Pregnancy Nutrition: What to Eat and What Not to Eat?

A balanced diet throughout your pregnancy is important. We would guide you to get off on the right foot.

You may have tried before and failed to curb your love for burgers and pizzas, perhaps there was a lack of right motivation. But you have it now – nurturing a healthy baby.

Your diet during the pregnancy not only affects your baby’s health but also your health for decades to come. For a baby to develop and grow properly, pregnant women should ensure that their diet provides enough nutrients and energy – which involves the right balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Important pregnancy nutrition

pregnancy nutrition

During pregnancy, a woman needs four important nutrients more than before – folic acid, calcium, protein and iron.

  • Folic Acid: Most birth defects occur within first 3-4 weeks of pregnancy. One in 1000 babies has neural tube defect (NTDs). According to a research conducted, it is found that intake of folic acid significantly reduced the risk of NTD. Folic acid should be consumed before and during pregnancy. It is needed to make the cells which form a baby’s brain, organs, spine, bones and skin.

Folic Acid Sources: Green leafy vegetables like spinach, cereals, beans, rice, pastas and citrus fruits.

  • Calcium: During pregnancy, developing baby needs calcium to build bones, healthy heart, muscles and teeth. It also keeps your blood and muscles moving. During pregnancy you need at least 1000 mg of calcium everyday through food or supplements. Your baby meets its calcium requirements by absorbing it from your body. So, consumption of calcium is something you need to pay extra attention to.

Calcium Sources: dairy foods like milk and cheese, soya beans, tofu, fish where you eat bones and nuts.

  • Protein: Amino acids responsible for making up protein are the building blocks of your body – and now of your baby as well. While it’s important to consume enough protein throughout your pregnancy, but it’s even more important during second and third trimester, when the growth of your baby is the fastest. According to meta-analysis of separate research trials found that mothers who ate enough protein gave birth to higher birth weight than those who did not eat enough protein.

Protein Sources: Seafood, milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, beans, pork and soy.

  • Iron: Your body needs twice the amount of iron – 27 mg per day – during pregnancy as your body uses iron to make the extra blood for baby. Your body supplies oxygen and blood to the baby, which increases the iron demand in order to keep up with the increased blood supply. Deficiency of iron can cause premature birth, low birth weight and maternal mortality.

Iron Sources: Tofu, cashews, whole grain, baked potatoes, leafy vegetables like spinach.

What foods to eat when pregnant?

pregnancy diet

It’s very important to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy as your body needs additional minerals, vitamins and nutrients. Lack of key nutrients may negatively affect your baby’s development and proper growth.

What you drink or eat when you’re pregnant is the main source of nourishment for the baby. Experts recommend consuming a variety of healthy foods and beverages for mothers-to-be.

  • Fruits and vegetables: During pregnancy, you should keep the fibre intake optimal to avoid constipation. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, that provide essential minerals and vitamins are a perfect choice. Watermelon helps to reduce morning sickness and dehydration. Other fruits like oranges, mangoes and lemons provide vitamin C. Spinach is a great source of iron. Peas, broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes should be included in your pregnancy diet.
  • Dairy: You need at least 1000 mg of calcium during pregnancy. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, vitamins, zinc and magnesium. Greek yoghurt is particularly beneficial during pregnancy. While consuming dairy products, you need to be careful to check the fat content. High fat content products may affect your weight gain.
  • Whole grains: Enriched whole grain is enriched with folic acid, fiber and iron. For pregnant women, consuming whole grains may help them meet their increased calorie needs, especially during the second and third trimesters. Oats and quinoa contain good amount of protein, which is needed during pregnancy. Depending on your diet and weight, you should consume about 6-10 serving of breads/grains everyday during pregnancy.
  • Lean Protein: When pregnant, a woman needs 10 gm extra protein every day. Lentils and beans are great sources of protein. “Add cooked lentils to rice and salads”, recommends Lola O’Rourke, spokesperson for American Dietetic Association. Quinoa, tofu and soy products are also excellent source of protein, especially for vegans.

Which foods to limit during pregnancy?

Every calorie you consume counts during pregnancy and it’s important to go for the healthiest options available. There are some foods and drinks which are best limited and consumed in moderation during pregnancy because of small risks to the safety of your baby.

Below are some foods and beverages which contain extra calories and little or no nutritional value to offer you or your baby and should be kept to a minimum.

  • Caffeine: Caffeine, found mainly in coffee, tea, cocoa and soft drinks, is absorbed quickly by the body and passes easily to the placenta and fetus. You need to pay attention to the amount of caffeine you are consuming if you’re pregnant. Too much of caffeine may also result in miscarriage. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends to limit caffeine intake less than 200 milligrams per day, which is about 2 mugs of instant coffee. Among alternatives, you can have fruit juice, water or decaffeinated tea or coffee.
  • Fish: Fish which contains high level of mercury should be avoided during pregnancy. The amount of mercury consumed is found to linked with development delays and brain damage. Fish with high level of mercury includes: swordfish, tilefish, shark, king mackerel. While canned. chunked tuna has lower level of mercury but should be consumed in moderation.

Foods to avoid during pregnancy

pregnancy food avoid

Thanks to hormonal surge, cravings for certain food is quite normal during pregnancy. However, you need to pay close attention to what you eat or drink to avoid harmful foods and beverages during pregnancy. While most foods in your diet are safe to eat, there are some which should not be consumed. According to a health practitioner, Dr. Shilpa Arora, “All types of packed or adulterated food must be avoided when you’re pregnant. Iron-rich foods are good for health. Seasonal fruits like jamun are proved to be beneficial for both the mother and the baby.

Below are foods you should completely avoid for the next nine months.

  • Alcohol: Abstinence from alcohol is highly recommended when you’re pregnant or even trying to conceive. Consuming one than one drink in a day has been linked to preterm birth, fetal spectrum disorders, development delays, low birth weight and still birth. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption and the possible risks for your baby are too great to ignore.
  • Unpasteurized milk and cheese: Drinking unpasteurized or raw milk is not safe during pregnancy as they account for higher amount of food borne diseases. Moreover, they don’t contain any nutritional value. Instead, such foods contain harmful bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, cryptosporidium and E.coli and may cause foodborne disease. Infections from these foods can have life-threatening consequences for an unborn baby. Buy pasteurized milk only. During the pasteurization process, milk is subjected to high temperatures, killing disease-causing microbes.
  • Raw or uncooked meat: It is best to avoid uncooked or raw meat during pregnancy, especially minced meat or sausages. Make sure that they are cooked properly with no trace of pink or blood. Uncooked seafood or meat increases the risk of contamination with bacteria like coliform, salmonella and toxoplasmosis. These bacteria have the ability to cross placenta and infect the unborn baby, possibly leading to severe neurological illnesses such as blindness and epilepsy to still birth.

Weight gain during pregnancy

Pregnancy is a period when expectant mothers tend to gain weight throughout none months. So, it is important to know what is the normal weight gain during pregnancy. The weight gained has a direct impact on health of developing baby as well as the mother.

Sticking to a healthy weight is important, but according to the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 32% women are able to put on the recommended weight. If you don’t gain enough weight, your baby could be born too small, possibly putting her to higher risk of many health issues including development delays, breastfeeding problems and illness. On the other hand, if the mother gains too much weight, there can be delivery complications.

Recommended weight gain during pregnancy:

Weight gain during pregnancy

BMI = kg/m2 where kg is a weight in kilograms and m2 is height in metres squared.