Nutrients During Pregnancy, Eating During Pregnancy
Whether you are planning a pregnancy or have already discovered that you are expecting, you know by now that maternal nutrition plays a critical role in the wellbeing of your baby’s development. Advices must have started pouring in from all sides regarding what you should and should not eat. However, nutrition during pregnancy goes beyond eating healthy and natural foods. You need to be aware of the essential macro and micronutrients and how you can include these in your daily diet easily.
Remember that your meals should be the right combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, as well as vitamins and minerals. For most Indian women, foods to consume during pregnancy are deeply influenced by religious, cultural, and ethical beliefs, apart from health conditions. However, you should always go by what your doctor or nutritionist recommends. This will kill the confusions and give you more confidence to eat the right things.
Nutrients during pregnancy
Here’s what you need to keep in mind while planning on eating adequately during pregnancy:
- A balanced, nutrient-rich and energy-dense diet during pregnancy is ideal for positive outcomes and doesn't necessarily imply ‘eating for two'. Beware of this myth, as excess weight gain during pregnancy can be harmful to you and your baby in many ways. Like, it can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes in the long run.
- Additional calories during this phase are required for the growth and maintenance of the placenta, maternal tissues, and the foetus. This can be ensured by including nutrient-dense and energy-appropriate foods while minimising the intake of empty calories (sugary or junk foods).
- Protein quantity, as well as the quality, is crucial for foetal development, as protein provides the basic building blocks for muscles. Protein is also required for the growth of maternal tissues. Healthy animal sources of protein are eggs, fish, lean meat, and dairy. And among the vegetarian sources of protein, you can go for beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- The fat intake during pregnancy depends on your calorie requirements for adequate weight gain. Remember to avoid saturated and trans fats that increase the risk of lifestyle diseases. Monounsaturated fats and fatty acids like omega-3s (DHA and EPA) should be preferred. Adequate intake of omega-3s is important for the brain and eye development of your baby. You can find these in fishes like bangda or Indian mackerel, rohu, rawas, pomfret, and singhara. Sources of monounsaturated fats also include olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, and nuts and seeds.
- Fibre is an important part of the diet too. Constipation is common during pregnancy and the inclusion of fibrous foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains can significantly decrease this type of discomfort.
- Iron intake during pregnancy is also crucial. During this phase, the amount of blood in the mother’s body also increases, and subsequently, more iron is required to make more haemoglobin for that extra blood. If the intake is inadequate, you might become anaemic, which can lead to serious complications. Hence, inclusion of foods like meat, poultry, fish, egg yolk, legumes, nuts such as almonds, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, and dry fruits such as dates, is essential. Vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron and so the inclusion of foods such as citrus fruits, amla, tomatoes, and berries, is beneficial.
- Adequate calcium intake is also necessary to replenish maternal stores. Dairy foods such as milk and milk products, millets such as ragi, nuts, oilseeds such as gingelly and poppy, and green leafy vegetables such as amaranth and fenugreek, are some good sources of calcium. Maintaining the optimum vitamin D level in the body is also important for improving calcium absorption. You can ensure this through adequate exposure to sunlight apart from diet.
- Zinc intake should be appropriate during pregnancy too, especially during the first trimester, as it plays a crucial role in immunity development. Meat and milk are excellent sources of zinc. Among vegetarian sources, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds should be considered.
- Iodine is another very important nutrient during pregnancy. Deficiency of iodine is associated with increased risk of abortion and birth defects. The iodine concentration of foods is highly variable, depending on the soil in which they are grown. However, consumption of iodised salt can take care of most of your requirements and prevent deficiencies from occurring.
- Two vitamins from the B-vitamin group are extremely important during pregnancy- vitamin B12 and folate. This is because they have a vital role to play in the foetus’s development and they also keep the maternal blood cells healthy. The food sources for these include mushrooms, green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, legumes, meat, fish, and eggs. Pregnant women require at least 600 μg of folic acid (a form of folate) every day. Since this is quite a task to achieve solely through diet, a daily vitamin supplement that contains folic acid is advisable. Talk to your healthcare provider for the same.
It is always best to avoid smoking, alcohol, uncooked or undercooked foods, caffeine, and processed foods that are high in sugar or salt such as cakes, cookies, and biscuits, during pregnancy. Ensure that all meals are prepared and served under hygienic conditions to avoid chances of infections and contaminations. It goes without saying that a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy is a must. This means, eating on time, consuming small and frequent meals, and exercising, can help immensely.