Congratulations mom-to-be! Let us simplify things for you and give you a consolidated piece of information on why and what do you need to eat during pregnancy.
I am sure, by now you must have gathered bits and pieces of information from friends, family and through Internet on what-to-eat during pregnancy. To add to your confusion some of this information may even be conflicting.
To begin with you must remember that what you eat is the only source of nourishment for your baby and hence has significant and lasting effects on the health of your child.
You may have already figured out that even if you were eating well before, you need to fine tune your eating habits to get more proteins and calories. You will also need additional amounts of certain vitamins and minerals such as calcium, folic acid and iron. Let us understand why these nutrients are of particular importance:
No growth is possible without proteins as these are the building blocks of the body. Extra protein is required for the development of cells, tissues and organs of the fetus as well as to support the increase in blood volume and other developmental changes in your body. The requirement for protein in pregnancy is 78 gms/day. Protein rich foods include dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt etc), chicken, fish, meat and eggs, pulses and legumes (especially soy) and nuts like peanuts, pistachios and almond. An extra effort should be made to include atleast one of them during each meal and also as snack in between to fulfill the requirement.
An increased intake is important for three main reasons:
- To support the rapid growth and development of the fetus.
- Required for laying down fat reserves that are built up in the mothers body, to tide over any periods of low intake and also as a preparation later for lactation.
- Increase in Basal Metabolic Rate
An additional 350 Kcals is required starting the second trimester of pregnancy. Cereals like wheat, rice, sooji, bajra, millets, roots and tubers (potato and colocasia root), nuts and seeds, fats and oils all help provide calories. It’s advisable to consume multi-grain flour, whole breakfast cereals, brown rice, multi grain/brown bread as they provide more nutrients and fiber than their refined counterparts.
Its required for the development of bones and teeth of the fetus. If the mothers diet lacks calcium, then the calcium from her own bones leaches out to support the mineralization in the fetus. This leads to weakening of the mother’s bones and can lead to complications later in life. Calcium rich sources include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, nuts & oil seeds especially gingelly (til) Requirement increases from 400 mg/ day to more than double 1200 mg/day.
4. Folic acid:
It prevents neural tube defects, serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. One of the best things you can do to have a healthy baby is to ensure that you enter pregnancy with adequate stores of folic acid. Folate is also extremely important during the course of pregnancy. The requirement of folate is 500 mcg/day during pregnancy. Rich sources of folate include vegetables especially dark green leafy vegetables and broccoli, citrus fruits, beans, peas and legumes, nuts and seeds.
Iron is essential for making hemoglobin, a molecule present in blood for carrying oxygen from lungs to other tissues in the body. During pregnancy the blood volume increases by almost 50%, hence the requirement for iron also goes up. Iron is also required for the growing baby and placenta. The requirement of iron is 35 mg/day during pregnancy.
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Rich sources of iron include meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dark green leafy vegetable, other vegetables like beetroot, pumpkin, sweet potato and broccoli, nuts and seeds; and legumes and pulses. Iron from non–vegetarian sources (Haem iron) is better absorbed in the body as compared to the vegetarian sources (Non-Haem iron). However combining vitamin C rich foods like lemon, orange juice, sprouted beans with can help increase the iron absorption. Also avoid taking tea right after meals as this hampers iron absorption.
The increased requirements for iron and folic acid can’t be completely met by food hence gynecologist routinely recommend a supplement for the same. You may also be advised other mineral and vitamin supplements depending on your medical condition, restrictions on food due to religious beliefs or if you are too nauseated during the first trimester and are not able to eat well.
It’s also important to remember that no one food group can provide your unborn baby and you with the nutrition that you need during these crucial months. Hence you should include a variety of foods from different groups, have small healthy snacks between your meals and drink plenty of water.
Also its advisable to be cautious and avoid eating raw and undercooked eggs, undercooked and cured cold meats, unpasturized milk and yogurt, raw sprouts, raw fruits and vegetables especially when you are not sure how well they have been washed to avoid any kind of food borne illness. You should focus on fresh, home made food and go slow on the heavily processed packaged foods for a healthy pregnancy.
About Spriha: Dr. Spriha Rao Mittal is a Ph.D in Nutrition with over 9 years of experience. She has worked as a scientist with ICMR, a premier biomedical research organization where she was involved in research focusing on public health nutrition, clinical dietetics and applied nutrition science and using these to help improve human health and wellbeing especially in vulnerable people. She is now heading the Operations & Nutrition Counseling Services of Genphy Medical Pvt. Ltd., a home health care company specializing in post operative & critical care for patients.
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