There is no more important time for optimum nutrition than while you are pregnant. At any time of bodily stress – which includes puberty, menopause, menstruation, but most of all pregnancy – nutritional needs are greatest.
The nutrition your unborn baby receives from you, is crucial to their development. Your body converts the food you eat into nutrients for your baby. It is even more important now that you eat a varied and balanced diet.
A healthy balanced diet is easy to achieve, and if you make up your meals from a range of whole, fresh foods that include plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, some good proteins and fats, then they will contain a good mix of nutrients.
The amount of protein you eat at the beginning of pregnancy is strongly linked to the baby’s size at birth. Proteins consist of amino acids, which are the building blocks for baby’s organs. Protein can come from sources such as meat and dairy. However, Quinoa, fish, beans and lentils are also excellent sources of protein.
A craving for carbohydrates is common during pregnancy, but it is important to eat complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholegrains, rather than refined carbohydrates such as white refined grains, white bread etc. It takes your body longer to digest complex carbohydrates, and therefore the energy is released more slowly into the bloodstream, which is exactly what you and your baby needs in order to prevent blood sugar highs and lows. Maintaining consistent blood sugar levels is important during pregnancy as sugar highs followed by sugar lows can contribute to gestational diabetes. The answer is to eat small, frequent meals. Snack on oatcakes and slow releasing fruit such as apples, cherries or oranges.
Constipation and wind are common problems during pregnancy – as your baby grows they will press on your abdomen, making it harder for you to eat alot and providing less room for digested waste to be passed. Choose wholegrains, vegetables, lentils, beans which contain lots of fibre, as do oats linseeds and brown rice. Drink plenty of water which helps to bulk up fibre and soften waste matter.
All pregnant women are advised to take folic acid (preferably before conception) as it is vital for the healthy development of the neural tube and to prevent spina bifida.
During the first trimester the embryo grows fast and just 18 days after conception your baby’s brain begins to develop. A crucial component of the brain, eyes and nerve cells is Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is an omega 3 EFA. An omega 3 supplement will ensure that you build up a good supply. Foods containing EFA’s are avocados, fish such as cod, mackerel, salmon, although limit to 1-2 portions a week as some fish contain high levels of mercury. Other foods such as eggs, flaxseeds, olives and olive oil, dark green leafy veg such as kale and spinach are all a good source of Omega 3 EFA.
Milk, cheese, and yogurt are all packed with calcium which is vital, for the development of your baby’s bones and teeth. Make sure the dairy products you eat or drink are pasteurised and take care as some cheeses are unsuitable during pregnancy because of the risk of food poisoning.
Breakfast: Porridge made with water and milk, add a dessertspoon of milled flaxseeds, sweetened with honey
Lunch: Wholemeal bread or pitta sandwich filled with salad and roast chicken, or tuna.
Dinner: Roasted parsnips, butternut squash and sweet potatoes served with grilled or baked fish.