A Balanced Pregnancy Diet
Of course, we all know that 'we are what we eat.' We are aware of the importance of getting our five-a-day and of a healthy, balanced diet.
But many of us are unsure when it comes to pregnancy – is a balanced diet enough, or do we need to take supplements when pregnant? What kind of foods should we be eating more of? What kinds of food should be avoided? Can diet help us with some of the effects of pregnancy, such as indigestion or constipation? And most importantly, what kind of a diet will support our growing babies?
Your healthy pregnancy diet
Variety is the spice of life and nowhere is this more true than for the pregnancy diet. When you’re pregnant, you need to balance carbohydrates (starchy foods), proteins (meat, poultry, fish) fats (the good ones, like Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids), vitamins and minerals every day, to keep you and your growing baby in tip-top condition.
Now is not the time to be embarking on a diet, as you could miss out on essential nutrients – and so might your baby.
Try to select foods from each of the following groups:
Fruit and vegetables: It’s true what they say about eating five portions of fruit and veg every day. Rich in nutrients, they are also a good source of fibre, which helps keep your digestive tract healthy and prevents that pregnancy bugbear: Constipation.
Choose fresh or frozen vegetables and fruit when you can (drying or canning reduces the vitamin content). Make the most of the vitamins they contain by eating some raw.
If you do cook vegetables and fruit, cook them for as short an amount of time as you can, in the smallest amount of water in a covered pan. Stir frying, steaming or microwaving instead of boiling keeps them fresher and more nutritious. It’s also best to eat them as soon as you cook them to make sure you get as much Vitamin C and folic acid as possible.
A helping each of dark green veg, orange veg, and orange and citrus fruits daily will really boost your vitamin intake.
Bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, noodles and cereals: Yes, they used to be frowned upon as ‘fattening’ but in fact, these starchy foods are low in fat and filling – as long as you hold off on the butter! And, it’s best to choose wholegrain foods, such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice, rather than the processed carbohydrates that you find in cakes, buns and white bread. Wholegrain varieties of these starches are higher in fibre and contain more of the B vitamins. 6 or more servings are recommended each day.
Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts and seeds: In other words, protein. In pregnancy, it’s recommended that we eat three portions of foods from this group each day. Meat, fish and chicken are excellent sources of protein. Vegetable protein foods (eg tofu, beans, nuts) can be short of one or more essential amino acids, and are known as ‘incomplete protein’, so you need to eat a wider variety of protein foods to make sure you get just the right amount. But if you mix pulses (such as lentils), with wheat or rice, you’ll also get excellent quality protein which will meet all your protein requirements. Good examples include beans on toast, lentils and rice, and hummous and pitta bread. Vegetable proteins are also rich in fibre, low in fat and cheap, so choose some meat-free meals when you can.
Fibre is a boon during pregnancy, when our digestive systems don’t work as effectively as they might. Put simply, foods that are high in fibre, such as whole fruits and veg, wholegrain breads and wholegrain breakfast cereals, combine with fluids and swell; helping to speed the passage of waste through the gut, and preventing disorders such as constipation. But remember to drink plenty of fluid!
Avoid unprocessed bran, which can interfere with the absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron. If you have young children, remember that they don’t need as much fibre: they need high-calorie foods for healthy growth and development.
Pregnant and feeling thirsty? This may be because the volume of your blood and body fluids expands in pregnancy, and you’ll need to drink plenty of fluids. But you don’t have to force lakes of water down your throat – eight glasses a day is about right, ideally of water, although unsweetened fruit juices (preferably diluted) or mild herbal or fruit teas are also fine – but check first that that they are suitable for pregnant women. Tea, coffee and cola drinks all contain caffeine, which isn’t good for you or your growing baby and will leave you feeling thirstier, so try to limit them.
If you feel exceptionally thirsty and find your thirst hard to quench, it’s important to talk to your healthcare professional.
What is a ‘portion’ or ‘serving’?
According to the HSE’s Healthy Eating for Pregnancy, a serving of a calcium-rich product is:
- 200mls (1/3 pint) or a standard glass of milk
- 1 30g (1oz) chunk – a matchbox size – of cheese
- 1 standard – 125g – pot of yoghurt
Of fruit and veg, a serving is:
- 1 glass of orange juice
- 1 medium size piece of fruit, eg orange
- 2 small pieces of fruit eg 2 kiwis
Of starchy foods like bread and pasta:
- 1 bowl of cereal
- 1 slice of bread
- 3 dessertspoons of pasta or rice
- 1 medium boiled or baked potato
And of protein:
- 50g (2oz) cooked lean meat or chicken
- 75g (3oz) cooked fish 2 eggs (not more than 7 a week)
- 50g (2oz) cheese
- 75g (3oz) nuts
What are your struggles and successes of your pregnancy diet? We'd love to hear.