When it comes to pregnancy, nutrition plays a vital role in every stage. As your baby grows, your body changes in response to the needs of the baby. This may include an increase in hunger and, therefore, a modification in your diet. It’s normal to put on weight with increased portion sizes, but it’s important to understand that what you feed your body during this period also feeds your bub. Indulging in chocolate, biscuits, milkshakes or baked goods is not advised, despite the cravings experienced. It’s important to go with quality over quantity, in order to gain as many nutrients out of the food you eat as possible.
Nutritional Food Choices
Taking notice of the recommended daily servings from every food group will allow you to determine if you are providing your growing baby with adequate nutrition.
* The Harvard School of Public Health recommends:
- Fresh Vegetables – including green and coloured vegetables
- 5-6 servings
- Starchy Grains & Root Vegetables – including rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes
- 3-4 servings, preferably non-processed
- Protein – meat, fish, poultry, eggs (cooked), nuts and legumes
- 2-3 servings
- 2 servings
- Calcium – green vegetables, milk, yoghurt
- 1-2 servings
- Healthy Fats & Oils – such as from avocados, nuts and olives
- Small amounts at every meal
Getting a wide variety of the above will allow your nutrition levels to stay at optimum levels. If you’re coming from a vegetarian or vegan background, increasing the consumption of legumes, beans and vegetables will help you keep up the necessary nutrients for optimum health. If you find that you’re still lacking the energy you need, but don’t want to risk over-eating, you may need to complement your diet with supplements that contain certain key nutrients.
Essential Fatty Acids
In addition to staying on top of a well-maintained and balanced diet throughout the three trimesters of pregnancy, it is important to understand the role essential fatty acids (EFAs) play in overall nutrition.
From the early stages of pregnancy and throughout nursing, mother and baby need eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most important omega-3 essential fatty acids. They are key nutrients that are needed to support the rapidly developing brain and visual function of babies in utero, and also newborns.
Because the body cannot produce omega-3s on its own, they must come through the diet and/or supplementation. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, anchovies and sardines, do contain high levels of omega-3 and are a good source of EPA and DHA. However fish often carries a negative reputation with regard to concerns about toxins, such as mercury, especially during pregnancy. You would also have to eat an abundance of fish to even come close to getting the recommended daily intake of omega-3s, and it is next to impossible if you practice a vegetarian or vegan health regime.
Therefore to be safe, and to achieve the recommended levels, choose a supplement that is third- party tested for superior levels of purity and freshness. Also look for one that has a pleasant natural flavoring with next to no fishy smell, taste, or aftertaste and burps that often follow when taking substandard fish oils.
Vitamins and Minerals
During pregnancy, your body needs to take in extra vitamins and minerals to help your baby develop. This occurs by getting the most out of your diet.
All women planning to become pregnant, and during the first three months of pregnancy, should eat a variety of foods containing folate. [i]Women of childbearing age should consume 400 micrograms of folate per day. This recommendation increases during pregnancy to 600 micrograms per day. Dietary sources that are high in folate are green leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli and salad greens), fruits (such as strawberries, citrus and bananas), and legumes (chickpeas, beans and lentils).
When pregnant, your body’s need for iron increases. Iron is specifically important during the second and third trimesters due to your body increasing its blood flow to support the needs of your placenta and the baby. Iron-rich foods include red meat, chicken, pork and fish. If you come from a vegetarian/vegan background, iron is also found in legumes, green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts and iron-fortified cereals.
Calcium is key when it comes to keeping bones healthy and strong. [ii]The recommended daily dose of calcium intake during pregnancy is 1000 mg to 1300 mg. Sticking to the recommended daily intake of calcium requires at least 2 servings of very high calcium-containing foods per day. Green vegetables, milk, yoghurt and calcium-fortified soy milk are all examples of calcium-rich foods.
Iodine is an important mineral to keep in mind during pregnancy and is needed for the production of thyroid hormone that is vital for the development and growth of little brains. Foods that are high in iodine include seaweeds, eggs, meat and some dairy products.
Take inspiration from knowing that what goes into your diet influences your baby’s health and growth development. A diet that covers all the major food groups, with plenty of variety from fresh fruits and vegetables, can help provide many of the essential nutrients for both mum and bub.
For information visit www.researchnutrition.com.au or call 1800 110 158.
Always read the label. If symptoms persist, consult your healthcare professional.
[i] Dietitians Association of Australia, Folate for women of childbearing http://daa.asn.au
[ii] Food Authority NSW
BHSc. (Nutr. Med.), GradCert. (Hum. Nutr.)
Functional Nutritional Medicine Practitioner and Educator
Warren is a Clinical Nutritionist who specialises in the treatment of chronic health concerns through the principles of Functional & Integrative Medicine. Warren holds a bachelor degree in Nutritional Medicine and a graduate certificate in Human Nutrition from Deakin University. Warren lectures students of Nutritional Medicine in Brisbane Australia and is the National Technical Educator for Research Nutrition, supporting naturopathic and medical practitioners in their use of functional pathology testing and associated supplement prescriptions, within modern integrative health management.