Know your fats: What to eat during pregnancy?
Balanced nutrition is a goal that might seem tricky to achieve during pregnancy. Why? Well, on the one hand, you know that you have to eat sufficiently to stay healthy and nurture your baby. And on the other hand, you don’t want to gain too much weight, which can be difficult to lose later. So naturally, many expecting mothers get worried about the amount of fats to consume during this phase. Now, like proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, fats too are necessary for your overall wellbeing and for the development of the foetus. Hence, labelling all fats as bad or fattening is not wise.
This is reason why it is essential to know your fats and consume the right kinds sensibly. This article explores the different types of fats and how they can impact you.
Different kinds of dietary fats
There are four main types of fats in the food sources we consume:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
The differences among these fats come from their chemical structures. In all fats, there is a chain of carbon atoms that are bonded to hydrogen atoms. In saturated fats, the carbon atoms are totally covered by hydrogen atoms, while in unsaturated fats, fewer hydrogen atoms are bound to carbon atoms.
Saturated fats and trans fats are often known as bad fats and tend to be more solid at room temperature. Butter is a good example. They also tend to raise the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in your body.
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, tend to be more liquid at room temperature. A good example is vegetable oil. These lower bad cholesterol levels when consumed as a part of a healthy diet.
Good fats vs. bad fats
Visible fat requirement in pregnancy is 30g per day, as per ICMR, 2010. Now, here is a look at what are good fats and bad fats.
Saturated and trans fats, or bad fats, not only increase overall cholesterol levels but also tip the balance towards the more harmful cholesterol (LDL). This can lead to artery blockage and even heart diseases in the long run. Here are some of the common sources of saturated fats:
- The skin on chicken and other poultry products
- Whole-milk dairy products — milk, cheese, ice cream
- Egg yolk
- Palm and coconut oils
- Red meat — pork, lamb, beef
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are known as healthy fats. These fats can:
- Lower bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and improve good cholesterol levels (HDL)
- Reduce the risk of heart diseases (by lowering triglycerides), abnormal heart rhythms, and strokes
- Reduce blood pressure
- Prevent narrowing and hardening of arteries
In fact, good fats are beneficial for weight loss too, because they help you feel fuller for longer.
Sources of monounsaturated fat
- Olive, canola, peanut, and sesame oil
- Nut butter (almond and peanut butters)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, etc.)
Sources of polyunsaturated fat
- Fish oil
- Certain types of fish — rawas or Indian salmon, ahi, bangada
- Sunflower oil
- Soybean oil
Importance of choosing the right fats during pregnancy
Your body needs fats to fuel proper brain growth and eye development of your baby— especially during the third trimester. In fact, 20% to 35% of your calories should come from fats, during pregnancy. However, unlike food items like leafy green vegetables, portion control is important in the case of fats. It’s also important to know which fats you should consume more liberally during pregnancy. Here are some important points you should keep in mind:
Eliminate trans fats
These are usually present in fast foods and industrially-baked goods. Avoid these as much as you can.
Limit saturated fats
Eat food items like beans, fish, and chicken, instead of red meat. Avoid whole-milk dairy products and choose low-fat options.
Omega-3 is important
You need to consume omega-3 fats every day. Walnuts, ground flaxseeds, soybean oil, flaxseed oil, and canola oil are all good sources of omega-3.
Use nuts as a topping for different dishes, or just eat them as a snack. Add them to your morning cereal or evening dessert if you want. You can even make your own trail mix with dry fruits, seeds, and nuts.
At the end of the day, you cannot avoid fats, especially if you’re pregnant. A moderate amount of unsaturated fat is needed to maintain the balance of nutrients, as your baby develops. Feel free to consult your doctor or dietician for further guidance as well.