Pregnancy Nutrition: What Nutrients to Eat, Why and Food Sources

A well-balanced healthy and nutritious diet will ensure a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby and successful lactation after delivery.

It is obvious that during pregnancy your nutritional needs are going to increase because you also have to feed your growing unborn baby and the foods that you eat are the only source of nourishment for your baby.

The nutrition guidelines are simple to follow and make it easy for you to have a healthy pregnancy and a champion baby.

The importance of the pregnancy nutrition lies in the fact that besides giving proper nutrition to the pregnant mother and the developing baby, certain poor nutrition-related risks and dangers are avoided. Let us first have a look at these ill effects of poor nutrition.

We then talk about how important nutrition is during the three trimesters of pregnancy and lastly, we discuss each of the nutrients about how they help in the growth of the baby, their daily requirement and the food sources of each of these nutrients.

All this advice and recommendations will help you to plan your meals and tackle your nutritional needs during pregnancy.

Poor nutrition pregnancy effects

1) Pregnancy and Obesity Risks

Pregnant women do tend to eat more and weight gain is normal during pregnancy. But, being overweight or obese during pregnancy is definitely unwarranted.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 out of 5 American pregnant women are obese with a BMI of 30 or more.

2) Improper Fetal Development

An under nourishing pregnancy diet during pregnancy with few calories and lacking in nutrients such as vitamins will lead to nutritional deficiencies in the mother and the fetus. Complications will arise such as

  • Premature delivery (baby born before nine months)
  • An underweight baby
  • Baby can have neurological and/or brain defects

3) Other Fetal Defects

  • Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Consuming candies, which contain lead (especially those from Mexico) increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and delay of development in children.
  • Certain fish are found to contain mercury, which can cause nervous system complications in the baby. Avoid fish such as swordfish, shark, tuna, tilefish, and king mackerel.

The importance of having proper foods to eat during pregnancy, which give proper nutrition, therefore, cannot be overstressed.

Importance of nutrition in pregnancy

It is important to start eating healthy from the time you have planned to become pregnant till delivery and later during breastfeeding.

Though the nausea of pregnancy and food aversion can make you eat less, you must fight it and continue to eat well. Prenatal vitamins are almost always advised for women from the time they are trying to conceive, during pregnancy, and during the lactation period.

The first trimester (first 3 months) is important because most of the physical and mental growth of the baby takes place during this period. The nervous system and the body organs start developing during this trimester and continue to do so into the second trimester.

Similarly, the growth of the baby is most rapid during the last trimester and therefore, eating well during the third trimester is as important for proper growth and weight of the baby.

A nutritious diet for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby should consist of enough contributions of the following nutrients, the daily recommended intakes of which increase during pregnancy.

  • Proteins
  • Fats
  • Carbohydrates (especially complex carbohydrates)
  • Minerals (especially iron)
  • Vitamins (especially folic acid)
  • More calories within recommended limits
  • Fiber
  • Adequate amount of water

Proteins

Proteins are one of the most important nutrients in pregnancy more so during the second and third trimester when your baby’s growth is more rapid.

Proteins play an important role in:

  • proper development of fetus body cells and tissues including the brain
  • increased blood supply to the fetus and for the production  of  fetal blood
  • proper placental growth and function
  • proper growth and the functioning of the baby’s amniotic tissues
  • help in the development of the breast and the uterus

The total protein recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an adult non-pregnant woman is 46 grams of proteins. During pregnancy, protein requirement rises by an additional 15 grams to 60 grams daily.

Protein rich food sources

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds rich in proteins include sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • Beans and Legumes
  • One cup of oats
  • Whole grains

Calcium

Calcium is an indispensable mineral because it helps to develop strong bones and muscles in the baby. It also balances the use of the body fluids.

RDA is about 1200 mg of calcium per day while it is 1300 mg for pregnant women below the age of  18 years.

Calcium Rich Foods

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Green leafy vegetables and broccoli
  • Foods fortified with calcium such as soy milk, juices, bread and cereals
  • Sesame seeds
  • Nuts such as almonds and walnuts
  • Fish such as tinned sardines

Iron

Due to the increase in blood volume and circulation during pregnancy by almost 50%, the iron requirement increases to make that much more hemoglobin.

Besides, due to the increased need by the fetus, having extra iron by the pregnant mother also helps to combat blood loss during delivery.

About two-thirds of iron in the body is stored in hemoglobin. It is important to fulfill this increased requirement in order to fuel increased production of hemoglobin and avoid iron-deficiency anemia and its ill-effects.

Towards the end of pregnancy, the baby too starts storing a good six months’ requirement of iron as it does not get enough of it from the mother’s milk. After six months, solid foods (which are often fortified) begin the iron supply to the infant.

Iron also helps in the development of muscles in the mother and baby.

Sufficient intake of iron reduces the risk of premature delivery and a low birth weight baby, which are complications of iron-deficiency anemia.

Iron rich foods 

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Shrimp.
  • Spinach and other green vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Green beans
  • Tomato juice
  • Legumes
  • Dried fruits
  • Enriched and whole grains (wheat, rice, barley, cornmeal).
  • Oatmeal
  • Potatoes
  • Raisins
  • Dates
  • Tofu (bean curd made by coagulating soy milk).
  • Jaggery

Fats and fatty acid foods 

Fats have earned a notorious reputation worldwide, but they do have their benefits and uses and can be considered essential not just during pregnancy, but even during normal times.

