The World of Pregnancy

Nutrition During Pregnancy: What Should You Eat When Pregnant?

Nutrition during pregnancy is an essential thing for all expecting mothers. A healthy and well balanced diet will always increase the chances for an easy pregnancy, without complications and the possibility to give birth to a healthy child. So, what should you eat when pregnant to reduce the risk for chronic conditions, which can appear during the first year of childhood?

During pregnancy, each organ from the woman`s body functions at higher parameters than usually, thus using a lot more energy. That`s why during pregnancy more than even the woman needs to have a healthy and balance diet. If the woman had such a diet before the pregnancy as well, the chances to have a healthy child are increasing and the pregnant woman would only need to adjust her diet depending on the increased needs of her pregnancy. However, no matter if the pregnancy was planned or not, most women start to change their food habits and lifestyle after they find out they are pregnant.

The main rule is that you must eat well, healthy and to be sure that your diet contains all the nutrition necessary for the baby`s growth. To meet all the new necessities, you`ll noticed that your appetite will be more increased than usual and you`ll feel the need to often eat food without too much nutritional value, so the number of calories that you`ll consume will be much higher. This is a normal thing. A varied diet won`t affect you in a negative way, but you need to be aware of some specific aspects regarding your pregnancy.

Research prove that just as other healthy habits, a proper diet during the 9 months of pregnancy influence the health of the baby at birth, but also the risk of developing certain medical conditions such as: obesity, diabetes or heart diseases.

What Should You Eat When Pregnant?

Each nutrient is important when a pregnant woman is concerned for a healthy development of the fetus. That`s why the main key during pregnancy is balance and variety. The diet needs to include healthy foods from all food groups: fruits, vegetables, cereals, meat and dairy.

This doesn`t meant that she has to calculate the calories or how many grams of proteins she consumes at a meal, but she rather needs to eat healthy, varied, with moderation and to take into consideration the special needs of the pregnancy. Thus, while the necessary demand of lipids during pregnancy is slightly modified, the necessary intake of proteins and carbohydrates increases. Also, iron, calcium, folic acid and vitamin D are required in increased amounts. Small meals in small quantities but in a large number per day are preferred, instead of few but big meals, because this way nausea which is specific during the beginning of the pregnancy can be ameliorated.

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Dietary fibers is not to be forgotten because they are important against constipation, which is frequent during pregnancy both because the characteristic changes due to being pregnant as well as due to vitamin supplements often recommended.

  • Cereals: 8 portions, such as a slice of whole bread, a cup of cereal, a half of rice and pasta. Try to pick the cereals with the highest percentage of fibers to avoid constipation during pregnancy.
  • Vegetables: 4+ portions, such as medium bundles of carrots, a cup of ground greens, a cup of broccoli or cooked cauliflower.
  • Fruits: 2 – 4 portions, such as a small apple, orange, pear, banana or a cup of raisins.
  • Diary: 3 portions, such as 250 – 300ml of milk, yoghurt or 50g of cheese.
  • Pork, beef, chicken or fish meat, eggs, nuts or seeds: 2 – 3 portions, such as 100g of pork, beef or chicken cooked meat, or seafood.
  • Fats, oils and sweets: very little amounts.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates offer the required fuel that gives you energy. The main majority of your calories should come from carbs, but instead of consuming carbs with sugar you should consume unrefined complex carbohydrates that can be found in whole grains, brown rice, beans or potatoes. All of these provide the energy a pregnant woman needs on a daily basis. It`s well known the fact that the more unprocessed food you eat, the better.

It`s advisable to avoid as much as possible processed carbohydrates. Still, simple carbs are generally absorbed by the organism in a few minutes, so the sugar from fruits, lactose and dextrose are beneficial for increasing energy immediately and can also help to reduce morning sickness.

Proteins

Proteins are the ones that allow all of your baby`s tissues to develop properly, so a pregnant woman must consume around 100g of proteins per day. It`s not really necessary to eat red meat too often (or not at all), but during pregnancy, red meat is the most concentrated source of iron. Vegetarians should consume yogurt, eggs, milk or cheese because these are great sources of proteins as are nuts, beans, seeds or peanut butter. There are proteins in some bread as well, just read the label for what ingredients are included. – Find out more!

You should also eat as much fish as possible, it`s easy to digest and has a lot of minerals. Fish oil contains fatty acids which are essential for pregnant women. Of course, you should avoid oceanic fish as they are usually rich in mercury, like tuna, shark, mackerel or swordfish. You should also be careful with fish from freshwater because they can be contaminated with industrial pollutants, like pike, salmon or trout.

