Finding out you are pregnant is such a crazy, thrilling, amazing moment, one where you realise your life is about to change forever. You may have planned on having a family or it might come as a total shock, but either way it’s important to consider your lifestyle, eating and health habits now for your baby’s growth and development over the next 9 months.
I have always had an interest healthy eating and making sure my diet is rich in wholefoods, natural ingredients, low in refined sugars and salt and mostly plant-based. When I discovered I was pregnant, along with symptoms like nausea and going off certain foods, it made me think about what vitamins and minerals my body really needed for my growing little bean.
MAIN FOOD GROUPS
Here’s what is recommended during pregnancy:
- Fruit and vegetables: Increase your intake to at least 5 portions a day to ensure you are getting a range of nutrients.
- Complex carbohydrates: Enjoy 9-10 servings a day (50-60% of daily calories) in the form of pasta, rice, potatoes, quinoa, sweet potatoes and bread. Choose wholegrain versions for a higher fibre content.
- High-quality protein: Eat at least 2-3 servings (20-25% of daily calories) in the form of fish (eat a minimum or 2 portions a week, one of them oily), lean meat, pulses, eggs, nuts, tofu and some dairy foods.
- Good fats: Your body needs more fat during pregnancy (25-35% of daily calories) but be sure to choose monounsaturated fats rather than saturated in the form of nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, whole eggs.
- Fibre: Just as before pregnancy, try and eat between 20-35g of fibre each day to maintain a healthy digestion, lower cholesterol and stabilise blood sugar levels.
Many believe that when you are pregnant, it is ok to ‘eat for two’ but sadly, this isn’t the case! Only when you hit the second trimester should you increase your calories to an extra 300 (a little more if you’re super active).
It is advised to not drink while pregnant as exposure to alcohol during early fetal development can cause problems. Limit caffeine to 200 milligrams a day (2 mugs of instant coffee) as it is thought that too much can contribute to the risk of having a low-birth-weight baby.
VITAMINS & MINERALS
- Folic acid – Start taking supplements if you are actively trying to have a baby to ensure you hit 400 micrograms a day; increase this to 600 micrograms when you are pregnant to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
- Iron – You need more iron when pregnant (27 milligrams a day) as your blood volume is increasing – even more important in the third trimester.
- Calcium – It is recommended to get 1000 milligrams of calcium daily.
- Zinc – During pregnancy, you need more zinc and should get 11 milligrams a day; 13 milligrams if you are 18 or younger.
TOP FOODS FOR PREGNANCY
- Yoghurt: It is high in calcium and some varieties contain probiotic bacteria to help support digestive health
- Pulses: Chickpeas, lentils and other beans are good sources of folate, iron, protein (ideal for vegetarians of vegans), zinc and fibre
- Eggs: High in protein, iron and contain choline, an essential nutrient for brain health and development. Make sure eggs are fully cooked.
- Lean meat: Beef and pork are rich in iron, choline and other B-vitamins, while chicken and turkey are also great sources of protein
- Sweet potatoes: Rich in beta-carotene, a plant compound which the body converts into vitamin A in the body (essential for growth)
- Dark leafy greens: Broccoli and leafy greens like spinach and kale are rich in vitamins C, K and A plus calcium, iron, folate and fibre – all important for pregnancy
- Berries: Packed with water and fibre while being low in calories and with a low glycemic index value. Rich in fibre, antioxidants and vitamin C which is important for health skin, immune function and helps the body to absorb iron
- Avocados: Contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids (help to build the skin, brain and tissues of the fetus), fibre, folate, vitamins K, E and C and potassium
The best way to approach eating while pregnant is to choose a wide range and good balance of nutritious foods every day to make sure you and your baby are getting everything you both need, along with staying active and getting enough sleep. While you may experience cravings (for me it’s been boiled potatoes, plain rice cakes and popcorn – all the carbs!), try and stick to healthy options – and enjoy these 9 months!