Maintaining a healthy diet before conception and throughout pregnancy is extremely important. During this time, not only does your body require additional vitamins and minerals, but a poor diet lacking in essential nutrients may also negatively affect the baby’s growth and development.
For a healthy pregnancy, your diet needs to be nutritious and balanced — this encompasses the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, as well as consuming a good variety of fruits and vegetables.
In addition, additional nutrients, such as vitamins D and B, folate, iron and calcium, are needed for your baby’s optimum development.
Vital Nutrients for Pregnancy
For those who have gone through the blissful stages of pregnancy, you would probably remember the stack of vitamin supplements you obtained over the pharmacy counter after your gynae consultation, consisting of folic acid, iron, calcium and zinc. Along with protein, these nutrients make up the core of what your body pines for during pregnancy. Here is why:
Also known as folate, it is a B vitamin that is crucial in preventing birth defects in the baby's brain and spinal cord, medically termed as neural tube defects. Because it is difficult to consume the recommended 600 micrograms of folic acid daily from natural food, pregnant mothers can get them from hospitals or pharmacies, in the form of a daily prenatal vitamin.
Calcium is a fundamental mineral for the development of the baby’s bones and teeth. Should there be insufficient calcium, the body will extract the mineral from the mother’s bones and supply it to the baby to cope with the extra demands of pregnancy. Many dairy products are also enriched with vitamin D, a nutrient that complements calcium in the development of the baby’s bones and teeth.
Iron prevents anaemia, a condition that causes fatigue and increases the risk of infections. Additional amounts of iron are also needed to produce more blood for the baby’s oxygen supply. Therefore, a pregnant woman typically requires almost double the amount of iron than that of the average non-expecting woman.
Zinc is a key nutrient for normal growth and development, cellular integrity and several biological functions, including protein synthesis and nucleic acid metabolism. These functions are all involved in cell division and growth, and therefore, make zinc a crucial element for the development of the foetus.
Protein is described as a ‘builder nutrient’ in pregnancy, as it aids in the growth of important organs in the baby, like the heart and brain. Although more protein is plausibly required during pregnancy, most women do not encounter any problems getting their hands on protein-rich foods in their diets, such as chicken and fish that are widespread.
Endorsed Foods During Pregnancy
Simply put, choosing the right food during pregnancy ensures the best health for you and your baby. Mothers are encouraged to follow a rich, balanced and nutritious diet that should emphasise on:
Fruits and Vegetables
Everyone should be consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, pregnant or not. Pregnant women, however, are encouraged to have a surplus of these, especially during their second and third trimesters. Aim for five to ten portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Moreover, fruits like pomegranates and blueberries are chock-full of antioxidants that preserve collagen in the skin and slow down the signs of aging.
Incorporate good protein sources in each meal, like meat, eggs, tofu and poultry, to support your baby’s growth. Furthermore, superfoods such as nuts and seeds, are not only high in protein, they also contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids that help nourish your skin and strengthen skin cell membranes, awarding you with that pregnancy glow people constantly talk about!
Wholegrain foods, such as wholegrain pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bread and pulses like lentils and beans, are important sources of fibre, iron and B vitamins. Studies have shown that pregnant women are more susceptible to developing constipation, and eating fibre-rich foods during pregnancy may reduce the risk of haemorrhoids, especially as the foetus grows.
Dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yoghurt, are excellent dietary sources of vitamin D, calcium and protein. You should aim for an average of three to four servings of dairy foods a day.
Better Food, Healthier Baby
The ultimate goal during pregnancy is to consume enough nutritious food for most of the time. Obviously, your body needs more nutritional intake than normal during this phase, so practise smart food choices by opting for the more nutrient-dense ones, instead of just eating more food in general. Nutritionists suggest that it is best for expecting women to fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables and a quarter serving each of lean protein and whole grains, as well as a dairy product at every meal.
More importantly, do not adopt the ‘eating for two’ mentality. Remember, the more you eat during pregnancy, the more you have to lose post-natally. Excessive or insufficient weight gain can undermine the health of both the mother and foetus, so moderation is key.