There is an age-old dictum passed on through generations that when you are pregnant, you are eating for two. It cannot be emphasized in a better way. When a woman is pregnant, her body needs extra raw materials, in the form of calories, nutrients, etc.to help form and develop a healthy baby and safeguard its own health.
Thus, it becomes imperative to have a healthy balanced diet during pregnancy. Now, this does not, in any way, mean that you just gorge on anything and everything you get your hands on. It is equally crucial to find the right diet which provides you with all the essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamins, folates, etc.
How to find a balanced diet?
A balanced diet is one that provides your body with just the right amounts of building blocks, i.e. proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Getting enough of these in your diet will allow you to maintain a healthy BMI and gain proper weight during pregnancy.
These are the blocks that help in the development and repair of muscles and other tissues in the body. Proteins can be derived by including the following food items in your diet:
- Milk and dairy products
- Nuts (such as almonds, pistachio, etc.), seeds and nut butter
- Eggs and poultry
- Beef, pork, and fish
- Soy products and tofu
Contrary to popular belief, fat is required by the human body to perform a lot of very crucial functions. For example, Omega-3 fatty acids help in the development of the brain. It is also required for the proper working of the immune system and for absorption and distribution of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, E and K. There are three kinds of fat:
- Saturated fats – mostly found in meat and dairy products, they turn solid at lower temperatures. Saturated fats include butter and lard. Plant-based saturated fats are palm oil and coconut oil.
- Unsaturated fats – Mostly liquid in nature, these kinds of fats are plant-based such as olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, etc. Fish oil also comes under this category.
- Trans fats – These are chemically processed unsaturated fats. They remain solid at room temperature. They are particularly used in cookies, potato chips, margarine, etc.
Fats, during pregnancy, is required for the development of the placenta and fetal organs. But, a close watch on the type of fat being consumed is very necessary. A high quantity of saturated and trans fat can lead to various health problems.
What makes for a healthy diet?
A healthy diet is very easy to plan for as opposed to what some might say. There is enough and more literature available on the internet to help you find one suitable for yourself. You can also visit www.choosemyplate.gov a portal launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and get a personalized nutrition plan and physical activity plan.
The program calculates the amount of food you require in a day using data like your height, pre-pregnancy BMI, due date and quantum of physical activity you do in any given week. A balanced diet comprises of five major food groups viz grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods.
Five Essential Food Groups:
A healthy meal is broken down into five major food groups:
This comprises of two types viz. whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains such as quinoa, oats, muesli, brown rice, etc. are high in fiber and protein as compared to refined grains. USDA recommends that at least 50% of the total grains in your diet must come from the whole grains.
They are a good source of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and many phytonutrients. Fresh fruits are better in nutrient content and quality than frozen or canned ones. Juices can be taken but look for the 100% fruit juice on the carton with little to no added sugar.
Vegetables like fruits are rich in essential minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. They must be a part of your daily diet either in raw form or as cooked. A good mix of leafy vegetables along with carrots and legumes make for a well-balanced diet.
Milk and milk products such as curd/yogurt, cheese, etc. are a good source of calcium. They are also rich in phosphorus, riboflavin and Vitamin D. USDA recommends adding low-fat or fat-free dairy to your diet.
Protein-rich foods are poultry, meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, soy products, etc. You must include a wide variety of sources to get a variety of proteins which improves overall nutritional value. USDA emphasizes on consuming lean meat or poultry and adding 8 ounces of seafood a week to your diet.
Key Vitamins and Minerals
Your body will require a lot of additional vitamins and minerals as the pregnancy progresses. ACOG advises including following key nutrients for a healthy pregnancy:
- Calcium – A daily dose of 1,000 milligrams (mg) ensures the development of strong bones and teeth.
- Iron – is a key ingredient of hemoglobin and red blood cells which are essential for delivering oxygen to the fetus. The daily requirement is 27 mg during the pregnancy period.
- Vitamin A – This vitamin is crucial for the growth of eyesight, healthy skin and bone. Seven hundred seventy micrograms are required daily dose.
- Vitamin C – During pregnancy, a daily dose of 85 mg ensures healthy gums, teeth, and bones and helps in the absorption of iron.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D is helpful in the absorption of calcium in the body, thus ensuring the development of healthy bones and teeth in the foetus. A daily dose of 600 IUs is recommended.
- Vitamin B6 & B12 – Aid in the formation of red blood cells and a robust immune system. The daily dose of 1.9 – 2.6 micrograms is advisable.
- Folate – Also known as folic acid, it is part of Vitamin B-complex and is very important during pregnancy. 400 micrograms daily consumption for one month prior to pregnancy until the entire duration helps to prevent any brain defects or neural tube defects in the foetus.
Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy
A lot of women often ask how much weight gain is natural during pregnancy or what should be the rate of increase in their weight. The answer to that question is that during the term of pregnancy, weight gain should be gradual. It also mostly depends on your general health and BMI before pregnancy.
