Nutrition during pregnancy is very important; what the mother feeds on is also what the baby or babies feed on. The right nutrition promotes the growth and formation of the baby.
It could however be sometimes confusing to know what foods to consume, or not and the right amounts, especially as there is so much conflicting information. Is it important to eat enough fish, or does it contain too much mercury? Do you need meat for protein, or is it too fatty? Are eggs okay, or do they have too much cholesterol?
However, there are many ways to ensure that both mother and child are getting the required nutrients. Here is some advice from nutrition experts on top pregnancy foods. You do not have to eat them all, select your favourites and give your gestation period a nutritional boost.
Eggs contain lots of quality protein in addition to 12 more vitamins and minerals which are essential for pregnancy.
During pregnancy, baby’s cells are growing very fast and every cell is made of protein, hence the increased demand for protein; the mother also needs protein.
Eggs are also rich in choline, which promotes your baby’s overall growth and brain health, while helping prevent neural tube defects. Some eggs are known to even contain omega-3 fats, important for both brain and vision development. Look out for DHA-enriched eggs because those contain the most beneficial form of omega-3s.
It’s been widely rumoured that eggs contain cholesterol; however, it’s been established that eating saturated fat does much more damage to the cholesterol level in the body than eating the cholesterol naturally found in food. Although eggs are high in cholesterol, they are relatively low in saturated fat, with only about 1 1/2 grams per egg.
Experts say a healthy woman with normal blood cholesterol level can take one to two eggs a day as part of a balanced diet low in saturated fat. However if you are still worried about cholesterol, you can take egg whites instead of whole eggs.
Need more convincing? Eggs are cheap, easy, quick, and versatile. When you’re too exhausted to cook a full meal, a couple of hard-boiled or scrambled eggs are just the ticket.
Salmon is rich in high-quality protein, and it’s also an exceptionally good source of omega-3 fats, which are good for baby’s development and could also help boost mother’s mood! Unlike swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark, salmon has low amounts of methyl mercury, a compound that can be harmful to a baby’s developing nervous system.
For salmon and other low-mercury fish, such as canned light tuna and pollock, it is recommended to eat not more than 12 ounces per week to avoid ingesting too much mercury.
Beans have the highest amount of fibre and protein out of all the vegetables. Beans come in a wide range of varieties: navy beans, lentils, black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, soya beans etc.
It is important to take not only protein during pregnancy, but also a lot of fibre. This is because during pregnancy, the gastrointestinal tract slows down, bringing about constipation and haemorrhoids; fibre helps to prevent and relieve these problems.
In addition, foods that contain fibre are rich in nutrients. Beans in particular are good sources of iron, folate, calcium, and zinc.
Experts say sweet potatoes get their orange colour from carotenoids, plant pigments that are converted to vitamin A in the body.
Although consuming too much instant vitamin A found in animal sources, such as liver, milk, and eggs can be dangerous, carotenoids are a different type. They are stored up in the body and converted to vitamin A only as required; therefore there is no need to limit consumption of vitamin A-rich fruits and veggies.
Sweet potatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, folate, and fibre, like beans, they are cheap and can be prepared in a lot of ways.
Whole grains are important in pregnancy because they are high in fibre and nutrients, including vitamin E, selenium, and phytonutrients (plant compounds that protect cells).
Whole grains include; wheat, oatmeal, barley, corn, pop-corn, wheat bread, sorghum, millet etc.
Walnuts are one of the richest sources of plant-based omega-3.
Although plant-based omega-3s don’t provide much of the DHA that will benefit the baby, they are still good for both mother and baby. Walnuts are also a good source of protein and fibre.
Greek yogurt typically has twice the protein of regular yogurt. Indeed, any kind of yogurt is a great source of calcium, which is vital in a pregnancy diet. Calcium will help the baby develop healthy bones. A pregnant woman needs to take in sufficient amounts of calcium, otherwise the limited amount will go to the baby making the bones of the mother calcium deficient.
Dark green, leafy vegetables
Spinach, pumpkin leaves, lettuce, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, and other green leafy vegetables are loaded with vitamins and nutrients, including vitamins A, C, and K, as well as the all-important folate. They have also been found to promote eye health.
Meat is an excellent source of high-quality protein. Lean meats with the fat trimmed off are a great choice. Beef and pork stand out among meats because they contain choline in addition to protein.
However, avoid deli meats or hot dogs unless they’re heated until steaming hot because there is a small risk of passing bacteria and parasites, such as listeria, toxoplasma, or salmonella, from the meat to the baby.
Colourful fruits and veggies
It is good to eat plenty of variety of green, red, orange, yellow, purple, and white fruits and vegetables because they contain a variety of nutrients to nourish both mother and baby. Each colour group provides different vitamins and minerals.
An added advantage of taking variety of fruits and vegetables is that during the later stages of pregnancy, the baby ‘tastes’ the foods the mother eats through the amniotic fluid. Therefore, exposing the baby to this variety of fruits and vegetables increases the chances the baby would recognise and accept those flavours later on.