Pregnancy Diet: What to Eat & What to Avoid
A healthy pregnancy diet is essential for both the mother and the baby because what a woman eats and drinks during pregnancy is the ultimate source of nutrition for her baby. Experts recommend that a pregnant woman’s diet should include a mixture of healthy foods and beverages to provide vital nutrients for the growth and development of the baby.
In this article, Dr Deepika Aggarwal, a leading gynaecologist at CK Birla Hospital, Gurgaon, will discuss a healthy pregnancy diet, including what a pregnant woman should eat and what to avoid, and why.
There is no fancy formula for a healthy diet during pregnancy. The basic principles of a healthy diet during pregnancy remain the same: eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. However, there are certain nutrients in the pregnancy diet that deserve special attention.
Food to Eat During Pregnancy
Pregnant women tend to get numerous tips about the dos and don’ts from various sources like family, friends and the internet. Some expectant mothers believe that they have to eat for two but that’s not true. Quality matters more than quantity. So, instead of eating too much unhealthy food, the key is to focus on healthy food to ensure that you and your baby get all the required nutrients.
Listed below are some essential nutrients required during pregnancy:
1. Starchy foods (carbohydrate)
Starches are a good source of vitamins and fibre. They will help you to satiate without having too many calories. Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that your body uses as an energy source for muscles and organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain.
Abundant sources are vegetables (sweet potatoes, corn, and potatoes), bread, pasta, rice, and fruits. Foods that contain carbohydrates in smaller amounts include milk, yoghurt, and legumes such as beans.
Protein is vital for a baby’s growth during pregnancy. Have at least three to four daily servings in a day. Healthy animal protein sources include- fish, lean meat, chicken, and eggs. All pregnant women, and vegans, in particular, should consider the following foods to be good sources of protein:
- Quinoa: is also known as ‘complete protein,’ and it contains all of the essential amino acids.
- Soy and tofu products.
- Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, and nut butter are good sources of protein and iron.
You need to have a healthy daily intake of calcium. Pregnant females require approximately 1 gram of calcium per day. The deficiency of calcium during pregnancy may affect bone metabolism or may affect fetal growth.
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yoghurt are high in calcium. Some foods rich in calcium include soymilk, soybeans, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, okra, beans, mustard greens, kale, and soy nuts.
Whole grain products like whole-grain bread, rice, whole-wheat pasta, fruits, vegetables, legumes like beans and lentils are high in fibre. Women usually develop constipation during pregnancy; so consuming lots of fibre is effective in minimizing this risk. Eating an adequate amount of fibre during pregnancy reduces the risk or severity of haemorrhoids.
During pregnancy, healthy fats are essential for a baby’s brain and eye development. A good source of healthy fats are nuts, avocados, and plant-based oils (including sunflower, corn, soybean, and olive oils).
Some types of fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, and trout are rich sources of good fat. Fat is very high in calories, so eating much or eating too often can lead to obesity.
During pregnancy, 40-90 grams of fat each day is sufficient for a healthy diet routine. Eating too much-saturated fat can also increase the level of cholesterol in your blood.
Zinc is an essential trace element. It is helpful in growth and development, cell integrity, and various biological functions such as protein synthesis and nucleic acid metabolism.
Hence, zinc is vital for the development of the baby. The best sources of zinc are chicken, turkey, beans, peanut butter, nuts, ham, shrimp, crabs, oysters, red meat, fish, dairy products, sunflower seeds, ginger, onions, bran, wheat germ, rice, pasta, cereals, eggs, lentils, and tofu.
Your body uses iron to make haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to your tissues. During pregnancy, you need twice as much iron as you would normally. Low iron levels in early and mid-pregnancy can lead to iron deficiency anaemia and increase the risk of low birth weight and other pregnancy complications.
It can be tough to meet your iron needs with meals alone, especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan. Those who are non-vegetarians can consume lean red meat to increase the amount of iron in the diet. For vegetarians, dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, dried fruit, like raisins and apricots, will be a great option.
8. Folic acid or folate
Folate (vitamin B) helps to prevent neural tube defects, brain and spinal cord abnormalities. Folic acid supplements can reduce the risk of premature birth. Folate is extremely important for the foetus, especially in the first trimester. Taking folates in the form of dietary supplements might not be enough.