During the first trimester, it may range from 0-5 pounds. And from the second semester onwards, it increases at a rate of 0.5 pounds to 1 pound each week.
The main factor behind healthy weight gain is calorie intake. Normally, in the first trimester, no extra calories are required. But from the second trimester, for women with normal pre-pregnancy weight, extra calorie intake will range between 340 calories – 450 calories per day.
Gaining too little or too much weight during pregnancy is a warning sign and warrant a consultation with your doctor during the prenatal care visit. Also, here’s how to choose prenatal vitamins during pregnancy to help you understand the concept of nutrition during pregnancy. Regular consultation with your health care provider is of utmost importance whilst keeping track of your meal portions and extra fat or sugar.
Special Concerns During Pregnancy
During the pregnancy term, there are certain food items whose consumption should be either limited or reduced drastically. Discuss with your health care provider before including these items in your diet:
- Caffeine: According to a 2010 ACOG committee, consumption of up to 200 mg of caffeine in a day is safe during pregnancy. There has been no conclusive study on the link between caffeine consumption and miscarriage.
- Fish: There are fish, like white tuna, which have a high content of mercury. A metal that is found to be extremely harmful to the development of the fetal brain. However, Salmons and sardines are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acid and healthy fats and are safe for consumption. The ACOG limits the amount of seafood intake to 8 to 12 ounces a week.
- Vegetable Diet: Some believe that restricting strictly to a vegetarian diet during pregnancy may result in the absence of some of the required vitamins and minerals. However, like other myths, this holds no water. With proper planning, one can get all the necessary nutrients for a healthy pregnancy, even from a vegetarian diet. Consult your healthcare professional during your prenatal visits to get a proper diet chart which will allow you to have a healthy mix of food items needed.
- Celiac Disease: Celiac disease prevents a person from consuming food items that contain gluten like wheat, barley, and rye. However, there is still a lot to choose from for pregnant women. They may also look for gluten-free product items available at the stores.
- Lactose Intolerance: If you are lactose intolerant, you can get calcium from nuts, seeds or soy products. If there is still a deficit in daily consumption amount, a calcium supplement can be prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Food Safety During Pregnancy
You can not always be too careful. There are certain things that are out of our control, such as suffering from a bout of food poisoning, which can be harmful in the case of a pregnant woman. Similarly, one can get infected by bacteria which causes Listeriosis that may result in stillbirth or miscarriage. To avoid such a situation, you must follow some precautions:
- Avoid unpasteurized food items and milk products
- Do not consume rare, raw or undercooked poultry or meat items
- Refrigerated meat, pate, smoked seafood is to be avoided
- Cook luncheon meats, hot dogs and cold cuts to steaming hot before indulging
- Say no to food items containing raw fish, semi-cooked or raw eggs, raw sprouts, etc.
Also, a strict regimen of cleanliness must be followed to avoid any unwanted occurrences.
- Are cravings normal during pregnancy?
It is normal to have cravings for certain food items during pregnancy. Some women may not develop any cravings too. However, before indulging, make sure it fits into your healthy diet and is not a regular occurrence.
Cravings for non-food items such as ice, clay, dirt, etc. may be a result of a condition called pica. You must at once consult your healthcare provider in such a case.
Where does all the pregnancy weight go?
Most women worry that where is all the weight that they are gaining during pregnancy is going. Will it stay with them forever? A large portion of the weight gained during your term is distributed as below:
- Baby, 6-8 pounds
- Placenta, 2-3 pounds
- Amniotic fluid, 2-3 pounds
- Breast tissue, 0-3 pounds
- Blood supply, 3-4 pounds
- Fat stores for delivery and breastfeeding (remainder of weight)
- Uterus increase, 2-5 pounds
TOTAL: 15 -35 pounds
What can I do If I am gaining more weight?
If you are gaining more weight than the stipulated amount, instead of worrying, try to follow these changes in your daily lifestyle:
- Eating appropriate portion size as per your diet plan and avoid any second helpings
- Try low-fat dairy products
- Include exercise of some kind, upon consultation with your doctor, in your daily routine
- Put a check on sweets, sugar or sugary drinks
What can I do If I am not gaining enough weight?
There can be several reasons behind you not gaining enough weight during your term. Consult your doctor to find out the exact cause behind it. In addition, you can make a little change in diet plan to achieve desired weight:
- Eating 5 to 6 times a day
- Include high-calorie food items in your diet
- Add sugar, butter or cheese to your food
Every pregnancy is different, just like every woman. Your body is going through a lot of changes during the process. It is critical not to worry, but it is also essential to be watchful. Yes, you are eating for two now!
However, that does not mean to gorge on anything and everything. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is vital for you and your baby’s proper growth and health. If in doubt, consult your doctor before you go on and make changes on your own in taking the necessary nutrition for the body. Follow these simple rules and have a happy pregnancy.