It’s important that we all strive to have healthy, well-balanced diets no matter what – because the healthier you eat, the better your quality of life will be (i.e. you reduce the risk of things like obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.) Healthy eating is even more important when you are pregnant, as the foods you eat are what provide your baby with the nutrients it needs, which will affect its health as well as ensure you have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
During pregnancy you have increased nutritional needs and will require more macronutrients (such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals.) When it comes to specific nutrients such as iron, folate and calcium, the daily requirements differ for pregnant women. Pregnant women should be getting at least 27 milligrams of iron per day, anywhere between 600 and 800 micrograms of folate each day, and 1200 milligrams of calcium; while the second and third trimesters of pregnancy require an additional 300 calories. As for how these nutrients work, iron helps to increase blood flow and ensures both mother and baby are getting enough oxygen, folate (also referred to as folic acid) reduces the risk of major birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly, while calcium helps strengthen your bones as well as support your baby’s bone growth in addition to regulating use of body fluids.
To ensure you’re getting enough essential nutrients, it’s also important that you’re choosing a variety of foods. Fruits and vegetables, for example, are packed with both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins (including vitamins A, C, E, as well as selenium, flavonoids and polyphenols), and they are also rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants not only protect us from free radicals known to contribute to the development of chronic illness and disease, but they will also protect your unborn baby. Examples of antioxidant-rich fruits & vegetables include apples, oranges, peaches, apricots, raspberries, grapes, kiwi, watermelon, broccoli, spinach, carrots, peppers and tomatoes, just to name a few. You also need to include grains in your diet, as these are a great source of energy and fibre (and can help relieve constipation, which is common during pregnancy), in addition to supporting your baby’s development. Some examples of grain sources include whole wheat, oats, barley, corn and rice. Meats, nuts and legumes are what provide your body with iron, folate and protein, and include lean meats like beef and pork, poultry such as chicken and turkey, beans, tofu, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, as well as sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Dairy products are also good to consume during pregnancy as they are rich in both calcium. Food sources of calcium include things like milk, yogurt, and cheese. You also need vitamin D, which is available as a dietary supplement. Taking a vitamin D supplement during pregnancy will help reduce the risk of things like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, as well as reduce the risk of preterm birth.
It’s also not uncommon for women to develop cravings or aversions to certain foods during their pregnancy. Among the most common cravings are comfort foods (such as pizza or mashed potato), chocolate, foods that are spicy, and pickles. While it’s okay to give into these cravings every once in a while, you should still try to limit unhealthy foods as much as possible (especially foods that are processed.) As for which foods you should avoid, they include raw meats, uncooked processed meats, and seafood or other high-mercury fish (such as king mackerel, swordfish and shark.) You should also avoid dairy that is unpasteurized, alcohol, and excessive amounts of caffeine.