How to increase the protein content in your pregnancy diet
When you are pregnant, your nutritional needs increase, which is common knowledge. After all, you start eating for yourself as well as the proper growth of your baby. With an increase in your nutritional requirements, your protein demand also shoots up. And as you know, protein helps build and repair muscles, tissues, cartilage, bones and even skin. Plus, protein is necessary for the formation of different hormones, enzymes and other bodily chemicals. So, understanding the need for a high-protein diet and high-protein supplements during pregnancy is important.
Why is protein important during pregnancy?
Protein is one of the most important functional components of living cells. It plays important structural and functional roles. And the nutrient levels of the mother during pregnancy play a major role in the growth and development of the baby. So, protein intake during pregnancy can affect the outcome and the baby’s birth weight and body composition.
Protein is also important for the growth of foetal support tissues, including the placenta and extra-embryonic membranes. Major foetal weight gain occurs during the second half of pregnancy, which requires increased protein intake. Many of the maternal adaptations also take place in early pregnancy, resulting in additional protein requirements.
Deficiency of protein during pregnancy can lead to preterm births, low birth-weight of the baby, and intrauterine growth restriction. Moreover, mortality risk is high for those infants whose mothers consume less protein. Such deaths usually take place within the first 28 days of birth. If these babies survive, they are more likely to experience chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, obstructive airway disease, and obesity, later on in life. So, it is very important to increase the consumption of dietary protein at the time of pregnancy to promote both the health of the mother and the unborn child.
How to increase the protein content in the pregnancy diet
- Indian pregnant women require about 82 gms of protein a day although absolute requirements may depend on individual body weight.
- Some great sources of protein are milk and dairy products, chicken, fish, soybean, and eggs. Snacking on cubes of paneer at work can give a calcium and protein boost to the working pregnant woman. Addition of a spoonful of skim milk powder in a fruit smoothie is also a simple way of increasing protein content.
- Try to consume whole-grain breads and millets, grains and legumes. Split pulses like tur dal, moong dal and whole pulses like dried peas, chickpeas and rajma play a very important role in providing much needed protein to the vegetarian woman. Addition of sprouts to the diet gives protein, fibre and variety to the meal.
- It is best to consume foods with a combination of cereals and pulses, as they provide better quality protein compared to foods with cereal alone. Idlis, dosa, sattu ka paratha and moong dal khichdi are some of the common examples of foods containing a combination of cereals and pulses. Adding besan to chapati flour is a good way of increasing protein in the diet.
- Almonds, cashews, pistachios, peanuts, roasted channa are good sources of protein. A trail mix consisting of nuts and seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and melon) with some dried fruit added to it can be a good high protein snack that you can carry around.
- Apart from taking steps to increase the protein content in your diet, you should also be aware of the risks of a very high-protein diet. Excessive protein intake can harm the foetus. Hence, it would help to understand your exact protein requirements after discussing with a nutritionist or your doctor. It is also important that you increase your intake of water while on a high protein diet.
High-protein supplements for pregnant women
Pregnant women should try and get all the protein they need from a well-balanced nutritious diet. At times, a pregnant woman might require protein that cannot be met through regular foods and thus requiring supplementation. However, a protein supplement should only be taken under your doctor’s guidance.
Providing balanced protein supplements (supplements in which protein provides less than 25% of the total energy content) to pregnant women can promote gestational weight gain and improve the pregnancy outcome. The daily protein requirement of a pregnant woman depends on her body weight.
- Whey protein supplements are considered as high-protein supplements and are good for people who are lactose-intolerant and allergic to protein sources like eggs or soy.
- Athletes also use protein powders to build strong muscles, but these should not be the source of protein for a pregnant woman, as they contain other compounds like caffeine. Caffeine acts as an ergogenic aid and can be harmful to the unborn child. Specialised protein powders are available for pregnancy, and these can be a good source of nutrients and amino acids. However, do remember that these powders do contain additives like artificial flavours, colours, added sugar, and preservatives.
- There are some protein shakes which can be consumed during pregnancy in moderate quantities. Opt for shakes that have low or zero calorie content. However, instead of buying a protein supplement, you can prepare your own shakes, by mixing milk, nuts, peanut butter, avocados, and other high-protein foods.
When you are pregnant, you need to be extra careful about what you eat or drink. Therefore, before taking any supplements, do consult your doctor. You can also ask him or her to help you plan a protein-rich diet.