Extra vitamin supplements may be required to complete the daily recommended dosage. For women planning to get pregnant, the international guidelines suggest the addition of 400 micrograms of folate to their diet in the form of vitamin supplements prior to pregnancy, and 600 micrograms daily during pregnancy.
You can find folate in broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy green vegetables (such as cabbage, kale, spring greens and spinach), peas, chickpeas, and kidney beans.
Watch the video in which one of the top obstetricians & gynaecologists explains the importance of Folic acid during pregnancy:
Even with a healthy diet, you can miss out on some essential nutrients. Taking prenatal vitamins daily- ideally at least three months before conception, can fill the nutritional gap in the body.
Your doctor can recommend special dietary supplements if you are strictly vegetarian or have a chronic illness. If you want to take any herbal supplements during pregnancy, take advice from your doctor.
Sources of Essential Nutrients During Pregnancy
Here is the list of foods to eat during pregnancy that are considered good food for pregnancy.
1. Vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients. Adding a variety of these to your diet will likely provide you with most of the vitamins, minerals, and fibre that you and your baby need. Eating fruits and vegetables also help to prevent constipation, a common symptom during pregnancy.
Most of the nutrients that a person needs can be found in eggs. Eggs are rich in protein and high-quality fat and they are very important for pregnant women. They are one of the few sources that offer choline which is important for brain and heart development.
Neural tube defects and lack of proper brain function can be the result when choline isn’t taken adequately. So, 1-2 eggs per day, at least 4 times a week is good to be included in the diet regime.
3. Dark and green leafy vegetables
Kale, spinach, broccoli and other green leafy vegetables contain lots of Vitamin A, C, K, iron, folate, calcium, and potassium. The antioxidants and plant compounds in green vegetables help avoid anaemia and improve the immune system. This also helps in bringing down chances of low birth weight. Consuming any one of these food options every day is a good choice.
4. Dairy products
The child in the womb need lots of protein and calcium. Dairy products can contribute the required amount of protein in form of whey and casein. These products are also rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc.
Vitamin B requirements can also be met with the consumption of dairy products. Expectant mothers can take yoghurt, which also helps in maintaining the health of the digestive system. If you can get probiotic yoghurt, this could be a great way to maintain good digestive health during pregnancy.
Vegetarian food lovers can find all protein, iron, folate, and calcium in legumes. Plant-based foods like beans, soybeans, peanuts, and chickpeas can ensure the pregnant mother gets enough B9 or folate.
This vitamin is essential to ensure low birth weight and neural tube defects are ruled out. Opting from these various choices for 1 serving per day, 4 times a week is recommended.
6. Oily fish such as Salmon
The abundance of omega 3 fatty acids in Salmon makes it a vital food for pregnant women. Long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, are very crucial during pregnancy.
These play a critical role in the development of the brain and eyes of your baby. Salmon is also one of the very few sources of Vitamin D found in nature. Include oily fish in your diet 3 times a week.
7. Whole grains
Fibres, vitamins and proteins are found in proper amounts in whole grains. Calorie requirements are high from the 4th month of pregnancy and whole grains like oats and quinoa help in meeting these needs.
8. Lean meat
More iron in the diet is required during pregnancy, particularly during the 3rd trimester, Iron is essential to deliver oxygen to the cells. A lack of iron in the diet may lead to severe anaemia, premature delivery and low birthweight. Lean meat, which includes, beef and pork are a must during pregnancy.
Vitamin C, fibre and good carbs are abundant in berries. Vitamin C is needed to absorb iron and a lack of Vitamin C can mean the iron you consume in your diet may not be absorbed by the body and therefore can go to waste. Berries are also of low GI, and perfect for expectant mothers who are worried about their increasing sugar levels.
Monosaturated fatty acids required during the antenatal period can be met by including avocados in your diet. Avocados also contain the essential B vitamins, Vitamin K, E and C. Acidity experienced during pregnancy can be soothed with this fruit.
11. Dried fruits or nuts
An assorted variety of dried fruits is a tasty snack and can provide all nutrient requirements to expectant women. Prunes are an excellent source of Vitamin K, potassium and sorbitol. Dates are an abundant source of iron and fibre. Consuming dates every day in the 3rd trimester can help in faster dilation of the cervix.
Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
Some foods are considered not so good during pregnancy for you and your baby’s health. These are:
- Uncooked or partially cooked meat: Avoid eating half-cooked food. For example, partially cooked shellfish contain a risk of bacterial or viral contamination that can lead to food poisoning.
- Mercury in some fishes: Fishes like swordfish and marlin should be avoided or kept to a complete minimum.
- Raw eggs: Eat fully cooked eggs to avoid salmonella infection.
- High-calorie food: High-calorie food such as cakes, cookies, biscuits, chips, and candy should keep to a minimum. Many of these options are high in sugar and fat and are low in nutrients. It can create a problem for a pregnant woman to maintain a healthy weight.
- Alcohol: Avoid alcohol during pregnancy as it can cause serious health issues to the baby.
- Caffeine: Avoid or limit caffeine during pregnancy as it can also cause serious health issues to the baby.
Myths About Pregnancy diet
It is equally important to debunk some common myths related to eating during pregnancy.
Myth 1: Avoid eating to treat nausea
Some women are under the impression that avoiding eating during pregnancy can reduce morning sickness. This is a myth believed by many, on the contrary, taking a dry toast right in the morning even before getting out of bed can reduce the chances of morning sickness.
Cravings and aversions to certain food items are common in pregnancy. Cravings are often the body’s way of saying that it is lacking in certain types of nutrients. It is perfectly okay to indulge moderately, however, do not overdo it.
Myth 2: When pregnant, eat for two
Eating for two during pregnancy is a common misbelieve. A pregnant woman does not need to eat twice as much. The calorie requirement of the body during pregnancy increases gradually over the period. In the first trimester, a pregnant woman needs almost the same amount of calories as she would have had in a non-pregnant stage.
The maximum calorie requirement reaches its peak in the third trimester, up to 500 calories only. Weight gain of 10- 15 kgs is considered to be ideal, according to the pre-pregnancy BMI, the amount of ideal weight gain may vary slightly.
Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy Diet
- A healthy eating plan during pregnancy does not mean eating in increased quantities, it means eating more nutrients
- You should avoid certain trigger foods and drinks such as alcohol and caffeine during pregnancy
- You should avoid sugary, processed and fast foods
- Pregnancy symptoms can make it difficult for you to eat well during pregnancy. Try to eat smaller portions, more frequently to avoid feeling nauseous
- Always wash and rinse the food items properly before cooking
Pregnancy Diet: Outlook
Having a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet during pregnancy is extremely important not only for the health of the mother but also for the baby. The calorie requirements of a pregnant woman increase by 300 to 500 calories during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.
Diet having a lack of certain important nutrients can affect the growth of the baby adversely. A healthy diet during pregnancy helps in keeping the pregnant woman healthy, adequate growth of the baby, uneventful delivery and an effective and healthy weight loss post-delivery.
Your growing baby is just waiting to sip all of these high nutrient foods from your complete pregnancy diet. For more information on a healthy pregnancy diet or any personal enquiry with Dr Deepika Aggarwal, you can book an appointment or call at +91 124 4882248.
Pregnancy Diet’ FAQs
Q. Is papaya not good during pregnancy?
Ans: If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, then you should avoid eating raw papaya. Raw or unripe papaya contains a latex substance that may cause uterus contractions. Papaya or papaya enzymes are sometimes responsible for soothing indigestion, which is common during pregnancy.
Q. What are the common diet-related problems during pregnancy?
Ans: It’s always important to eat healthily and a balanced diet, and it is even more essential during pregnancy because the food you eat is the only source of nutrients for the baby. However, several women don’t get enough iron, calcium, vitamin D, folate, or protein during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman does not eat enough, it can lead to malnutrition. That means the body is not getting enough calories to maintain good health.
Q. Do you really have to eat for two when pregnant?
Ans: No, it’s a myth that a pregnant woman must eat for two. During pregnancy, the body increases the need for nutrition and calories. Always ask your doctor about the recommended weight gain during pregnancy. After the doctor’s consultation, follow a pregnancy diet plan for eating nutritious foods to gain a healthy weight during your pregnancy.
Q. Is craving for sweets good during pregnancy?
Ans: Craving for sweets during pregnancy may indicate the result in a drop in blood sugar. To avoid this situation, you must eat small and frequent meals. These small meals may help you to avoid eating too much sugar.