Vitamins

Due to intense processes of growth and development of the fetus, the needs for vitamins during pregnancy are increased.

  • Vitamin A – it`s necessary for the growth and development of cell membranes. It can be found in liver of fish, chicken and veal, yellow or orange vegetables and fruits, vegetables with green leaves and egg yolks. Deficiency with vitamin A has been associated with the occurrence of certain congenital abnormalities such as: retinal atrophy, blindness and horseshoe kidney. Also, excess of vitamin A has been related with certain congenital abnormalities as well.
  • Vitamins from group B – they can be found in abundance in whole grains, liver and other organs, vegetables with leaves, eggs and milk. Deficiencies of vitamin B (especially of vitamins B1 and B2) were involved in the occurrence of facial malformations (cleft palate), lower limb and the sternum.
  • Vitamin D – it`s necessary to regulate calcium absorption from foods. And so, every vitamin is important and has its own role in the fetal development and in ensuring a good health for the pregnant woman. Deficiency or excess of one of these vitamins can lead to various imbalances to both the mother and fetus.

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That`s why, in most cases doctors recommend prenatal multivitamin supplements, especially conceived for the pregnancy, in which the doses of vitamins and minerals are correlated with the special needs of this period. Besides vitamins, calcium and iron, these supplements also contain other trace elements which have a role in preventing some deficiencies or abnormalities to the fetus: zinc, magnesium, selenium, chromium, copper, potassium, etc. However, to prevent overdosing, pregnant women need to only take supplements recommended by their doctor and in the doses and duration of time that was prescribed for them.

Folic acid has an important role in the development of cells and tissues, being an important nutrient during pregnancy when the needs for folic acid are double. Thus, a pregnant woman should consume a daily intake of 0,8mg of folic acid. The adequate intake of folic acid during the first months of pregnancy decreases the risk of having a baby with birth defects (neural tube defects) especially spina bifida.

The best sources of folic acid are vegetables with green leaves: spinach, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, asparagus along with oranges, whole grains and peanuts. Because folic acid is slightly destroyed through conservation and cooking, it`s recommended to consume fresh fruits and vegetables, or at least cooked as little as possible.

Minerals

The baby needs calcium to develop, especially for his bones and teeth. If the mother doesn`t have a sufficient intake of calcium during the 9 months of pregnancy, this may affect both the health of the mother and baby, because the fetus will try to cover his need for calcium from the maternal organism. Calcium deficiency favors painful muscle cramps from the mother and increases the risk of osteophorosis.

For a proper absorption, calcium needs to be in balance with phosphorus. Food sources rich in calcium and phosphorus are: diary (milk, yoghurt), cheese, fruits and eggs.

Excess of calcium is dangerous during pregnancy because can trigger uterine contractions. That`s why drug supplements with calcium are recommended during this period of 9 months. If calcium supplementation is needed, prenatal multivitamin supplements are preferred, especially designed for pregnant women and in which calcium is present in appropriate doses.

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The needs for iron during pregnancy are increased due to the increase of blood volume during this period, iron being an important constituent of hemoglobin which enters in the composition of erythrocytes (blood cells) and which have a role in the transport of oxygen to the tissues. Thus, during pregnancy the necessary intake of iron doubles, reaching 30mg/day. Food sources of iron: red meat (especially liver, kidneys, beef meat), egg yolks, nuts, beans, spinach, wheat germs or dried fruits. Animal sources of iron are better absorbed than those from vegetable sources. – More info!

Iron deficiency during pregnancy can lead to anemia for the mother, which can cause fatigue and can affect the fetus, increasing the risk of anemia at the newborn. Although theoretically, drug supplements at the fetus is only recommended if the mother has iron deficiency, but practically for more than half of pregnant women is recommended iron supplements. This is because the increased iron needs during this period are hard to cover only from the diet on one hand, while on the other hand because lots of women at the beginning of the pregnancy start with iron deficiency, even if this doesn`t lead to anemia.

Liquids

A pregnant woman needs at least 2l of liquid on a daily basis (around 10 glasses), preferably as water, milk, juices from fresh fruits or vegetables, unsweetened and less from sodas or commercial drinks. Sodas among the fact they may contain large quantities of sugar or food additives, caffeine, they may create flatulence (bloating) and abdominal discomfort.

Alcohol is completely forbidden during pregnancy, because they increase the risk of certain mental and physical deficiencies to the baby. Consumption of coffee, Cola, tea and other drinks that may contain caffeine should also be limited. A glass of coffee or Cola every now and then isn`t harmful, but consumed in excess can lead to unwanted consequences for the fetus.

Image courtesy of MomJunction.com
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