfish, shark and marlin, given the methyl mercury they contain that could be harmful to an unborn baby.
Lean meats like beef, chicken and pork are great sources of high-quality protein. Beef and pork are rich in iron, choline and other B vitamins, all of which are needed in higher amounts when you’re pregnant.
Iron, for example, is used by red blood cells as a part of haemoglobin, playing a crucial role in delivering oxygen to your body’s cells. Your increasing blood volume during pregnancy will mean you need to up your iron intake.
Avoid eating any raw or uncooked meat right now. Any meat or poultry that you do eat while pregnant needs to be cooked thoroughly, with no pink flesh or blood. Take particular care with chicken, sausages and minced meat.
Pregnancy is a time when you need to keep a close eye on what you drink, as well as what you eat. That should mean significantly upping your water intake if needed, to about 1.5 litres, or 2.6 pints, of fluids a day, until about 27 weeks. That amounts to approximately eight standard 200ml glasses.
You should drink slightly more than this in the third trimester, and should also – of course – increase your intake if you’re active or the weather’s hot.
As for what you should avoid, now’s a good time to limit your caffeine intake to 200 milligrams (mg) a day – equivalent to about two mugs of instant coffee. You should also cut out alcohol during this time, as there is no recognised ‘safe’ level of alcohol for an unborn baby.
Being pregnant doesn’t mean you won’t be in a ‘snacky’ mood from time to time between meals! Nor does it mean you have to give up all of your favourite foods. But with only about 200 extra calories being needed a day to help your baby to grow, it’s also important to try to limit foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
So, why not give some of these healthy snack ideas a go instead?
- Sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon or sardines and salad
- Salad vegetables such as carrot, celery or cucumber
- Yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
- Hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
- Ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
- Vegetable and bean soups
- Unsweetened breakfast cereals or porridge with milk
- Milky drinks
- Fresh fruit
- Baked beans on toast or a baked potato
There you have it – your quick guide to some of the food groups to include in your pregnancy diet. Remember that everything you eat while you are pregnant will affect your energy and wellbeing in some way, and may also directly affect your baby’s health and development. So, it’s crucial to consume nutrient-dense and healthy foods.
If you're pregnant, what do you enjoy eating? Do you have any tips on staying healthy and eating a good balance of nutrients? If so, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!