Pregnancy nutrition is very different from everyday nutrition and an altogether different ball game as you are eating not just for yourself, but two living beings. Whatever you feed yourself has implications on both- yourself and the child. Therefore it becomes important to adhere to the nutritional guidelines for ensuring a safe, smooth, and a healthy pregnancy. Mentioned below are some of the nutrition-related dos and dont’s that should be kept in mind during pregnancy.
Include adequate complex carbohydrates:
Whole grains, legumes, lentils, millets, vegetables, fruits, are some of the good sources of complex carbohydrates that help ensure good energy levels throughout the day, preventing the feeling of tiredness and fatigue, a common occurrence during pregnancy. Complex carbohydrates help provide satiety for longer, preventing over-eating that can result in unwanted weight gain. On the other hand, simple carbohydrates found in foods containing refined flour and refined sugar are quickly broken down in the body, causing a spike in blood sugar levels.
Have a good amount of fibre:
It is advised to have a fibre-rich diet during pregnancy to maintain a good gut health and prevent the occurrence of constipation and related complications like mood swings and irritability. Pregnant women should aim for about 25-35 grams of fibre every day. They can include a bowl of fresh fruits, sprouts or chana salad, a handful of nuts and seeds, or recipes made with millets like ragi/jowar/bajra/jaun, buckwheat, and others. Millets are not just rich in fibre, but also serve as a great source of protein, zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and B-vitamins.
Don’t miss out on the good fats:
Essential fatty acids are vital during pregnancy as they help develop the baby’s brain and support their cognitive development in the initial years. Good fats are found in almonds, walnuts, cashews, seeds like sunflower, chia, flax, pumpkin, and fatty fish like salmon, herring bone, tuna, and mackerel. These are not just important for the baby, but also for the mother’s health as they help absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, K, which support a good cellular function and stronger bones.
Keep yourself hydrated:
Pregnant women should maintain adequate hydration levels to prevent constipation, haemorrhoids, urinary tract infections, preterm labor, or preterm birth. A good water intake helps maintain the electrolyte balance, regulates the body’s temperature, ensures adequate amniotic fluid around the foetus, and helps transport nutrients throughout the body. Aim to have about 3-4 litres of water daily. If you are not a big fan of drinking plain water throughout the day, you can also prepare cucumber/lemon/anar/strawberry infused water and have a glass or two of any of these everyday. It will not only be refreshing, but also rich in water-soluble B vitamins.
Keep a check on essential nutrients:
For a woman in her pregnancy, it’s crucial she maintains a well- balanced diet containing nutrients like iron, folate, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, B-complex, protein, choline, and iodine, all of which are required for the mother’s and the baby’s optimal health. If the level of any of these nutrients is low, your doctor would suggest you to include the required supplements. Get in touch with a nutrition expert to include foods in your diet that can naturally boost the levels of these crucial nutrients in your body.
Restrict the consumption of seafood:
Although seafood is rich in protein, good fats, and other important nutrients, one should also keep in mind that it contains mercury and hence must be avoided. Mercury can be detrimental for the development of the baby’s nervous system. The big fish in particular, such as shellfish, swordfish, ahi tuna, and king mackerel contain huge amounts of mercury and must be avoided.
No raw foods:
Undercooked or uncooked foods such as unpasteurised milk, poultry, eggs, cured meats, fish used in dishes like sushi and others should be avoided as much as possible as there are higher chances of microbial contamination in these foods. It increases the chances of listeriosis- a bacterial infection caused as a result of consuming contaminated food. The disease is most likely to affect pregnant women, newborns, elderly, and people with a poor immunity. Not just consuming, the handling of foods is equally important when it comes to preventing infections. Handling uncooked meats can cause toxoplasmosis- a parasitic infection caused that can pass from a mother to the baby, resulting in blindness, brain damage, and congenital hearing loss in infants.
Do not over-eat:
Pregnancy brings a lot of physiological and hormonal changes in a woman, making them crave a variety of foods throughout this phase. Women are often suggested to eat for two for the growth and development of the foetus. However, this doesn’t require them to eat double of their portion size, but to have a variety of nutritious foods on their plate. As physical activity is also restricted during pregnancy, it becomes important to maintain a healthy weight for both the mother and the baby to avoid complications during or after the delivery.
No long gaps between the meals:
Putting long gaps between meals can result in acidity, nausea, heartburn, and fatigue. Not taking meals regularly can also compromise your baby’s nutritional needs. Taking small and frequent meals and preventing long gaps will ensure steady blood sugar levels and a good metabolism, which can prevent a pregnant woman from experiencing unusual or frequent food cravings. A well-balanced diet with set meal timings ensures good energy levels and a healthy hormone and gut function.
Limit the consumption of packaged/processed/preserved foods:
Marketed products and junk foods are loaded with artificial flavours/colours/thickeners, flavour enhancers like MSG (mono sodium glutamate), excessive refined salt and sugar, preservatives, and trans-fats (unhealthy fats). All of these can adversely affect the health of the mother and the baby when consumed frequently during pregnancy. Thus, it is suggested to focus more on home-cooked, freshly made meals to ensure safe and nutritious food to the mother.