If you’re confused about your nutritional needs in pregnancy, you may be paying too much heed to the mixed messages in the media, from health professionals and given to you by friends and family!
Eating healthily is supposed to be easy, because when it comes to illness, energy, growth and development, Mother Nature intended nutrition to be the core of prevention, maintenance and cure.
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Seven simple steps to eating right
Of course you should care about what you eat, and you shouldn’t ignore all advice you’re given. But you also shouldn’t be anxious about pregnancy nutrition. You have two powerful allies to help you eat like you should in pregnancy – instinct and Mother Nature’s bountiful pantry. These seven principles are your safe nutrition guide:
- Eat more plant foods and fewer animal foods
Plant foods include fruit, vegetables, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains. These should form the bulk of your diet.Not only are animal foods linked to increased disease patterns, animals are often reared using antibiotics and synthetic hormones that you will ingest. Slaughtering procedures cause a rush of adrenaline and cortisol in the animal and these hormones are retained in the flesh and may influence your pregnancy and birth hormones adversely. If you do eat animal produce, choose medication-free, free-range and organic options.
- Include foods from all the vibrant colours nature provides
This is what most people would do if attuned to their instincts and interestingly, this is nature’s way of ensuring you get all the different nutrients you need – so eat with your eyes!
- Keep meals simple
Balance need not be in each and every meal but can be achieved over the course of a day or even a week. Don’t use too many ingredients at the same time and your digestion will work more efficiently.
- Reduce or preferably avoid food additives
Basically, this means that you should eat as few processed, refined, preserved and flavour-enhanced foods as possible.
- An occasional lapse won’t harm you or Baby
If you eat healthily most of the time, enjoying an occasional treat will be put in perspective by your body.
- Don’t eat for two but also avoid fasting
Simply follow your appetite when it comes to quantity, as long as it is for healthy foods. Many expectant women prefer smaller, more frequent meals, which sustain them throughout the day while keeping them feeling comfortable.Fasting is not advisable at any stage of pregnancy, both for Baby and Mom. As a result, religions that practise fasting mostly make provision for partial abstinence.
- Don’t drink large amounts with meals
This hampers digestion because enzyme-containing juices are diluted. In effect, your food will not be utilised optimally and you will be more likely to suffer from indigestion.
Nutrient know-how in pregnancy
While a good quality supplement is usually advised, a balanced diet is possible if you mostly eat healthily. So, you don’t need to understand the science of nutrition, though you may find it interesting. There are two main nutrient groups – macronutrients and micronutrients:
Macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates and fats and need to be eaten in the correct proportions. To help you achieve this, eat most of number 1 and least of number 8, whether pregnant or not. Vegans and vegetarians should drop points 6 and 7.
- Whole fruit – seasonal, raw, preferably not always juiced
- Raw salads – start each main meal with a fresh, mixed salad
- Vegetables – lightly cooked or steamed is best
- Pulses, legumes and beans – peas, lentils, chickpeas and most bean varieties supply quality protein
- Grains – as unrefined as possible so that the glycaemic index is low; include non-wheat grains like barley, millet, rye, sorghum, maize, spelt, quinoa and rice
- Meat, poultry, fish and eggs – choose free-range produce without hormones and avoid processed meats
- Dairy products – reduce the overall quantity in your diet and choose those free of hormones, artificial sweeteners, colourants and preservatives
- Fats and oils – restrict but don’t avoid, making sure you select good quality, virgin, cold-pressed oils
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals found in food in small but sufficient quantities, essential to develop and function healthily. A deficiency can cause serious health problems.
Some important vitamins are:
- Vitamin A – for the metabolism of essential fatty acids and a healthy digestive tract, lungs and mucous membranes (avoid large doses as these may be associated with birth defects)
- Vitamin B2 – for energy metabolism, and for growth and development of body tissues in Mom and Baby
- Vitamin B6 – for the growth of new body tissue in Mom and Baby, and to help treat nausea
- Vitamin B12 – for division of blood cells and to help prevent anaemia
- Folic acid – for healthy neural tube development in Baby
Some important minerals are:
- Iron – for strong body tissues, optimal oxygenation and countering infections
- Calcium – for healthy muscles, skin, bones and teeth, and the prevention of eclampsia and cardio-vascular disease
- Magnesium – works with calcium, and prevents spasms
- Zinc – for healthy formation of DNA and body tissue, and healthy immune system development
- Iodine – essential for production of thyroid hormones in Mom and Baby, and important for normal development; may also help prevent pre-eclampsia
Foods to avoid
Some foods are associated with increased allergy risk, toxic bacteria or excessive discomfort to an expectant mom, so you’d do well to avoid or reduce these six:
- Allergy-risk foods like dairy products, refined grain products (breads, pasta, cakes and biscuits), shellfish, egg, and peanuts
Exotic mushrooms, onions or garlic
- Tree and ground nuts – though preservatives or rancid produce is the real problem
- Animal food pâtés
- Blue-veined and aged soft cheeses
- Dry meat products like biltong
When you’re pregnant, you can heed the message of your cravings healthily. Feel like something sweet? Have a banana, or a date, jam-packed with necessary nutrients! Craving something savoury? Eat an avocado, or some olives. Eating smaller meals more often also helps to control cravings.
Don’t worry about strange food combinations (so long as they are healthy) or an aversion to foods you may have enjoyed previously – this is very common. If you have an inexplicable need to suck or chew ice constantly, it’s probably because you feel much hotter in pregnancy – nothing to worry about.
Sweet treats and sugary soda drinks interfere with your blood sugar levels and provide no positive nutrition, so rather avoid these – eat a sweet fruit instead!
The impulse to lick, taste or eat abnormal substances like soil, ash, chalk and paint is called pica, and is a sign that you have a deficiency of an important nutrient. Talk to your doctor about this, because it can be dangerous.