Fat stores are present in the fetus and so fat requirement during pregnancy is not increased. But, the supply of essential fatty acids is required:

  • To promote the development of the baby’s brain and the eyes before and after birth
  • For development of the placenta and other tissues
  • Fats prevent premature delivery
  • Fats also prevent low birth weight baby

Avoid saturated fats and trans fats. Stick to unsaturated fats. Both, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats foods are required during pregnancy.

No more than 35% of your calorie intake should come from fats. There is no need to increase your fat intake during pregnancy. You just have to eat the right type of fats.

Monounsaturated fat rich foods

  • Safflower oil
  • Olive oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Canola oil
  • Olives
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Nut butters

Polyunsaturated Fat Foods

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found in canola oil, flaxseed oil and some cold water fish like salmon
  • Omega-6 fatty acids are found in corn, sunflower, cottonseed and soybean oils.

Vitamins

Vitamins during pregnancy play a crucial role in the physiology of the pregnant mother and the developing baby.

It is important that you get an adequate supply of these pregnancy vitamins, not just during your pregnancy and breastfeeding period but also from the time you planned to get pregnant.

For the list of the vitamins essential during pregnancy, their recommended daily allowance and their food sources, you could follow the above link.

Carbohydrates 

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for carbohydrates during pregnancy is 175 grams. That means you should be having 3 to 5 servings of complex carbohydrates per day.

Choosing complex carbohydrates (high-quality carbohydrates) will be good and this will also prevent you from going overboard with your weight.

Due to their fiber content, they help fight constipation, which is commonly seen during pregnancy.

Eating these high-quality carbohydrates will also prevent gestational diabetes. Complex carbohydrates are digested and absorbed slowly in the intestines thereby preventing any spike in blood sugar. They give more nutritional value than simple carbohydrates.

Low Carbohydrate Foods 

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

While some fruits and vegetables are high in carbohydrates, they also contain fiber, which reduces the net carb value of the foods, helps to regulate blood sugar and also to prevent constipation.

Some good fruit sources of this nutrient for pregnancy include oranges, peaches, strawberries, grapes, and cherries. Broccoli and carrots are good vegetable sources. Eat three fruits and veggies per day. Eating a whole fruit is advisable as against drinking a fruit juice.

Dairy products 

Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are a good source of calcium also and should be consumed though quite a few low carb diet plans avoid these foods. Avoid soft cheese such as goat cheese and feta (white salty Greek cheese made from the milk of ewes or goats).

Lean meat and poultry 

Lean meat and poultry have low quantities of carbohydrates and are rich in proteins. Choose lean meats and avoid fatty meat portions.

Whole grains 

Whole grains are a good source of complex carbohydrates. Eat whole grain bread, whole grain rice and pasta, oats and cereals as they contain fewer carbohydrates and will not let you go beyond the RDA (recommended daily allowance). Whole grains are also a good source of fiber.

Calorie requirement increases during pregnancy

Energy requirement increases during pregnancy and the calorie need goes up by 300 calories per day. A pregnant woman requires 2500 calories per day.

This increased requirement is maximum during the third trimester (last 3 months) of pregnancy due to the increasing demand of the fetus and the expecting mother and also to store fats, which will be required during the lactation period.

It is important to know that weight gain does happen in pregnancy and it is also recommended that an increase of 25 to 35 pounds in a woman of average weight be gained. Additional calorie requirement, therefore, becomes necessary.

  • Approximately 10 percent of calories should come from protein. Protein is mainly found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and beans.
  • About 35% of the calories should come from fats (unsaturated fats), which is mainly found in butter, oils, margarine, dairy products, and nuts.
  • Approximately 55 percent of calories should come from carbohydrates, which are found in bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, corn and other whole grain products.

Fiber 

Pumping up your fiber intake during pregnancy will help in three ways.

  • It will help fight constipation, which is usually seen in pregnancy.
  • Fiber also decreases your risk of gestational diabetes.
  • In pregnancy, the digestive process slows down considerably and if enough fiber or roughage is not taken, there is a delay in removing the waste from the body. This can lead to toxin build -up in the body. Fiber will help bowel movements and prompt removal of waste from the body.

A fiber intake of about 14 grams is recommended for every 1000 calories. In a 2000 calorie diet, you should be having about 28 grams daily during your pregnancy.

Food sources of fiber

Fiber is found in plant-based foods that are not refined. Fruits and whole grain cereals are the most common dietary sources of fiber.

  • 1/2 cup cooked navy beans: 9.5 grams
  • 1/2 cup ready-to-eat 100% bran cereal: 8.8 grams
  • 1/2 cup cooked black beans: 7.5 grams
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato with skin: 4.8 grams
  • 1 whole-wheat English muffin: 4.4 grams
  • Small raw pear: 4.3 grams
  • 1/2 cup cooked mixed vegetables: 4 grams
  • 1/2 cup raw raspberries: 4 grams
  • 1/2 cup stewed prunes: 3.8 grams
  • 1-ounce almonds: 3.3 grams
  • Medium raw apple with skin: 3.3 grams
  • Medium raw orange: 3.1 grams
  • 1/2 cup cooked pearled barley: 3 grams
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat spaghetti: 3.1 grams
  • 1/2 cup cooked collard greens: 2.7 grams

Drink adequate water during pregnancy

Drinking adequate amount water during pregnancy keeps you well hydrated. It also flushes out toxins from the body and helps to prevent constipation, edema, and hemorrhoids.

Ensure that the water you drink is clean. Fruit juices and coconut water are also good to replenish your fluid requirement. Do read benefits of drinking water.

 

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