It’s often said that you are what you eat, and while you’re pregnant this is also true for your baby. What you eat while you’re expecting impacts directly on your baby’s development in the womb and, ultimately, to his health as an adult. Studies have shown that a diet high in salt, sugar and fat (all the things we know we should be avoiding anyway!) during pregnancy can lead to overweight infants with long-term health problems. So, normal healthy eating rules apply, although you may want to modify the way you eat through the day.
Your appetite will probably increase from early pregnancy, and it’s a good idea to eat when you feel hungry, as it’s one of the best ways to combat queasiness (sounds crazy, but it’s true), so go for five or six smaller meals a day, rather than two or three large ones. This will also ensure that your energy levels remain stable through the day (as long as you keep it healthy).
The greatest temptation when you’re pregnant is to ‘eat for two’, but beware! You don’t actually need any extra calories in your normal daily diet until the last three months, when an extra 200 per day will suffice. Most women gain 8-15kg (18-32lb) during pregnancy, but do bear in mind that this is just an average. If you gain too much weight, you may be at risk of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, but if you gain too little there is an increased risk of low birthweight and prematurity.
What to eat
Carbohydrate-rich foods for energy, eg, bread, pasta, rice, couscous.
Protein-rich foods, eg, fish, lean meat, beans, pulses.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, for their vitamin and mineral content – choose a mix of colours to ensure a good mix of nutrients.
Fish contains proteins, minerals, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids; try to eat two portions a week, and make one of them an oily fish, such as mackerel or salmon (but don’t eat more than two portions of oily fish per week).
Iron-rich foods, eg lean meat, dried fruit, nuts, to help ward off pregnancy anaemia.
Vitamin C-rich foods, eg, citrus fruit, blackcurrants, broccoli, to help your body absorb the iron in your diet.
Calcium, for your baby’s development as well as the health of your bones and teeth; find it in dairy products, green vegetables and fish with edible bones.
Foods rich in omega 3 and 6, eg, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, linseed, flaxseed, hemp oil and oily fish. These oils are essential for brain and nerve function in your baby as well as preventing allergies.
Keep rehydrated by drinking plenty of water, herbal tea and juice throughout the day.
What to avoid
Too much tea and coffee: caffeine affects your absorption of vital nutrients such as iron; some research has also shown a link between caffeine and low birthweight and miscarriage. Try to restrict your intake to two cups of tea or coffee per day – and beware of hidden caffeine in chocolate, some medication and energy drinks.
Too much alcohol. Some experts recommend abstaining completely, others say that 1-2 units, once or twice a week, is safe. All agree that getting drunk is an absolute no-no.
Too much salt: excess salt intake can cause fluid retention and high blood pressure, both bad news during pregnancy. It also increases the amount of calcium secreted by your body. Try to keep your total daily intake to 6g (1 teaspoon) – do check labels on prepared foods as these tend to be high, and if you need a flavour boost, reach for the herbs and spices, not the salt cellar.
Soft, unpasteurised and blue-veined cheeses, eg, Brie, Camembert, Stilton. These can harbour bacteria that can cause food poisoning and stillbirth, miscarriage or severe illness in newborn babies. * Bagged salads and ready meals may also harbour bacteria, so wash all salads and reheat ready-made foods thoroughly.
Raw or partially cooked eggs may harbour salmonella, so should be avoided, but as eggs are an important source of protein, don’t cut them out completely, just cook them thoroughly.
Liver (including pâté and liver sausage) contains the retinol form of vitamin A, which can cause birth defects.
Shark, swordfish and marlin contain high mercury levels, which can hinder your baby’s development.
Raw seafood such as oysters or sushi that has not been made with previously frozen fish.
Feelgood Foods for Pregnancy by Lyndel Costain and Nicola Graimes (Ryland, Peters & Small)
Healthy Eating for Pregnancy by Amanda Grant (Mitchell Beazley)
The Yummy Mummy Pregnancy Cookbook: Healthy Food for You and Your Baby by Hope Ricciotti (Dorling Kindersley)
Natural Pregnancy by Zita West (Dorling Kindersley)
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